Detroiter Danielle McGuire’s look at Black women’s contributions to America’s civil rights movement is so popular in 2020 that the New York Times is telling readers to check it out.
DETROIT, MI — Nearly a decade after her book was released, a historian, author, and Wayne State professor has been added to a New York Times list of books to help Americans educate themselves during this period of civil unrest.
“I was reading the New York Times and saw an article that looked interesting,” Dr. Danielle McGuire told The ’Gander. “Then I saw that my book was featured on the list!”
McGuire’s book, “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistence — A New History of the Civil Rights Movement From Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power” chronicles everything its title suggests. McGuire says the research began almost 20 years ago when she was pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“I was listening to an NPR show about veterans of the civil rights movement when Joe Azbell of the Montgomery Advertiser said something like, ‘Gertrude Perkins is never mentioned in history books, but she had as much to do with the bus boycott as anyone on Earth,’” she said.
McGuire’s curiosity led her to order records on microfilm from her school’s library. When the information arrived, she learned of the Black woman’s brutal rape by police in Montgomery, Alabama in 1949.
McGuire questioned why she’d never learned of the woman’s story and continued to wonder about Gertrude Perkins and her contributions to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She and her friends lived racially blended experiences that approached equality in a way history would have thought impossible.
“We [my college friends] were all kind of racial misfits because we didn’t necessarily fit within our [own] racial groups,” she said. “But we all wanted to fight for racial justice.”
McGuire fights by educating herself and then sharing that knowledge. Her next introduction to Black stories that were largely left untold was through Robert F. Williams, a militant civil rights leader who eventually relocated from North Carolina to Baldwin, Michigan.
“I was working for one of my professors who was writing a book about Robert Williams,” she said. “In a speech he gave, he mentioned something about a rape case that had happened in Tallahassee.”
It was another case of violence and brutality against a Black woman. And once again, McGuire had never heard the story before.
She found herself immersed in more research, this time as she was pursuing a master’s degree. Her thesis took the position that Black women did not talk about the sexual violence waged against them by white men.
Additional research would show her that was untrue.
“That was kind of the prevailing academic idea at the time,” she said. “I was naive still.”
The Tallahassee rape case she’d researched for her professor resulted in a jury trial where the victim testified against her four attackers, resulting in convictions and life sentences for each the men. They did not serve their full terms.
“The [academic] literature at the time was telling stories of sexual violence against enslaved women, but there was nothing in civil rights literature yet. I thought, there has to be more.”
These small history lessons that McGuire sought throughout her academic career came together in her book, At the Dark End of the Street.
History in Black and White
McGuire said her book was well-received when it was first released in 2010. She had speaking engagements in bookstores and on college campuses across the country.
“I didn’t really get any pushback from the Black community [at the time],” she said. “But I think that now younger Black activists are much more willing to distrust and question my ability to do the work without knowing the work, me, or my history. Just because I’m a white woman.”
McGuire’s sensitivity to racial tensions doesn’t allow her to get easily offended or deterred from continuing to fight for racial equality by shedding light on the past.
“It’s rooted in their own traumatic experiences in society, which I respect and honor,” she said. “You just have to do the work and let the work speak for you.”