Book Review, by Wayne Snitzky

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance-a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McGuire

As I’m reading through this book, a weird concept keeps popping into mind: “presentism.” Presentism is a philosphical concept I read about a while ago that I have just enough of a idea what it means to explain it to you poorly, but here goes. It basically means judging the past through the lense of the morality of the day. For example, we could judge ancient Greece as horribly sexist because they did not educate their girls [excpet Sparta] and today such an idea is abhorrent in the civilized world. But put into historical context that decision makes more sense, or is less offensive-seeming, and we can still praise ancient Greece for being uber-progressive for it’s time. Make sense?
I got a hold of “At the Dark End of the Street” from the same friend that loaned me the last book I read, “American Prison.” These are the two books he was assigned for a course on African American studies. I’ll get back to the whole presentism thing. First I just have to say that this book was more in line with what I figure a college level text should be, ie., difficult to read. The text was thick and academic-ey. Lots of names and places and lists of organizations. It was hard to keep track of which names and organizations I had to keep track of and which ones the author was just using for context. That said, glad I read it. Anyone who is a history buff, especially of the civil rights era should put this book on their must read list.
All americans know the story of Rosa Parks and the bus boycott she started, which should automatically tell you that you know nothing of the actual history of what happened. All the history we think we know is incomplete. The actual lives of the people in the news is always much more colorful than common history records. And learning all that neat history is why I love reading history. I love getting to know [as much as one can in a book] the real people thrust into the spotlight. Which is sort of what presentism is all about. It is difficult to know what life was truly like even a few decades ago, but we have to try if we are to truly understand the lessons that history is trying to teach us. Stories have much better meaning with the proper context. This book does a great job of putting the events covered in good historical context, even if it is a bit of a difficult read. Two hundred and eighty four pages of text with over one hundred pages of notes, bibliography and index should have been my first clue it was going to be a chewy read.
A good example of presentism from the text is a brief mention towards the end of the book when the Freedom Riders go south and most of the women were kept indoors and the men went out in the community to knock on doors. The author mentions briefly that many considered that just par for the course for the patriarchy, but at that time the decision was made to protect the lives of all the volunteers as it was believed the sight of those women walking around the areas they would have to walk through would have caused much bloodshed. [I know, I’m just another man defending the patriarchy, but read the book and think about the decision those people faced AT THAT TIME IN THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES {I don’t have italics so sorry for the caps}].
So, if you don’t mind a bit of a rough read and you want to know more about the back story of the civil rights movement, I recommend this book.

Wayne Snitzky
DOC #312456

Categories: books, Wayne Snitzky

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