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For Southern black women, the era of separate but equal was also a decades-long reign of white sexual terror. If Southern trees bore strange fruit, the homes and streets they shaded contained secrets that until recently have largely been swept over and ignored. The Rape of Recy Taylora documentary that opens in New York theaters Friday, concentrates some much-needed sunlight on this period of American history and the women who lived through it.

Directed by Nancy Buirski, the woman behind both the narrative film Loving and the documentary The Loving StoryThe Rape of Recy Taylor brings attention to a little-discussed but common reality for black women in the Jim Crow South: racially motivated rape by white men. Taylor lived in the small town of Abbeville, Alabama. Inwhen she was 24, Taylor was walking home from church when she was kidnapped, blindfolded and raped at gunpoint by six white men. Forced to beg for her life, Taylor promised to stay silent so she could go home to her husband and 9-month-old daughter.

Left on the side of a dark country road, Taylor walked home and told her family about what happened. When the family turned to the police, they found no refuge. It was part of a continuous campaign of terror that was just as much a threat to women as lynching was to black men. The book that inspired the film is far more expansive and devastating. Convictions were even rarer. Board of Education.

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In the same chapter, McGuire recounted the story of Annette Butler. Armed with a shotgun, they entered the house of Stennis Butler, a black sharecropper, and took his year-old daughter, Annette, holding off her mother at gunpoint. The men drove her away deep into a swamp, raped her, then left her to find her own way home.

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The other three men served no jail time for rape. One pleaded guilty to kidnapping, another was acquitted despite a confession and the third had his charges dismissed after his trial produced a hung jury. At best, white law enforcement officials were lackadaisical about investigating sexual assaults on black women. At worst, they were perpetrating such assaults, not only on public streets but also in jails. She was walking home in the dark when they stopped her, accused her of public drunkenness and forced her into their car.

They drove, McGuire wrote, to the edge of a railroad embankment and raped her at gunpoint.

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Even if men were convicted of rape, the political system found ways to excuse them. According to Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim CrowCole Blease, the governor of South Carolina frommade prolific use of his pardoning powers, issuing 1, during his tenure. Blease pardoned both black and white men who had been convicted of attacking black women and girls. McGuire details how rape was used with Us Bessie Oklahoma seeks lady 30s 50s to terrorize and Us Bessie Oklahoma seeks lady 30s 50s black people in the years leading up to and during the civil rights movement.

Other historians, such as Darlene Clark Hine, have stated that the onslaught of interracial sexual violence visited upon Southern black women during Jim Crow was just as much a motivator for the Great Migration as lynching was. These are lessons handed down from grandparents and fathers, uncles. How did our understanding of black women and interracial rape begin with slavery and end largely with the conclusion of the Civil War? There are multiple reasons for this absence: Race men like Booker T. Furthermore, the documentation of abuse was limited.

Often, stories of abuse were passed down orally by grandmothers and mothers. The Blacks in Wax Museum has an entire room dedicated to the horrors of lynching, which includes a re-creation of the murder of Mary Turner and her 8-month-old fetus in Brooks County, Georgia, but nothing specifically about the rape of black women during Jim Crow. The Blacksonian does include displays of news clippings about the assaults on Taylor in and Perkins in And it also produced videos that include quotes from Ida B. Wells and Dorothy Height about the threat black women faced. The same goes for their ideological sisters who came later, like Parks and Height.

In her speech as the first president of the National Association of Colored Women, Terrell addressed their estrangement from the rest of society. While the national office of the NAACP was working to dismantle separate-but-equal, the organization determined that any mention of interracial marriage or sex would derail its efforts. There is so much photographic evidence of lynching, in part because it was a public spectacle, complete with photographers who profited from the murder of black people the way modern artists might sell concert posters.

Genitals and other body parts of black men were preserved in jars and kept as mementos. Their charred bodies, hanging from trees, served as ominous warnings to other black people that they best remember their place. But there is little visual record of the interracial rape of black women, save for photographs of them clutching their obviously biracial children. We use art to document and memorialize the human condition. But the art that preserves the experience of black women during Jim Crow is limited and often deliberately opaque. Buirski employs their footage in her documentary. But, by and large, the work of tracking and quantifying interracial sexual assault is difficult for historians.

The language referring to such attacks in first-person s is often not explicit, although news clippings from the black press were clearer. Furthermore, there was a concerted effort to silence and discredit black female victims. That silencing was often twofold: first in the primary documents, such as white newspapers and police reports, and then again by white historians and archivists who may have deemed such s unworthy of preservation.

When sexual violation was recorded, survivors often recounted their experiences through allusion. Instead, in the same way historians must read between the lines of slave narratives, oral histories and other s of rape, so too must those examining art of the era.

The difference in tone, phrasing and the style in which these songs are sung is deed to evoke a dark, unsettling horror. That sort of opaque doublespeak was another form of self-preservation. Anything other than silence could be punished with death.

Just as it was de rigueur to ignore that slaveholders owned fair-skinned children who bore their features and mannerisms, it became standard to look at black women during Jim Crow and ignore the obvious source of their lighter-skinned children. There are through lines from the epidemic of sexual assault during Jim Crow to our modern era.

The most obvious may be the case of Daniel Holtzclawthe Oklahoma police officer who sexually preyed on poor women of color with criminal records. Whose pain we have showed historically and continued to show. Whose pain is tolerable and whose pain is intolerable. And whose pain needs to be addressed now. The Equal Justice Initiative is behind the national lynching memorial that will open in in Montgomery. It ends up focusing on what happened to black men.

Even as she was decrying lynching, Wells made a similar point in to a crowd gathered in Chicago. The negro has suffered far more from the commission of this crime against the women of his race by white men than the white race has ever suffered through his crimes. Very scant notice is taken of the matter when this is the condition of affairs. What becomes a crime deserving capital punishment when the tables are turned is a matter of small moment when the negro woman is the accusing party. Ignoring this area of history has enormously harmful consequences, feeding into how we process accusations of sexual assault from black women today.

This is part of a systemic approach to dehumanizing black women and girls. There is little visual record of the interracial rape of black women, save for photographs of them clutching their obviously biracial children.

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