I once lived in Los Angeles but I never quite felt like a resident there. I always felt as if my time there would be temporary, fleeting—as if I was supposed to have certain experiences and then move on.
Those experiences included attending the occasional church service at First African Methodist Episcopalian Church, commonly known as FAME. I was initially invited by my longtime friend Arjay, a Filipino guy who grew up Catholic. I’m not sure why I never asked him how he came to find out about FAME (a church founded by African Americans in 1872; LA’s oldest church). He did tell me how he liked the liveliness of the service and the singing. I was interested in going because I knew it was a regular pit stop for politicians interested in enticing the Black vote. As a Polic Sci undergrad, I couldn’t resist experiencing first-hand how FAME was and is still so politically relevant.
One Sunday, I got there early enough to actually sit on the main level and close to the pulpit. Admittedly, I was excited about securing such prime real estate because I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Ellen Cleghorne who was a regular attendee. But that Sunday, the big star in attendance was the Rosa Parks. I think I was about two or three pews away from her, but I knew there was no way I was going to be able to have any sort of private pow wow with the civil rights icon. Plus, my most pressing question would have been why she was suing Outkast for using her name as the title of their song. I really thought I knew all about her history—refusing to give up her seat, the bus boycott and all. I wasn’t aware of her work as a sexual assault investigator.
Rosa Parks joined the NAACP in 1943, 12 years before the famed bus incident. Her work at the organization focused on criminal justice and specifically how White police officers often mistreated, assaulted and raped Black people. Having been a near-victim of sexual assault at the hands of a White attacker, sexual violence was an issue that was near and dear to Parks. Thus when Recy Taylor was savagely kidnapped and raped by six White attackers in 1944, it was Parks who investigated the attack, launched the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor, drew national attention to how common such an occurrence was, and led efforts calling for the prosecution of the savage rapist thugs who had attacked Mrs. Taylor. A film on this important history, The Rape of Recy Taylor, was released on December 8, 2017 and is available to view on YouTube, Google, Amazon Prime and Starz. Mrs. Recy Taylor died 20 days after the release.
I watched this film today, having to pause to collect myself, calm down, stop crying. Those bastards didn’t just rape Recy Taylor, they purposefully mutilated her and left her unable to have anymore children. They treated her as if she was a piece of property, a play thing, something to use and then throw away like toilet paper. And they denied any wrongdoing—claiming this church woman, wife and mother was a prostitute.
I was reminded of too many current and/or recent new stories echoing this view and treatment of Black women. In South Miami-Dade, when Dyma Loving called the police after being called a “whore” and having a shotgun pointed at her, police attacked HER. In Madison, Wisconsin, an 11-year-old Black girl was tackled by and had hair ripped out by a White teacher for wearing too much perfume. In St. Petersburg, Florida, McDonald’s employee Yasmine James was attacked by a White man over straws.
There are an estimated 64,000 missing Black girls and women across the United States. What are their names? Have you heard about them? Did you hear about the rash of Black girls who went missing in Washington DC or Chicago just last year? If that Lifetime documentary had never been made, would we care about R. Kelly abusing all of those Black girls and women? Is anyone still thinking about the Chibok girls, and the 100 or so who are still missing after having been kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014?
It’s been 75 years since Rosa Parks launched a campaign demanding justice for Recy Taylor—75 years since Parks revealed how often American government, media and society ignore violence, mistreatment and sexual abuse repeatedly inflicted upon Black women. How is it that this same problem is so clear and present today? Why aren’t such stories being broadcast as often within the #BlackLivesMatter or #MeToo movements? Why aren’t “mainstream” feminists on the front lines of this issue as often or as prominently as they are regarding the issues of equal pay or reproductive rights? Why is it that we can only rely on the #SayHerName movement to consistently reveal the nature of this epidemic?
Perhaps I should make this a more personal question. If you’re reading this, I’m a Black woman, just like all the Black women I’ve mentioned above. Should I happen to go missing or be killed under suspicious circumstances at the hands of a police officer or be raped by anyone including an intimate partner, would you care? Would it matter to you?