As the United States become more aware of the pervasive threat and prevalence of sexual assault, some experts say less eyes are on the Black women who helped jump start the modern #MeToo Movement.
WARNING: The following content will touch on issues of sexual assault, rape, racial violence and more. Viewer discretion is advised.
In fact, early exposure of rape and sexual violence in the country can be traced all the way back to the slavery era, according to Healthline. Rape was used as a means to subjugate Black female slaves and for decades onward. This lead Black women to become early sexual assault activists, using anecdotes and testimonies about the sexual exploitation of slaves to further ignite the abolitionist movement, Shanon Lee, the writer of the article, said.
"They also helped establish today’s safe spaces and crisis centers, including the leading organization for domestic violence, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence," she wrote.
An early example that could be considered part of the #MeToo movement was a group of Black women testifying before Congress in 1866. They spoke out against the violence and trauma they suffered after a white mob raped multiple Black women during the Memphis, Tennessee Riots.
"At this time, white men were legally allowed to rape enslaved Black women and sexual assault continued to be used as a violent mechanism of oppression, power, and silencing for years to come to post-reconstruction," according to the organization Equal Rights Advocates. Unprotected, these victims were often subject to death threats and other forms of intimidation for speaking out.
Then came the Civil Rights Era, where Black women fought to "claim ownership of their body and agency," Equal Rights Advocates wrote. George Washington University writer and scholar Jameta Nicole Barlow even claimed the Civil Rights Movement in part from Black women’s “demanding control over their bodies and lives,” in addition to “ black men being killed for protecting black women, or ultimately, the fight for black women’s bodies and agency and against white supremacist rape and assault.”
A notable example of this was Recy Taylor, who broke her silence in 1944 about being kidnapped and raped by a white mob in Alabama. Rosa Parks, before she became known for the bus boycotts, represented Black women who experienced sexual violence on behalf of the NAACP. Park became involved in Taylor's case and even helped put the national spotlight on her story.
The activist even established the Committee for Equal Justice for Recy Taylor. Even though no charges were ever pressed against the perpetrators, Taylor continued to speak about her story and empowering others.
The 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycotts could also considered a form of #MeToo protest. Here's what the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs said about the event:
"The 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott was in many ways was the last act in a decades-long struggle to protect Black women from sexualized violence and rape since they also were sites of sexual and racial violence for Black women, who made up the majority of the riders. Buses became the target of Black activists’ protests because they were the most visible vehicle of the system that abused African Americans daily. Organized, led and sustained by these very women, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was rooted in black women’s demands for bodily integrity."
Then we come to the modern day, where the #MeToo Movement has put national and even international focus on sexual assault and harassment in American culture. The movement got momentum in 2017, but its roots can be traced back to 2006. Tarana Burke, the mind behind the #MeToo Movement, said she created the hashtag along with a number of young Black women and girls to raise awareness and talk about about sexual violence in underrepresented communities.
Burke told the Huffington Post last year that she's working on a digital space that “expands [the movement’s] real estate” to include “people who have experienced it and people who haven’t experience it but recognize the humanity in wanting to end sexual violence, there is space for all of us.” This is called "Me Too Act Too" platform.
It's a collaboration between the Me Too organization FCB/SIX, a creative data marketing firm, which will allow users to access all kinds of resources, from book recommendations to volunteer work.
“The work to end sexual violence needs folks who are willing to march and join campaigns and volunteer and donate, but it also needs people who are invested in educating themselves about the realities of sexual violence," Burke said.
The #MeToo founder is one of many Black women continuing to support victims and bring awareness to sexual assault over 150 years later.
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