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A story that had to be told…

I realized that this was a story that had to be told when I figured out that black women had been enduring, resisting and testifying about interracial sexual violence for years and that these crucial and revealing moments had never made their way into the history of the civil rights movement.

It was in the winter of 1998. I was a graduate student and was listening to NPR. Veterans of the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott were speaking about their experiences and Joe Azbell, the editor of the Montgomery Advertiser talked about a woman I had never heard of. He said something like, “Gertrude Perkins is never mentioned in the history books, but she had as much to do with the bus boycott as anyone on earth.”  I was confused. Everyone knows Rosa Parks was the one who caused the boycott, so who was Perkins and what did she do? I went to the archive and ordered the Montgomery Advertiser on microfilm and started searching. I found out that two white police officers kidnapped and raped Gertrude Perkins, a black woman, in 1949. Local black activists rallied to her defense and launched a major campaign to bring the assailants to trial. I was not sure what to do with this information–how to fit it into a story that was already so well known. I couldn’t see how it connected until I started digging a little deeper…