The #MeToo movement and the recent attention to Recy Taylor’s 1944 rape has drawn much needed attention to the consistent sexual harassment and assault women, and many men, have endured. The conversations that have emerged target the normalization and “blame the victim” mentality that prevails in American culture. Recy Taylor’s brutal rape and assault, well-documented in Danielle McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street, reveals an all too often ignored part of American history—the systematic and violent sexual exploitation of Black women.
Americans are hesitant to confront, let alone acknowledge, that the sexual assault of Black women was institutionalized during slavery and perpetuated under Jim Crow and beyond. More troubling, white feminists often treated—and continue to treat—sexual assault as solely a gendered, and not racialized, issue. The Taylor case is one of many that went largely ignored by the white community—a community that refused to acknowledge white men’s abuse of Black women. In the 1930s, however, one case captured the attention of the white community: the attempted rape of Rosa Lee Ingram.
Rosa Lee Ingram was a 40-year-old widowed sharecropper with twelve children in Schley County, Georgia. On November 4, 1947, John Ethron Stratford, a white sharecropper who lived on the same property as Ingram, confronted her with a rifle. Stratford had harassed Ingram for years, but on November 4, he tried to “compel her” to have sex with him. She fought back, and her sons came to her aid. At the end of the fight, Stratford lay dead, and Ingram and four of her sons—Charles 17, Wallace 16, Sammie Lee 14, and James 12—were arrested and detained in separate locations. In a one-day trial on January 26, 1948, Rosa Lee Ingram and her two sons Wallace and Sammie Lee were found guilty and sentenced to death. Charles was tried separately and found not guilty based on insufficient evidence, and James was eventually released. Ingram’s mother, Amy Hunt, contacted local organizations for help. The NAACP began to rally for her defense, and the nationally syndicated Pittsburgh Courier carried the story on its front page. Ingram’s case now had a nationwide audience.