Black Women's Activism and the Long History Behind #MeToo

How Can History Help Us Understand #MeToo?

In a powerful speech at the Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey framed the #MeToo movement as the latest episode in a long history of women’s resistance to sexual harassment and violence. Her speech was also notable for emphasizing the activism of racially and economically marginalized women, including Recy Taylor, who died in December of last year at the age of 98. Taylor’s determination to seek justice for her rape in Jim Crow-era Alabama set the stage for the civil rights movement and in many ways, today’s modern #MeToo movement. The “Me Too” campaign was created in 2007 by Tarana Burke, a black woman following in the footsteps of Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks.

Use the following resources and activities as an entry point into Taylor’s story and the long history of black women’s activism against sexual violence and harassment.

Note: The readings and activities below contain references to rape and other forms of sexual violence and harassment that simultaneously may be difficult to understand for some students and all too real for others. It is possible that some students will have additional questions or comments on the topic of rape outside of the context of these activities. It is important to preview how you might respond to such questions and comments in case they arise. If they do, make sure to develop or return to a class contract with students to guide any discussion that follows.

Explore #MeToo through the Lens of Black Women’s History

Ask students to read the Washington Post article, Recy Taylor, Oprah Winfrey and the long history of black women saying #MeToo. Since the article is fairly long and may be challenging for some students, consider previewing some vocabulary in advance, or using the Read Aloud or the Annotating and Paraphrasing Sources teaching strategies to promote students’ understanding of the ideas and arguments presented.

Use the following questions to guide a class reflection and discussion after reading:

  1. Who was Recy Taylor? Why is her story significant according to the author?
  2. How does her story fit into the long history of sexual violence and white supremacy in the United States?
  3. What evidence does McGuire provide to show that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was rooted in “black women’s demands for bodily integrity”?
  4. Why do you think Winfrey connected Recy Taylor’s story to the #MeToo movement today?
  5. Why, according to the author of the article, does this history matter today? Why does it matter in your opinion?

Read Rosa Parks’s Account of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

In the media and even some history textbooks, Rosa Parks’s motivation for her refusal to relinquish her seat has often been trivialized as “Rosa Parks was tired.” Present this information to students and ask them to compare this narrative to Parks’s own description of her motives for initiating the bus boycott (from Facing History’s study guide Eyes on the Prize). Students should also use the information they learned from the Washington Post article to support their reasoning.

Ask students to discuss the following questions:

  1. What is missing from portrayals of Rosa Parks as simply “tired”?
  2. How does the new information you gained from reading this account extend your thinking about Parks?
  3. Why do you think the depiction of her motives for the bus boycott has become a dominant narrative?

Read a Primary Source Describing One Black Woman’s Experience Working as a Domestic Servant in White Households

To give students a better sense of the experiences of domestic workers in the Jim Crow South, who were the majority of participants in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, use Essie Favrot's personal account, You Worked Long Hours, from Facing History’s study guide Teaching Mockingbird.

Use the following questions to guide a class reflection and discussion after reading:

  1. Ask students to construct an identity chart for Essie Favrot. Then, ask them to consider the following question: How did race and gender discrimination shape Essie Favrot’s experiences?
  2. How does Favrot’s account connect to or extend what you read in the Washington Post article?
  3. How did Favrot choose to respond to her employer’s rules regarding her son? What do you make of this decision?

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