Abstract

This article analyzes the experiences of African American women who brought legal charges of rape against black men in Chicago during the 1950s. Their presence in court belies the idea that black women uniformly did not trust the legal system, and further challenges the idea that the State did not consider theirs to be "winnable" rape cases, in part because of myths regarding the promiscuous sexual nature of African American women. Despite the women's efforts, defense attorneys clung to racist and sexist stereotypes, causing a significant evolution of the rape trial into the more recognizably hostile territory that contemporary rape victims in the United States face and modern American feminists have increasingly sought to reform. A consideration of intra-racial rape trials that ended with convictions complicates the historical understanding of prosecuting sexual violence while demonstrating new ways of thinking about civil rights and modern women's activism.

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