Black women have always been on the front lines of the fight for civil rights, exhibiting strength and grace under pressure. Here are 5 iconic images of black women staring down violence when confronted with it.
Who: Tess Asplund
Where: Central Sweden
When: May 1, 2016
What: Neo-Nazi march
Asplund participated in a protest of 300 uniformed Neo-Nazis who marched through Borlänge, central Sweden, but was one of the only protestors to actually stand in the path of the march, holding up a fist in defiance before she was pushed away. She told the Guardian
“It was an impulse. I was so angry, I just went out into the street,” Asplund told the Guardian. “I was thinking: hell no, they can’t march here! I had this adrenaline. No Nazi is going to march here, it’s not okay.”
Who: Elizabeth Eckford
Where: Little Rock Central High School, Arkansas
When: September 4, 1957
What: The first day of integration at Little Rock Central High School. Eckford was one of 9 African American students to integrate the school.
The plan was for 15-year-old Eckford and 8 other African American students to come to school with their parents and enter through the back. However the Eckfords did not have a telephone and did not receive the message. Elizabeth rode the bus to school by herself and walked up to the school unaccompanied, eyes hidden by sunglasses. As she walked hundreds of men, women and students taunted her and chanted ‘2, 4, 6, 8. We ain’t gonna integrate.’ When Eckford tried to enter the school she was blocked by an armed guard with a bayonet and had to return to the bus stop, pursued by the mob threatening to lynch her. Eckford recalled the scene in Steven Kasher’s The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History.
“I stood looking at the school— it looked so big! Just then the guards let some white students through. The crowd was quiet. I guess they were waiting to see what was going to happen. When I was able to steady my knees, I walked up to the guard who had let the white students in. He didn’t move. When I tried to squeeze past him, he raised his bayonet and then the other guards moved in and they raised their bayonets. They glared at me with a mean look and I was very frightened and didn’t know what to do. I turned around and the crowd came toward me. They moved closer and closer. Somebody started yelling, “Drag her over this tree! Let’s take care of that nigger!’”
Weeks later Eckford and the other integrationist students finally gained entrance to the school, although she was subjected to regular violence, including being pushed down a flight of stairs. The strength it took for her to walk up to that school unaccompanied is unimaginable.
Who: An unnamed Ethiopian Jewish woman
Where: Tel Aviv, Israel
When: June 22, 2015
What: Anti-police brutality march
In the summer of 2015 Ethiopian Jews took to the streets of Israel to protest police brutality and racial discrimination, sparked in part by the beating of Ethiopian-Israel soldier Damas Fekade by two Israeli police officers. Photographers caught this woman, who showed no fear while staring down an Israeli cop.
Who: Ieshia Evans
Where: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
When: July 9, 2016
What: Black Lives Matter protest following the shooting death of Alton Sterling
A Pennsylvania mother who had never protested before, Evans felt moved to drive South and participate in the Black Lives Matter protests even though police were cracking down with excessive force. Evans and others blocked the motorway in front of the police department and was instructed to move. She did not, instead slowly walking towards the officers and preparing to be arrested.
Who: Gloria Richardson
Where: Cambridge, Maryland
When: Summer 1963
What: Riots for socio-economic and racial equality
Richardson was a housewife turned civil rights leader who did not believe in non-violence. Racial tensions in her hometown of Cambridge Maryland simmered after Richardson submitted a list of demands for economic and social desegregation to the mayor. But they boiled over into violence when white cops assaulted a group of black teens. Richardson encouraged black town residents to fight back when they were attacked, sparking an all-out war. Maryland’s governor brought in the National Guard, which occupied the town for several months. In this picture Richardson is seen pushing away a bayonet pointed at her by a National Guardsmen.
And apparently this is a photoshopped picture… but it is still everything.
No doubt there are countless more images of black women’s resolve when confronted with racial violence. And while the women in these photographs were physically unharmed, it is important to remember that black women often suffered physical consequences for their defiance. This photograph, taken by civil rights documentarian Charles Moore, shows a black woman about to be beaten with a bat, while another is punched about the head, during the non-violent protests of Montgomery Alabama in 1960.