Insight article

Visions of the Future: Time’s Up

September 3rd, 1944. Montgomery, Alabama. Recy Taylor, a 24 year-old woman, wife and mother is kidnapped and raped by six armed men as she walks home from church. She is black and they are white. Left by the highway. Threatened with death if she tells her story.

But she tells it anyway. Even when they firebomb her home, terrorise her family.

I can’t help but tell the truth of what they done to me.

Her words find their way to seasoned NAACP investigator and activist by the name of Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks, a young woman who fights an old injustice, who has built her life on the power of personal narrative:

I talked and talked of everything I know about the white man’s inhuman treatment of the negro.

Who as a child, facing down schoolyard bullies, already knows this much:

I would rather be lynched than live to be mistreated and not be allowed to say ‘I don’t like it’.

They call her agitator, trouble-maker. Send death threats. But no matter. Freedom fighters never retire, she says. Stories must not be left to lie.

And when Recy Taylor’s attackers walk free – her case thrown out by an all-white, all-male jury – Rosa Parks is ready. Gets organised. Inspires a movement. Recy Taylor’s story spreads 1,055 miles, through churches and barbershops and the pages of the black press, to the streets of New York, where it grows to a clamour in the mouths of activists.

Justice does not prevail, this time. But a million drops of water are stronger than a stone wall. A groundswell has begun. The infrastructure of change has been forged in the steady flame of her testimony.

I can’t help but tell the truth of what they done to me.

And so Rosa Parks strives. Documents, with steady-eyed rigour, an epidemic of sexual violence; telling the stories of the women that history will try to forget.

Women like Gertrude Perkins. Raped in 1949 by two white Montgomory police officers. Whose two-month protest reaches the front pages of the Montgomery Advertiser and a Grand Jury hearing. Justice does not prevail, this time. The groundswell grows stronger, but it does not burst the dam.

December 1st, 1955. Rosa Parks rides the bus home. The books will tell of her tired feet, but that’s not what she’s tired of. Enough is enough, this day. Her story travels. The boycotts begin. Successes are won.

But where is Rosa Parks? History will call her meek and mild; an elderly seamstress, defeated by another backbreaking day. Courage laced with the message of frailty.

People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired. But that isn’t true. The only tired I was, was of giving in.

Successes are won, but new walls are built. New injustices done, new stories unspoken.

Winter, 1998. Wisconsin. Danielle McGuire listens to her radio: to Joe Azbell, the editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, talk about Gertrude Perkins. Gertrude Perkins, who’s never mentioned in the history books, who has as much to do with the boycotts as anyone on earth.

History is a patchwork of absence, she realises: of missing stories waiting to be told.

And so she writes a book for these women: for Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks and Gertrude Perkins. She finds many more. And now we have a new history.

And now, slowly, the dam starts to burst. Now the world is a network of narratives. Now there are voices that say ‘Me Too’ in their millions and cannot be silenced.

And now there is a flood: now there are cracks in the corridors of power. There are changes, real changes, that feel different, somehow, this time.

And now there is not just a flood. There is a sea change. There are voices that say, Enough. Time’s Up. Trickles that become a stream, then a river, then an ocean of shared experience. Now there are new networks, and new powers, and a promise of transformation.

The Golden Globes, January 7th, 2018. Oprah Winfrey – black woman, woman, billionaire, rule-breaker, queen-and-king-maker, ground-shaker – takes to the stage and tells the story of Recy Taylor. And now the whole world is alive with her name. 

For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.

We are The Storytellers. We exist to move more people to do great things through the power and influence of storytelling.

What story will move you and the people around you to do great things in 2018? Share your story with us

Bex Felton

Senior Strategist and Writer