Gertrude Perkins (1949, Montgomery, Alabama)
In Montgomery, Alabama in 1949 a twenty-five-year-old black woman named Gertrude Perkins was walking home from a bus stop when she was confronted by two uniformed white policemen. These men forced her into the marked police car, drove her to a secluded area, and raped her. After several hours, the policemen returned her to the bus stop and warned her to keep quiet.
Gertrude faced the dilemma of whether to inform the police of an atrocity committed by their own men. Instead of going home that night, she headed to Reverend Seay’s house, a minister of the AME Zion Church nearby. He wrote down everything she said and a radio address hit the country early the next morning with details of the event. Seay then escorted Gertrude to the police station so that she could report her crime and they could arrest her assailants. The police, however, refused to hold a line up for her to identify her attackers. Further, the police commissioner refused to provide details of who was on duty that night.
As word spread, several black activist organizations formed the Citizens Committee for Gertrude Perkins. Citywide protest eventually ensued. White officials, however, dismissed Gertrude’s case and the rape charge as fictitious. When Gertrude finally got her day in court, she looked a far cry from the drunken illiterate yob that white locals had made her out to be. However, as with the previous two cases, an all-white, all-male jury refused to indict anyone claiming there was no evidence of rape in the case.
While most black Americans were understandably frustrated by the outcome of the case, many were pleased with the unrest their protests yielded. Further, it was one of the first times in the city that ministers were also shaken up. This collective action showed that the black people in the town would protest ill-treatment of their race and the wider miscarriage of justice.