Recy Taylor, a civil rights icon who was one of many black women victimized with impunity in the Jim Crow Era, died in her sleep at a nursing home in Abbeville, Alabama on December 28, 2017, just three days before her 98th birthday. Taylor leaves behind a legacy of bravely speaking out against sexual assault and white supremacy.
On September 3, 1944, Taylor was abducted and raped by six white men on her way home from church. After the brutal rape, these men threatened her not to come forward about the assault and left her blindfolded on the side of the road. Taylor did not listen, coming forward decades before the #MeToo movement in an attempt to seek justice in the Jim Crow Era.
Despite the fact that one of the attackers, Hugo Wilson, confessed to the rape and named the other men involved (Dillard York, Billy Howerton, Herbert Lovett, Luther Lee, Joe Culpepper, and Robert Gamble), none of the men were arrested. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sent then investigator Rosa Parks to discover why. Parks was pushed out of Abbeville due to pressure from the sheriff, Lewey Corbitt. When she returned to Montgomery, Alabama, Parks started the the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor. This group flooded the South with articles about the rape titled “Victim of White Alabama Rapists.” By October 1944, Taylor was making national headlines and everyone knew about her case. However, two different all-white and all-male juries failed to indict the men.
Author and historian Pippa Holloway states that “during the Jim Crow era, women’s bodies served as signposts of the social order, and white men used rape and rumors of rape not only to justify violence against black men but to remind black women that their bodies were not their own.” When we learn about the Jim Crow Era, much of the conversation is dominated by lynchings, but it rarely reflects the sexual violence black women endured.
In 2011, 67 years after her rape, the Alabama legislature released an apology for “for its failure to prosecute her attackers.” Though Taylor’s story has gone untold to many, she remains an important figure in the civil rights and feminist movements. NPR argues that we can say #MeToo now because Taylor said it in 1944. Oprah Winfrey believes that Recy Taylor’s name is “a name I know and I think you should know, too,” which she declared in her Golden Globes speech on Sunday. Filmmakers also released a documentary on December 8, 2017 titled “The Rape of Recy Taylor” which chronicles her rape and its aftermath. Nancy Buirski, the director of the film, believes that Taylor passed away peacefully knowing that her story has now been told.
Washington Post 1/8/18; ABC News 1/8/18; NPR 1/8/18; New York Times 12/29/17; CNN 1/8/18; NBC News 12/28/2017