Justice At Last For Recy Taylor? (w/Updates)
UPDATE (6:37 p.m.): This afternoon, local Alabama leaders, including Abbeville’s mayor, apologized for mishandling the 1944 gang rape case of Recy Taylor.
“It is apparent that the system failed you in 1944,” Henry County probate judge and commission chairwoman JoAnn Smith told several of Taylor’s relatives at a news conference at the county courthouse.
Taylor, 91, lives in Florida and did not attend the news conference. Family members said she was in poor health and was not up to traveling to Abbeville or speaking with reporters. But her 74-year-old brother Robert Corbitt, who still lives in town, was front and center and said he would relay the apology to his sister.
“What happened to my sister way back then … couldn’t happen today,” he said. “Boy, what a mess they made out of it. They tried to make her look like a whore and she was a Christian lady.”
Taylor, who is black, told The Associated Press in an interview last year that she believes the men who attacked her are dead, but she would still like an apology from the state. The AP does not typically identify victims of sexual assault but is using her name because she has publicly identified herself.
Read more at the link at top. I still would want her to get a state apology, but this is a start.
UPDATE (12:32 p.m): Just as I was about to wrap this story, I saw an update to the story of Recy Taylor from Ben Greenberg’s blog, Hungry Blues.
Henry County Public Information Officer Chad Sowell has told me on the phone that there will be a press conference tomorrow, Monday, March 21, 10:30 am Central Time, at the Henry County Courthouse.
Officials scheduled to be there are Alabama State House Representative Dexter Grimsley, Mayor Ryan Blalock and members of the Abbeville City Council.
Whether an apology will be issued to Recy Taylor tomorrow has not been verified. Abbeville Mayor Ryan Blalock and Alabama Representative Dexter Grimsley have asked Recy Taylor’s brother Robert Corbitt to attend the press conference, and he has told me that he plans to be there.
Two local governments in southeast Alabama are expected to issue an apology for a 1944 rape of a black woman by several white men, none of whom were ever prosecuted.
Last Wednesday, I reported for Colorlines.com that state Rep. Dexter Grimsley, D-Newville, wants Alabama to issue a formal state apology to Recy Taylor, 91, who was abducted and raped at gunpoint by seven white men in Abbeville on Sept. 3, 1944.
“The circumstances merit it,” Grimsley said recently. “It’s something that should be done. Recy Taylor found herself in a situation that wasn’t responded to, the way that the law would respond to something today.”
Now it appears that an apology from Henry County and the southeast Alabama city of Abbeville may come as soon as Monday, but it is unclear whether the state will take part. In a follow-up interview last Thursday, Rep. Grimsley said he would hold a press conference with Abbeville Mayor Ryan Blalock and County Commission Chairman Joanne Smith and “present a formal letter to the family.”
Asked if the apology would also be on behalf of the state, Grimsley said, “We haven’t addressed that level yet.”
There’s more of the article, but that last one from Grimsley? Maybe he was being reticent in not tipping his hand, but I’m still shaking my head over that one. There should be an apology from the state as well, since their representatives–law enforcement–helped to cover up the rape and made it possible for the grand jury to acquit her assailants, of whom only one man out of the six is known to be yet alive. In the 21st century, people still need to be convinced that black women can be raped?
In 1944, the kidnapping and gang rape of Mrs. Recy Taylor by six white men in Abbeville, Alabama, sparked what the Chicago Defender called “the strongest campaign for equal justice to Negroes to be seen in a decade.” Taylor, a twenty-four-year old African American woman, was walking home from the Rock Hill Holiness Church near Abbeville on September 3 when a carload of six white men pulled alongside her, pointed a gun at her head, and ordered her to get into the car. They drove her to a vacant patch of land where Herbert Lovett pointed his rifle at Taylor and demanded she get out of the car and “get them rags off or I will kill you and leave you down here in the woods.” Lovett held her at gunpoint while each of the white men took turns “ravishing” her. After the men raped her, Lovett blindfolded her, pushed her into the car, and dropped her off in the middle of town. That night, Recy Taylor told her father, her husband, and Deputy Sheriff Lewey Corbitt the details of her harrowing assault.
Within a few weeks, the Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor formed and was led on a local level by Rosa Parks, E. D. Nixon, Rufus A. Lewis, and E. G. Jackson (editor of the Alabama Tribune), all of whom later became pivotal figures in the Montgomery bus boycott. By utilizing the political infrastructure designed to defend the Scottsboro boys a decade earlier and employing the rhetoric of democracy sparked by World War II, Parks, Nixon, and their allies secured the support of national labor unions, African American organizations, women’s groups, and thousands of individuals who demanded that Gov. Chauncey Sparks order an immediate investigation and trial. “The raping of Mrs. Recy Taylor was a fascist-like, brutal violation of her personal rights as a woman and as a citizen of democracy,” Eugene Gordon, a reporter for the New York Daily Worker, wrote in a pamphlet about the case; “Mrs. Taylor was not the first Negro woman to be outraged,” he argued, “but it is our intention to make her the last. White-supremacy imitators of Hitler’s storm troopers [will] shrink under the glare of the nation’s spotlight.” Gordon closed by universalizing the rape: “The attack on Mrs. Taylor was an attack on all women. Mrs. Taylor is a Negro … but no woman is safe or free until all women are free.” Few African Americans were surprised when the Henry County Grand Jury twice failed to indict the white men—despite the governor’s belief that they were, in fact, guilty. Still, Recy Taylor’s testimony launched a national and international campaign for equal justice that must not be ignored.
And Recy Taylor’s case was not the only one. It was one that gained both national and international coverage. The Grio says:
The kidnapping and rape of Recy Taylor was not unusual in the segregated South. The sexual exploitation of black women by white men had its roots in slavery, but continued, often unpunished, through the better part of the twentieth century. White men lured black women and girls away from home with promises of steady work and better wages; attacked them on the job; abducted them at gun-point while traveling to or from home, work or church; raped them as a form of retribution or to enforce rules of racial and economic hierarchy; sexually humiliated and assaulted them on streetcars and buses, in taxi cabs and trains, and other public spaces.
African-American women reclaimed their bodies and their humanity by testifying about their assaults. Their testimonies spilled out in letters to the Justice Department and appeared on the front pages of the nation’s leading black newspapers. By deploying their voices as weapons in the wars against white supremacy, whether in the church, the courtroom, or in congressional hearings, African-American women loudly resisted what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “thingification” of their humanity.
Decades before radical feminists in the Women’s Movement urged rape survivors to “speak out,” African-American women’s public protests galvanized local, national and even international outrage and sparked larger campaigns for racial justice and human dignity. Yet analyses of rape and sexualized violence play little or no role in most histories of the civil rights movement, presenting it as a struggle between black and white men–the heroic leadership of Martin Luther King confronting intransigent white supremacists like “Bull” Connor”.
Late last year, McGuire published At the Dark at the End of the Street, a book which is being called ground-breaking. Because McGuire posits that it was partly the widespread rape and violence against black women by white men that actually began the modern civil rights movement.
And rape on black women was never about passion, lust or love, it was in essence a terrorist act. White men routinely used extra-legal, cultural political and economic measures as well as burning and bombing out blacks who threatened the status quo: Southern white supremacy. But rape in particular–like lynching–reinforced the racist power dynamic; it stated that while a black man and woman might be freed from slavery, the white man would use any power at his disposal to continue his access to black women.
White male rape nearly destroyed black marriages and families. An outraged black husband or father/uncle/guardian could not find redress in the courts or solace in his community. A black woman suffered thereafter from PTSD–post-traumatic stress disorder–and other psychological and physical maladies. It demoralized and stigmatized single black women, who were considered “spoiled goods” by their communities for supposedly “consorting” with white men; these girls and women had to leave their homes and towns to find a better life and to start over. If they could not leave, these rape victims often became prostitutes (because they could not find other work), went crazy or committed suicide.
In fact, the seven men implicated in the rape kept insisting that this devout, church-going woman was a well-known prostitute in order to exonerate themselves. As though prostitutes too cannot be raped. Taylor had been walking home with two other black women from a night revival meeting when she was singled out by the men, who claimed that she was wanted by the authorities.
Taylor’s younger brother, Robert Corbitt of Abbeville, said he remembers the day his sister was raped 67-years ago “like it was yesterday.” He said police tried to blame his sister, and the family was harassed so that he was not allowed to play in the front yard.
“What hurt my sister so is that she was a Christian lady and had never been through anything like this. She was a nice Christian lady, and this changed everything,” Corbitt said.
He said police tried to make it look like Taylor was a prostitute.
“It hurt her to be lied on like that,” Corbitt said. He said his sister was not healthy enough to be interviewed Wednesday.
In the interview last year with The AP, she said she eventually gave up trying to bring charges against the men and moved with her family to central Florida.
“I felt like if I tried to push it, to try to get them put in jail, I thought maybe it would be bad on me, so I just left town,” Taylor said last year.
I hope that justice in the form of an apology comes for Recy Taylor before her life is over. It’s too bad that Taylor or her family could not ask for restitution from the county or the state of Alabama or better yet, even from the rapists or their surviving families for their crimes. According to Colorlines, they were identified as Hugo Wilson, Dillard York, Luther Lee, William Howerton, Joe Culpepper, Robert Gamble and Herbert Lovett.
- Interview: Brother of Jim Crow-Era Gang Rape Victim Fights for Justice (news.change.org)
- Hidden Pattern Of Rape Helped Stir Civil Rights Movement (npr.org)
- FDL Book Salon Welcomes Danielle McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance – A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power (fdlbooksalon.com)
- Justice for Recy Taylor? (theroot.com)
- Lawmaker wants Ala. to apologize to rape victim (seattletimes.nwsource.com)