A Woman to Know: Recy Taylor

I have to live with it, because I had to live with a lot with going through with this. — Recy Taylor

I have to live with it, because I had to live with a lot with going through with this. — Recy Taylor

(image via the National Museum of African American History and Culture)

On September 3, 1944, Recy Taylor walked home from church in Abbeville, Alabama. Six white men drove up in a green Chevrolet and dragged the 24-year-old mother into the woods. They raped her multiple times and threatened her with death if she ever told anyone what happened.

But Recy told a friend, even though the Jim Crow South wasn’t a safe place for her to tell what happened — black women faced disbelief at best and vigilante violence at worst. When Recy’s friend Fannie Daniels reported the rape, local authorities refused to prosecute the white men involved, even after one of the men confessed to the crime. The next day, someone set Recy’s house on fire, and she and her family had to live in hiding.

Rosa Parks, then a young investigator with the NAACP, drove to Alabama to investigate the case. She worked with Recy to form the Committee for Equal Justice, a campaign to take Recy’s story directly to the Alabama Governor. Rosa and Recy organized a letter-writing campaign that took Recy’s story far and wide and won support for her case.

In October 1944, a grand jury — all white, all male — gathered to hear Recy’s case. In just five minutes of deliberation, they voted to dismiss. Civil rights activists pressed for another trial. At this point, three of the men involved had confessed to raping Recy. On February 14, 1945, another jury assembled — yet again, all white and all male jury. They voted to not prosecute.

In 2011, writer Danielle McGuire reported Recy’s case in her book, prompting the the Alabama legislature to issue a formal apology — more than 60 years after dismissing her case. As Danielle described it:

I know for her that that meant a whole lot. It wasn't justice — it wasn't her assailants being convicted of a horrible crime and going to jail. But it meant something. For the first time the governor of Alabama had to say her name and had to be honest about the way in which the state tried to bury her story, refused to investigate it, refused to listen to her. So it was a kind of reckoning — it was powerful.

Recy died in 2017, in Abbeville, just three days before her 98th birthday.

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