Recy Taylor, who died December 28, 2017, was a black woman from Alabama, whose fight for justice after she was kidnapped while leaving church and gang-raped by six white men in 1944 helped inspire the Civil Rights Movement.
Even though the men admitted the rape to authorities, two grand juries subsequently declined to indict her six assailants. The injustice helped lead to the formation of the civil rights movement and inspired the mobilization of activists across the nation.
“The Recy Taylor case brought the building blocks of the Montgomery bus boycott together a decade earlier,” wrote Danielle L. McGuire, the author of 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.
In 2011, the Alabama House of Representatives apologized on behalf of the state “for its failure to prosecute her attackers.”
Taylor’s rape and the subsequent court cases were among the first instances of nationwide protest and activism among the African American community, and ended up providing an early organizational spark for the Civil Rights Movement.
Taylor was walking home from church on September 3, 1944, with her friend Fannie Daniel and Daniel’s teenage son West, when a car pulled up on the side of the road with US Army Private Herbert Lovett and six other armed men inside.
The seven men forced Taylor into the car at gunpoint, forced her to remove her clothes and proceeded to take turns raping her.
Taylor’s kidnapping was reported immediately to the police by Daniel, who identified the car owner, Hugo Wilson, who in turn admitted to picking up Taylor and, as he put it, “carrying her to the spot” and blamed the rape on Dillard York, Billy Howerton, Herbert Lovett, Luther Lee, Joe Culpepper and Robert Gamble.
Even though three eyewitnesses identified the driver of the car, the police did not call in any of the men he named as assailants, and Wilson was fined just $250.
The black community of Abbeville was outraged at the actions taken by the police, and the event was reported to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Montgomery, Alabama.
The NAACP sent Rosa Parks, who was considered their best investigator and activist against sexual assaults on black women.
Parks formed the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Taylor, “with support from national labor unions, African-American organizations, and women’s groups.”
The group recruited supporters across the entire country and they had organized what the Chicago Defender called the “strongest campaign for equal justice to be seen in a decade.”
A trial took place on October 3–4, 1944, but after five minutes of deliberation, an all-white, all-male jury dismissed the case.
A second all-white male jury refused to issue any indictments against the seven suspects when presented Taylor’s case on February 14, 1945.
In 2011, the Alabama House of Representatives apologized to Taylor on behalf of the state “for its failure to prosecute her attackers.”
State Representative Dexter Grimsley, along with Abbeville Mayor Ryan Blalock and Henry County Probate Judge JoAnn Smith, also apologized to Taylor for her treatment.
Taylor received the apologies on Mother’s Day in 2011, when she visited Rock Hill Holiness Church in Abbeville, the same church where she was kidnapped.
“I felt good,” she said. “That was a good day to present it to me. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Taylor died in her sleep at a nursing home in Abbeville, Alabama, on December 28, 2017.
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