The True Story of Recy Taylor

Today as the “me too movement” struggles to be heard
and voices of oppression attempt to silence the voices
of women, it is well to remember Recy Taylor. Minority
women have long experienced sexual oppression and
violence. They have long been silenced and re-traumatized
by an absence of care and respect.

In reading the story of Recy Taylor below, we
can learn of her bravery in reporting a vicious crime
against her person and how difficult this was in the
context of the South of her time. It is said her suffering
formed part of the basis of the creation of the
modern civil rights movement.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
(excerpted from Wikipedia)—Recy Taylor (née Corbitt;
December 31, 1919– December 28, 2017) was an African American woman
from Abbeville in Henry County, Alabama. She was born and raised in a
sharecropping family in the Jim Crow era. At 17, her mother died and she
cared for her six siblings. She continued to work in sharecropping and by the
time she was 24, in 1944, she had married Willie Guy Taylor and they had a
young daughter, Joyce Lee.
On September 3, 1944, Taylor was kidnapped while leaving
church. Recy Taylor was walking home from church with her friend Fannie
Daniel and Daniel’s teenage son, West, when a car pulled up on the side of
the road. In the car were US Army Private Herbert Lovett and six other men,
all armed. Herbert Lovett accused Taylor of cutting Tommy Clarson “that
white boy in Clopton this evening.” This accusation was false, as Taylor had
been with Daniel all day.
The seven men forced Taylor into the car at gunpoint and
proceeded to drive her to a patch of trees on the side of the road. They
forced her to remove her clothes saying “Get them rags off, or I’ll kill you
and leave you down here in the woods.” After she was forcibly undressed,
Taylor begged to return home to her family, including her husband and an
infant child. The assailants ignored her requests, all removed their clothes,
and watched as Lovett ordered Taylor to lie down and for her to “act just
like you do with your husband or I’ll cut your damn throat.” She was raped
by six of the men, including Lovett.
Taylor’s kidnapping was reported immediately to the police by
Daniel. Daniel identified the car as belonging to Hugo Wilson, who admitted
to picking up Taylor and, as he put it, “carrying her to the spot” and pinned
the rape on six men, Dillard York, Billy Howerton, Herbert Lovett, Luther
Lee, Joe Culpepper and Robert Gamble. Even though three eyewitnesses
identified Wilson as the driver of the car, the police did not call in any of the
men Wilson named as assailants, and Wilson was fined $250 (equivalent to
$3,480 in 2017). 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 down their best investigator and
activist against sexual assaults on black women, Rosa Parks. In early
October, the Chicago Defender which had a national African American
audience, ran a front-page article entitled “Victim of White Alabama
Rapists,” which profiled Taylor and the case.
Parks took the case back to Montgomery where she started to
form support for Taylor with the assistance of E.D. Nixon, Rufas A. Lewis,
and E.G. Jackson, all influential men in the Montgomery community. Parks
and her allies formed the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Taylor,
Diversity—Cindy Goldberg, Co-Chair “with support from national labor unions, African American
organizations, and women’s groups.” The group recruited
supporters across the entire country and by the spring of 1945
they had organized what the Chicago Defender called the
“strongest campaign for equal justice to be seen in a decade.”
The trial took place on October 3–4, 1944, with an allwhite,
all-male jury. However, none of the assailants had been
arrested, which meant that the only witnesses were Taylor’s black
friends and family. Taylor’s family could not identify the names of
the assailants, and since Sheriff Gamble “never arranged a police
line-up, Taylor could not identify her attackers in court”. Also, the
$250 bond Gamble placed Wilson and his accomplices under
“were issued late in the afternoon, the day after Taylor’s hearing.”
After five minutes of deliberation, the jury dismissed the case. The
only way it could be re-opened would be through an indictment
from the grand jury.
Despite the men’s confessions to authorities, two grand
juries subsequently declined to indict the men; no charges were
ever brought against her assailants.
In the months following the trial, Taylor received
multiple death threats, and her home was firebombed by white
supremacists. Taylor, along with her husband and child, moved
into the family home, where her father and siblings would help
protect Taylor from other death threats. Her entire family was
afraid to go out after dark, and Taylor would not leave even during
the day. She not only feared the threats from the angry vigilantes
of the town, but also the threats from her attackers the night of
the assault.
The activists convened at the Negro Masonic Temple in
Birmingham, Alabama, where members of the Montgomery and
Birmingham NAACP, editors and reporters from the Alabama
Tribune and Birmingham World, and members of the Southern
Negro Youth Congress, or SNYC, amongst others coordinated
efforts to bring justice for Recy Taylor. SNYC members, together
with Rosa Parks and other primarily female activists helped spread
Recy Taylor’s story all the way up the coast to Harlem, New York.
Rosa Parks, in her instrumental work to bring justice for
Taylor, spearheaded the creation of the “Committee for Equal
Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor” (CEJRT). It quickly gathered national
support, with local chapters springing up across the United States.
The group had an illustrious membership. The “illustrious” group
drew the attention of the FBI as the House Un-American Activities
Committee argued that the group was simply a cover for the
Communist Party.
After Governor Sparks launched an investigation, Sheriff
Gamble was interviewed again about the measures he took to
ensure justice on the behalf of Taylor. Gamble falsely claimed that
he started an investigation of his own immediately after the
attack. He also claimed that he had arrested all of the men
involved in the rape two days after the assault, and that he had
placed Hugo Wilson, the man identified as being the owner of the
car, under a $500 bond. He also accused Taylor of being “nothing
but a whore around Abbeville” and that she had been “treated for
some time by the Health Officer of Henry County for venereal
disease.” One of the assailants, Joe Culpepper, admitted that he
and the other rapists were out looking for a woman the night of
the attack, that Lovett got out of the car with a gun and spoke to
Taylor, that Taylor was forced into the car and later forced out of
the car and made to undress at gunpoint, was raped and later.

Blindfolded and left on the side of the road. Culpepper’s retelling of
the story was directly in line with Taylor’s original account. However,
even with this information including several of the alleged assailants’
testimonies, the attorney general “failed to convince the jurors of
Henry County that there was enough evidence to indict the seven
suspects when he presented Taylor’s case on February 14, 1945.” The
second all-white male jury refused to issue any indictments
The black community was shocked at the second dismissal of
Taylor’s case. The news coverage of the second hearing was more
hostile towards Taylor based on the false claims of her being a
prostitute. The assistant attorney general stated that: “This case has
been presented to two grand juries in Henry County and both grand
juries have not seen fit to find an indictment”, claiming that “no facts
or circumstances connected with this case have been suppressed.”
A joint resolution was adopted by the Alabama legislature on
April 21, 2011, stating:
BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA,
BOTH HOUSES THEREOF CONCURRING, That we
acknowledge the lack of prosecution for crimes committed
against Recy Taylor by the government of the State of
Alabama, that we declare such failure to act was, and is,
morally abhorrent and repugnant, and that we do hereby
express profound regret for the role played by the
government of the State of Alabama in failing to prosecute
the crimes.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That we express our deepest
sympathies and solemn regrets to Recy Taylor and her family
and friends.
At the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, while accepting the
Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, Oprah Winfrey discussed and
brought awareness to Taylor’s story. The Congressional Black Caucus
led Democratic Caucus members in wearing red “Recy” pins while
attending the 2018 State of the Union, where Taylor’s granddaughter,
Mary Joyce Owens, was a guest.
At the 2018 State of the Union, members of the
Congressional Black Caucus invited Taylor’s family to attend the speech
and wore red “Recy” pins in honor of Taylor.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** **
We can thank Recy Taylor for her amazing bravery in
coming forward which helps us understand better the difficulties
women coming forward today.

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