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Women's History Month: Recy Taylor

March 20, 2018

 

The second woman who is Women’s History Month goals is Recy Taylor. Recy Taylor, was a rape victim's activist after being gang raped at 24. Her bravery and uncompromising strength to stand up against sexual violence during a time when Black Human Rights was debatable.

 

Sexual violence is what propelled the civil rights movement into action byway of the rape of Recy Taylor. Recy Taylor was born on December 31st, 1919 to a sharecropping family in Abbeville, Alabama. Recy Corbitt (Corbitt is her maiden name) spent her late adolescent years taking care of her six younger siblings after their mother’s death. The night of September 3rd, 1944 Recy Taylor was a 24 year old African American sharecropper was walking home after a Pentecostal service at Rock Hill Holiness Church  Hill Holiness Church in Abbeville, Alabama.

 

This was the night of the abduction and rape of Recy Taylor. After service Recy, Fannie Daniel (a friend), West Daniel (her son) took off walking towards their homes located on a dirt country highway surrounded by peanut farms. All three people became aware of a green Chevrolet driving by them multiple times as they were walking. Soon the car stopped near them and seven young White men with guns and knives exited out the Chevrolet. One of the men, Herbert Lovett, the oldest man in the group shouted for Recy, Fannie and West to stop. Recy, Fannie and West kept walking. Herbert then pointed a shotgun at them to get their attention.

 

The seven men pushed Recy into the Chevrolet at gunpoint and drove the vehicle to a location on the side of the road surrounded by pine trees. Once there the men forced her to disrobe. Recy pleaded with the men to let her go, stating that she had a husband and a 3 year old daughter but Herbert Lovett didn’t care. His exact words were, “act just like you do with your husband or I’ll cut your damn throat.” He and the other five men blinded Recy and proceeded to raped her.

 

After the rape the men dumped Recy out of the car. When Recy felt it was safe she removed her blindfold and searched for safety. Unbeknownst to Recy while the rape was going on her father, Benny Corbitt, was out searching for her after he discovered she had been abduction. When Recy was found she contacted the county sheriff, George H. Gamble. Recy told Sheriff Gamble that she couldn’t identify her rapists but she could and did describe the Chevrolet that belonged to one of the rapists, Hugo Wilson.

 

The sheriff went off to go find Hugo Wilson for verification as one of Recy’s rapists. Recy Taylor identified Hugo Wilson as one of her rapists, and West cooperated her story. Hugo Wilson was sent for questioning at the local jail where he admitted him and five other men (Herbert Lovett, Dillard York, Luther Lee, Willie Joe Culpepper and Robert Gamble) “all had intercourse with her,” but Hugo stated that him and the men paid her for sex, basically claiming Recy was a prostitute and not a rape victim. After Hugo Wilson’s story Sheriff Gamble sent Hugo Wilson home.

 

After Recy told her truth she faced a firestorm of threats and harassment. Random White neighbors set her porch on fire. This caused for serious concern; her father Benny decided it would be best for Recy, Willie Taylor (Recy’s husband), and their daughter daughter, Joyce Lee to move in with him and his other children. Benny took his job of protecting his daughter seriously that he kept surveillance of his home from a chinaberry tree located in his backyard while toting his double-barreled shot gun. The only time Benny would come down was when the sun rose back up again.

 

At the time White media ignored this rape crime whereas Black media covered its entirety. Recy's rape eventually sparked the civil rights movement. The lack of seriousness of Recy’s rape sprung the N.A.A.C.P. to send Rosa Parks (yes thee Rosa Parks of the Alabama bus boycott) to investigate the ins and outs of Recy Taylor’s rape story. Sherriff Gamble was threatened by Rosa Park’s presence, so much so that he drove past the house of Benny repeatedly and aggressively threw Rosa Parks out the home. His words were, “I don’t want any troublemakers here in Abbeville.” “If you don’t go, I’ll lock you up.”

 

African-Americans were outraged in the mistreatment of Recy and demanded that the six rapists meet their fait in court. The grand jury met on October 3rd and 4th of 1944. Recy Taylor only had family and friends as witnesses. The structure of the grand jury was a set up from the beginning, starting with none of the alleged rapists had been arrested and none of the alleged rapists had been in a police lineup. This made it hard for Recy to accurately identify her rapists.

 

When the grand jury chose to not indict the men the news spread through Black circles and the Black press. Unfortunately Recy’s rapists never went to trial even though one of the men confessed to raping her. Why? During the era of Jim Crow with an all White male grand jury, none of them were going to bestow justice for a Black Woman.

 

The Pittsburgh Courier (a Black newspaper) titled their article after the verdict, “Alabama Whites Attack Woman; Not Punished.” A writer for The Daily Worker named Eugene Gordon, a Black writer a Communist newspaper in New York, interviewed Recy Taylor and wrote to his readers this, “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.”

 

Needless to say Black America was furious and searching for allies to help push Recy Taylor’s cause. Rosa Parks helped organized the Committee for Equal Justice for Recy Taylor on November 25th, 1944 at a meeting in the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, New York. The premise of the organization was to gather voices in support of Recy to start a campaign of letters, petitions and postcards demanding Governor Chauncey Sparks to investigate Recy’s case. Governor Chauncey Sparks took on the outcry of Blacks seriously because of his personal mentorship with future governor George C. Wallace who was a segregationist.

 

Governor Sparks’ interest to investigate Recy’s case came from Black influencers like W. E. B. DuBois, Mary Church Terrell, Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes who all supported Recy Taylor. Governor Chauncey stuck to his word and sent investigators to Alabama to evaluate the procedures of Sheriff Gamble. What the investigation found was that Sheriff Gamble had lied about arresting Recy’s rapists. When the reinvestigation began four of the men confessed to having had sex with Recy Taylor, but they insisted the sexual encounter was consensual and not rape.

 

One of the rapists, Willie Joe Culpepper, had a change of heart and admitted Recy had been coerced. Willie said, “She was crying and asking us to let her go home to her husband and baby.” Even with all this mounting evidence including a confession, a second grand jury on February 14th, 1945 refused to make an indictment. With a second defeat many of Recy Taylor’s supporters in the civil rights activists’ circles went on. Recy Taylor’s plight became less of an importance and eventually became old news. Recy Taylor felt fearful of retaliation so she with the help of Rosa Parks fled to Montgomery for a few months, finally Recy settled in Central Florida as an orange picker.

 

The toll of the rape and outcome of no indictment took a beating on Recy’s marriage. She and Mr. Taylor separated. In the early 1960s Mr. Taylor passed away. Their one child died in 1967 in a car crash. Needless to say the rape, especially the aftermath of the rape shaped Recy Taylor’s life. The recirculation of Recy Taylor’s story occurred after the 2010 publication of Historian Danielle McGuire’s book titled “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. Because of the attention this book received and the resurgence of support for Recy’s cause the mayor of Abbeville and statewide government officials issued Recy Taylor several apologies in 2011. The Alabama Legislature’s apology was formally presented to Recy on Mother’s Day 2011 at the once known Rock Hill Holiness Church, now known as Abbeville Memorial Church of God in Christ. They were quoted in the apology saying, “morally abhorrent and repugnant” in regards to failing to prosecute and convict Recy’s rapists.

 

It seemed like justice was finally rearing its head towards Recy with all these acknowledgements and apologies coming her way. The final rose so to speak was the documentary titled, “The Rape of Recy Taylor,” by Nancy Buirski where Recy got to tell her story to the world, letting us know what happened to her for decades to come as well as how the justice system isn’t always just but bias/racist/sexist. Recy stated in the film, “The Lord was just with me that night,” because she could have been raped and murdered but she lived to tell her truth.

 

Recy also mentioned in the film how using rape as a tool to terrorize Black women was a regular occurrence in her day, “Many ladies got raped.” “The peoples there — they seemed like they wasn’t concerned about what happened to me, and they didn’t try and do nothing about it. I can’t help but tell the truth of what they done to me.” Recy Taylor passed away at the age of 97 in Abbeville Alabama on December 28th, 2017. The same place where her life took an unforgettable turn. Perhaps it was a homecoming of sorts, finally being heard and validated in her truth. Maybe her soul is at peace now and her purpose completed. Whatever it is we honor Recy Taylor for being the first Black woman to be an unapologetic rape victim’s advocate. She faced disparities head on even when her life was on the line. She sacrificed to be heard and it took us decades to finally listen and do right by Recy. Rest In Eternal Peace.

 

 

 

On this platform we speak about sexual assault, mental health and healing. If at any other time you felt isolated and thought you couldn't speak about your truth know that here is that platform to Speak Up. Speak Out. Speak Truth. If you need to speak to someone who knows sexual violence and mental health disorders contact me for a private one on one conversation with me. I answer questions, give advise and provide coaching. Want to get started now? Click the picture above or HERE

 

If You Missed Last Week's Blog: Women's History Month: Tarana Burke. Click HERE to read.

 

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I'll leave you with a personal quote of mine, "It's imperative that these acts of wrongdoings do not continue unchecked for it is our children who pay the highest cost." - Vie Ciné 

 

As Iyanla Vanzant says, "I am not my sister's keep, I am my sister." 

 

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Be Blessed. Be Enlightened. Be Loved. ✌🏿

 

 

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