When Recy Taylor Was Raped in 1944, Rosa Parks Came to Her Aid

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Recy Taylor was born in Abbeville, Alabama in 1919 and grew up quickly when her mother passed. Recy was just 17 when circumstances put her in charge of her six younger siblings. She was twenty five years old and the mother of a three-year-old girl on the night she was raped on her way home from a Pentecostal church service.

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She and two others were walking when a green Chevrolet that had passed them several times stopped. Seven armed white men emerged and pointed a shotgun at the trio, halting their homeward progress. They forced Recy Taylor into their car, drove her a ways down the road, the forced her out of the car and out of her clothes under the thin cover of a grove of pines.  Herbert Lovett, the oldest of the seven men, threatened, “Act just like you do with your husband or I’ll cut your damn throat,” and six of the seven men raped her.

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Afterward, they dumped her out along the road blindfolded and scared. She stumbled home and found that her father had heard of the abduction and gone looking for her, and the sheriff, George H. Gamble, had arrived.

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Despite the witnesses and the early intervention by police, no one in authority took much interest in Recy’s claims or her case. Granted, she didn’t know any of the men who attacked her, but it turned out that her description of the green Chevrolet matched only one vehicle in the county – and it belonged to a man named Hugo Wilson. When the sheriff returned with Mr. Wilson, Recy Taylor identified Wilson as one of her attackers. One of the other people with her corroborated her statement.

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The country prosecutor wanted to treat the case the same as he would treat one with a white victim, but in the end, his vigilance didn’t matter. Despite the fact that several of the men had not only been identified, but had admitted to having sex with her that night (but claimed it was consensual), the grand jury refused to hand over an indictment.

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Word spread of the injustice through the black activist community, and the N.A.A.C.P. chapter in Montgomery sent one Rosa Parks to interview Recy Taylor. Tensions continued to rise: Mrs. Taylor’s porch was set on fire one night, and her father slept in a chinaberry tree with a shotgun afterward to watch over them at night. Parks’ arrival only made things worse – the deputy sheriff forced her to leave town lest he lock her up.

She left, but formed the Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor. They spearheaded a letter writing campaign that eventually forced Alabama Governor Chauncey Sparks to investigate.

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The subsequent inquiry found that the Abbeville sheriff had lied about arresting the men in question, that not only had four of the six admitted to having (consensual) sex with Mrs. Taylor that night, one of them had told the truth – that “she was crying and asking us to let her go home to her husband and baby.”

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Despite the findings and even the confession, a second grand jury refused to indict the men responsible.

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Everyone moved on, though Rosa Parks did help Mrs. Taylor and her family relocate when they realized they would never feel safe in Abbeville. Her case was never revisited, and it wasn’t until the publication of a book – 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,” by Danielle L. McGuire – that she was issued an official apology by the Alabama Legislature. They called the failure to prosecute “morally abhorrent and repugnant.”

She also received apologies from the Abbeville mayor and the county and state governments.

A documentary, The Rape of Recy Taylor, was also released in 2017, just a three weeks before Recy Taylor died at the age of 97, at home once again in Abbeville, Alabama.

h/t: NY Times

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