6 things you should know about Recy Taylor, the courageous activist Oprah honored in her 2018 Golden Globes speech
At the 2018 Golden Globes last night, Oprah Winfrey gave a powerful speech while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes, the first Black woman to ever receive it. Her words were so many things — honest, raw, informative, inspiring, empowering, to name a few. In her speech, Oprah honored all of the women who survived abuse but never had their photograph taken on a red carpet.
“It’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry…I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know.”
And that led to Oprah’s tribute to Recy Taylor, a Black woman, activist, and rape survivor in the Jim Crow South who passed away a mere 10 days ago and was the subject of a 2017 documentary, The Rape of Recy Taylor.
"And there's someone else, Recy Taylor, a name I know and I think you should know, too. In 1944, Recy Taylor was a young wife and mother walking home from a church service she'd attended in Abbeville, Alabama, when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped, and left blindfolded by the side of the road coming home from church. They threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone, but her story was reported to the NAACP where a young worker by the name of Rosa Parks became the lead investigator on her case, and together they sought justice. But justice wasn't an option in the era of Jim Crow. The men who tried to destroy her were never persecuted. Recy Taylor died ten days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up... And I just hope — I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented, goes marching on."
Taylor became an activist, refusing to let the trauma silence her at a time when rape survivors — especially survivors who were Black women — faced even more danger than they do today. Although she is no longer here with us, Recy Taylor’s legacy lives on. It is critical that we educate ourselves on her life so that we can become stronger and wiser as we confront the intersection of sexual abuse, race, and gender.
Here are 6 facts about Recy Taylor, her story, and her activism that you should know.
1Recy Taylor was on her way home from church when she was abducted and raped.
This disturbing detail is one of many instances of Black people seeking spiritual fortitude and safety within church, yet being denied that refuge by racists. Much like the Birmingham Church bombing and the Charleston church massacre, Recy Taylor’s attack, juxtaposed with a religious undertone, makes the situation all the more sinister. Moreover, the 24-year-old was accompanied by two men, who were threatened with guns by her attackers.
2The men who attacked her faced no consequences.
Recy Taylor defiantly refused the $600 that her attackers offered her as “hush money,” but the disgusting racist mindset that plagued the Jim Crow era meant that white men got away with a variety of horrific crimes. There was a sense of invincibility — which has also manifested itself in modern day — but thankfully that arrogance is being gradually destroyed by the #MeToo movement. Unfortunately, accountability was a foreign concept in the 1940s, and none of Taylor’s six assailants were even arrested.
3Rosa Parks was sent by the NAACP to investigate the rape.
Years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, she was already an activist. Justice for Taylor was part of a movement centered around sexual violence perpetrated by white men against Black women. When asked about Parks, Taylor said, “They said [Rosa Parks] come to the house, my daddy’s house. That’s how she got in touch with me ’cause he’s the one that talked to her and then talked to me going to Montgomery ’cause he didn’t know what might happen later.”
4Recy Taylor worked as a sharecropper.
Like many poor Black people living in the Deep South in the early 1900s, Taylor worked as a sharecropper, or someone who lives on farmland owned by another person and pays their rent with a portion of their crops; it was another way to keep Black people controlled, indentured, and poor. Physical violence against sharecroppers was not uncommon at the time.
5Recy Taylor’s activism was the subject of a book published in 2011.
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 researched the horrific normalcy of the raping of Black women by white men in the Jim Crow South, especially when Black women traveled to and from church and work. The book connects Black women’s anti-rape activism to the birth of the civil rights movement. false
6A documentary chronicling Recy Taylor’s activism was released last year.
Featuring voiceovers from family members as well as the late Rosa Parks, The Rape of Recy Taylor documented the sexual violence faced by Black women in the Jim Crow South and the court’s failure to protect Recy Taylor. The documentary premiered in New York in December 2017 and gives an in-depth look into the systematic racism and gender inequality Taylor endured. The film was narrated by Nancy Buirski and was praised by The New York Times.
Thank you, Recy.