After 67 years, lawmakers apologize to rape victim
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Legislature has officially apologized to an elderly black woman who was raped nearly seven decades ago by a gang of white men as she walked home from church.
The Senate gave final approval Thursday on a voice vote to a resolution that expresses “deepest sympathy and deepest regrets” to Recy Taylor, now 91 and living in Florida. She told The Associated Press last year that she believes the men who attacked her in 1944 are dead but that she still wanted an apology from the state of Alabama.
The House approved the resolution last month. It now goes to Gov. Robert Bentley, who said Thursday he’s not personally familiar with details of the case, but sees no reason why he wouldn’t sign it.
Reached by phone Thursday by the AP, Taylor said she welcomed the Legislature’s action.
“I think that’s nice,” she said. “It’s been a long time. I’m satisfied.”
The resolution by Democratic state Rep. Dexter Grimsley of Newville says the failure to prosecute the men was “morally abhorrent and repugnant.” He has said police bungled the investigation and harassed Taylor, and local leaders recently acknowledged that her attackers escaped prosecution in part because of racism.
The AP does not typically identify victims of sexual assault but is using her name because she has publicly identified herself.
Taylor was 24 when she was confronted by seven men who forced her into their car at knife- and gun- point and drove her to a deserted grove of trees where six of the men raped her in Abbeville in southeastern Alabama. She was then left on the side of the road in an isolated area.
Two all-white, all-male grand juries refused to indict the suspects after the attack. Recy Taylor’s brother, 74-year-old Robert Corbitt, said law enforcement authorities tried to blame the attack on his sister. He said his family was threatened after the attack, his sister’s house was firebombed and his father had to guard the house.
“I’m so glad they (the Legislature) decided to do the right thing,” Corbitt said.
Corbitt said Taylor is in poor health, but he hopes she will come back to Abbeville by Mother’s Day in May. Grimsley said he hopes to present her with a copy of the resolution at that time.
Taylor said officials in Abbeville expressed regret that she was not present earlier this year when her hometown issued an apology in the case.
“Since I wasn’t there, they said they should’ve had somebody on the phone to let me know that they were sorry about the length of time that it’s been,” she said. “I don’t even know what they said. They said they did the wrong thing.”
Taylor has returned to Abbeville frequently since moving to Florida more than 30 years ago and said she expects to visit her brother there next month. She is not sure she will feel differently now that the town has apologized.
“A lot of people have gone on,” she said. “There’s nobody to fear there now.”
There was no opposition to the resolution in the Legislature and no debate in the Senate before Thursday’s vote.
“The family deserves someone to say that was a tragedy and the lady was done wrong,” said Republican Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale, chairman of the Rules Committee that asked the Senate to approve the resolution.
Democratic Sen. Billy Beasley, whose district includes Abbeville, said Taylor wanted an apology and the Senate wanted to provide one.
“The state of Alabama apologizes for the incident that occurred to Mrs. Taylor many years ago, and we wish God’s speed for her and continued best wishes,” Beasley said.
Grimsley said the apology shows Alabama officials were able to do the right thing on a racial matter.
“I think it’s going to take things like this for the state to move forward” from the racial turmoil of the past, he said.
Grimsley said he pushed the apology through the Legislature for Taylor.
“I just knew I had to do something for her while she’s still here,” he said.
Taylor’s story, along with those of other black women attacked by white men during the civil rights era, is told in “At the Dark End of the Street,” a book by Danielle McGuire, a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. Activists including Rosa Parks took up the causes of Taylor and others, but their efforts were later overshadowed by other civil rights battles.
Associated Press writer Errin Haines contributed to this report from Atlanta
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.