During last night’s Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey shined a light on the plight of women everywhere. In her powerful speech, the TV icon said #MeToo movement was not new. Women have long been abused and misused by men, she argued.
Winfrey also cited the decades-old and horrifying case of Recy Taylor, who was raped in segregated Alabama. Her attackers weren’t arrested, and she received no justice.
The fight for justice
Taylor, who was 24 at the time, was abducted and raped by six white men in Abbeville, Alabama. She was walking home from church with a friend and her son when they noticed a green Chevrolet passing them by several times.
When the car stopped, seven armed white men got out and ordered them to stop. They forced Taylor into the car at gunpoint and drove her out to a grove of trees, where they told her to strip. Taylor begged to be let go, and revealed that she had a husband and child at home.
In response, Herbert Lovett told her to “act just like you do with your husband or I’ll cut your damn throat.”
Six of the seven men then raped her. The seventh, Billy Howerton, did not participate because he knew her.
When Taylor spoke with Sheriff George H. Gamble, she admitted that she was blindfolded and unable to identify her attackers. However, her description of the car led them to a man named Hugo Wilson.
Wilson was questioned at the county jail, and admitted that he and Lovett, along with Dillard York, Luther Lee, Willie Joe Culpepper and Robert Gamble, had sex with Taylor. But, he insisted, they paid her for the sex, and it was consensual.
None of the men were arrested, and the police never made a lineup. Therefore Taylor was not able to identify her attackers. And though the NAACP sent Rosa Parks to interview Taylor and help her case, a grand jury declined to indict.
A community infuriated
When the news spread, the Black community rallied behind Taylor. Parks helped to organize the Committee for Equal Justice for Taylor, which became a nationwide movement. Letters, petitions, and postcards reached Governor Chauncey Sparks, calling for him to investigate.
Faced with pressure, Sparks finally did investigate. He found that the sheriff lied about arresting the men. What’s more, four of the seven men admitted to having sex with her.
One man, Willie Joe Culpepper, corroborated Taylor’s account, saying, “She was crying and asking us to let her go home to her husband and baby.”
And yet a second grand jury in 1945 again failed to indict the men.
A resurgence of interest in recent years
While Taylor eventually moved to Florida and fell into obscurity picking oranges, her story found new life. In 2010, historian Danielle L. McGuire released the 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.”
After the book’s release, the Alabama Legislature officially apologized to Taylor. The elected body called the failure to prosecute the men “morally abhorrent and repugnant.”
Taylor later shared her story in a 2017 documentary, The Rape of Recy Taylor.
“Many ladies got raped,” Taylor said in an interview with director Nancy Buirski. “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.”
Three weeks after the film’s release, Taylor passed away at age 97.