During Oprah Winfrey’s instantly legendary acceptance speech for her Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award at the 75th annual Golden Globes, the A Wrinkle In Time star not only shared her own personal stories of struggle and hope, but introduced millions to a name she thought we should all know: Recy Taylor.
“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,” Winfrey explained. “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. ”
Taylor’s life after her assault became local and then national news. The home she shared with her husband and infant child became too dangerous for her to live in after white supremacists threatened to kill her, and at one point, their front porch was burned to the ground after a firebomb was lobbed at their home.
The six men who attacked Taylor (and their driver accomplice) never answered for their crimes, although there were two separate trials, both of which were attended by all-white male juries. While her accused attackers Hugo Wilson, Billy Howerton, Herbert Lovett, Luther Lee, Robert Gamble, Joe Culpepper, and Dillard York all remained free, their abuses against Taylor helped spark some of the first women-led civil rights actions in the south.
From her attack at 24 years old to her death in December 2017, just shy of her 98th birthday, Taylor never stopped speaking out about the intersection of racism and sexism that caused her brutal assault to go unresolved. In a 2010 interview with The Associated Press, the unassuming activist admitted that although her assailants were all probably dead, she would appreciate an apology from the court system that failed her and countless other Black women assaulted during the era of Jim Crow.
“It would mean a whole lot to me,” Taylor said of an apology at the time. “The people who done this to me … they can’t do no apologizing. Most of them is gone.” In 2011, the Alabama state legislature passed a resolution finally apologizing for their mistreatment of Taylor.
“Recy Taylor died 10 days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday,” Winfrey declared. “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.”
Hopefully, she did.
If you would like more information on the life of Recy Taylor, a documentary has been made about her life. Check out the trailer here.
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(Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)