‘Rape of Recy’ film recounts 1944 ordeal
By Lynn Elber
AP Television Writer
When Oprah Winfrey saluted unheralded #MeToo crusaders at the Golden Globes last January, she chose a rape victim from 1940s Alabama to drive home her point.
“Recy Taylor, a name I know, and I think you should know, too,” Winfrey said, sketching the outlines of the African-American woman’s assault by six white Alabama youths and her quest for justice.
Taylor’s wrenching story and its connection to female civil rights activists, most notably Rosa Parks, are illuminated in filmmaker Nancy Buirski’s documentary “The Rape of Recy Taylor” (airing 9 p.m. Monday on the Starz channel).
Taylor, who died last December at age 97 shortly after the film’s theatrical release, is seen and heard briefly in it. Her words are powerful despite her frailty.
“I can’t but tell the truth of what they done to me,” she said, condemning both her attackers and the authorities who weren’t “concerned about what happened to me.”
In 1944, Taylor, then 24, married and a mother, was walking to her Abbeville, Ala., home after an evening church service with two friends, an older woman and her 18-year-old son. Local whites out joyriding stopped them and, at gunpoint, demanded Taylor get in their car.
They raped her repeatedly and, after forcing money into her hand, released her after she agreed to remain silent.
She stumbled home “crying and upset,” recalls her brother, Robert Corbitt. “Those young boys felt like they can do it and get away with it. They really felt like they could. They know nothing was going to happen to them.”
But Taylor fought back, recounting the assault to the local sheriff. Her courage put her family at risk – their home was firebombed – and eventually led to two faint-hearted, failed efforts to bring the case to trial in the Jim Crow South.
The roots of such inaction run deep. Yale associate professor Crystal N. Feimster, who is part of the documentary, has written that it was a legal impossibility for a female slave to file rape charges against a white man in any Southern state before 1861.
Northern black newspapers doggedly covered Taylor’s case as it unfolded, prompting African-American protests and action by the NAACP. The civil rights group dispatched Parks, then the secretary in its Montgomery, Ala., office, to meet with Taylor – before Parks gained fame as the woman whose refusal to move to the back of a segregated bus sparked a powerful boycott.
In a newspaper photo taken at the time, Taylor stares directly at the camera with an expression both stolid and determined. It’s a portrait of a young woman prepared to stand her ground.