Recy Taylor was born on December 31, 1919, to a family of sharecroppers in Abbeville, Alabama. She became the primary caretaker of her six siblings at age seventeen after her mother died. Recy went on to marry Willie Guy Taylor, and the couple had a child in 1941.
On September 3, 1944, Recy Taylor, her friend Fannie Daniels, and Daniels’s son West Daniels attended an evening church service. On their walk home, a car containing seven white men stopped alongside them, and the men kidnapped Taylor at gunpoint. They threatened her life and brought her to the woods, where six of them raped her. After the attack, they left her on the side of the highway.
Fannie Daniels reported the kidnapping of her friend to local authorities immediately. Taylor’s father, Benny Corbitt, and the former chief of police Will Cook went out looking for Taylor and found her as she was making her way home.
She described the assault to the police, and through her description of the car, the police identified and brought in Hugo Wilson. Wilson admitted to the attack, but alleged that the men had paid Taylor and argued that they could therefore not be charged with rape. He named the other six attackers as Dillard York, Billy Howerton, Herbert Lovett, Luther Lee, Joe Culpepper, and Robert Gamble. After Wilson confessed, the police sent him home and refused to arrest the other men. The following day, the Taylors’ home was set on fire.
The attack, and the lack of justice evident in the official response, spurred a major campaign of activism by Black civil rights organizers in Alabama. The NAACP chapter in Montgomery, Alabama, became involved, sending Rosa Parks to investigate and advocate on Taylor’s behalf. Parks launched the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor.
About a month after the attack, a grand jury made up entirely of white men refused to indict the six rapists. Due to Rosa Parks’s and others’ organizing, the governor’s office was overwhelmed with letters of support for Taylor, and the governor reopened the case. However, on February 14, 1945, a second all-white, all-male grand jury refused to indict, and the men were never prosecuted.
In a 2011 interview, Recy Taylor said, "They didn't try to do nothing about it. I just get upset because I do my best to be nice to people, because I don't want people to mistreat me and do me any kind of way.” That year, the state of Alabama formally apologized to Taylor for the failure to prosecute her rapists.
A documentary about Taylor’s experience, titled The Rape of Recy Taylor, was released in 2017. Three weeks later, she died in Abbeville at the age of ninety-seven.
For more information:
Danielle L. McGuire, 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 (New York: Vintage, 2011).