“I can’t help but tell the truth of what they done to me,” says Recy Taylor, in the documentary of her life released last year, The Rape of Recy Taylor.
Taylor was born Recy (pronounced ree-see) Corbitt in Abbeville, Alabama, to a family of African American sharecroppers. From the age of 17, after the death of her mother, she helped her father Benny Corbitt raise her six younger siblings.
She later married Willie Guy Taylor and had a daughter of her own, Joyce Lee. Willie Taylor was at home with their daughter on the night of 3 September, 1944, when Taylor accompanied her friend Fanny Daniel and Daniel’s son West to the Rock Hill Holiness Church.
As they walked home, they were stopped by seven young men in a green Chevy. The young men forced Taylor into their car at gunpoint before taking her to a patch of trees where she was blindfolded, stripped and raped by six of her kidnappers.
The events of that night were to change not only Taylor’s life but the course of the civil rights movement. Though her attackers had threatened her with death, Taylor did not keep quiet. She reported her rape. Daniels and her son, who had reported the kidnapping as soon as it happened, identified the car and six of the men inside it. However none of the rapists – who were all white – were called in.
The case came to the attention of the National Association for Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) which sent its best investigator, Rosa Parks, to take Taylor’s testimony. Parks was instrumental in ensuring the case came to trial in October 1944.
An all-white, all-male jury dismissed the case after five minutes of deliberation but Parks was not to be put off. With her fellow activists, she continued to lobby Alabama governor Chauncey Sparks until he agreed to another investigation.
Parks set up the Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs Recy Taylor, drawing support from all over America. She also drew the attention of the FBI, which argued…