The story of Recy Taylor’s rape is making news decades after it occurred. Taylor is a 91-year-old Black woman who was abducted and raped at gunpoint by seven white men in Abbeville, Alabama on Sept. 3, 1944.
Now, many years after the horrible incident, Mrs. Taylor has received an apology from leaders in rural Southeast Alabama. Yesterday, at a press conference Democratic State Rep. Dexter Grimsley of Newville addressed members of Taylor’s family acknowledging the failure of authorities to investigate and pursue justice for her case.
“I would like to extend a deep, heartfelt apology for the error we made here in Alabama. It was so unkind. We can’t stand around and say that it didn’t happen.”
Many have said that the apology should have come from the entire state of Alabama. They say that the onus is not only on this community but on those in the federal government to respond as well. They certainly have a case and should pursue an apology on behalf of the government to Mrs. Taylor and the countless other Black women whose rapes at the hands of white men went systematically unpunished by a racism plagued government.
But reading the news reports on yesterday’s press conference, I was struck by a small detail in the report. Taylor’s youngest brother, Robert Corbitt, fought long and hard to get officials to recognize the wrong done against his sister. Though he was only a child when his sister was brutally raped, he has gone over the rejection of her case by an all-white grand jury with a fine toothcomb. He learned how prosecutors’ falsely accused his sister of being a prostitute. He studied how Rosa Parks and other prominent activists launched the Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor on his sisters’ behalf.
Mrs. Taylor’s brother had also kept tabs on the seven men accused in the gang rape of his sister. According to Corbitt’s interview with the Anniston Star, six of the seven men identified as his sister’s attackers were dead.
What stood out to me in reading reports on the story was Corbitt and Taylor’s lack of concern over the fate of the remaining living offender. Alabama is one of six previously segregated Southern states with no statute of limitations on rape. Yet, bringing this man forward to face trial was neither Corbitt nor Taylor’s concern. Instead, Corbitt says that he was focused on an apology from the State because that is what he thought mattered more:
“I would like to see her have some peace before she leaves this earth. What hurt her the most was their saying this never happened.”
Though he did not say it and did not have to, Mr. Corbitt’s sister is a remarkably strong woman. Not only did Mrs. Taylor endure the horrible experience of rape, she rose above the hatred that fueled the attack. Though she certainly would have every right, she was not placing emphasis on the punishment of her still living attacker, but on the acknowledgment of the injustice inflicted on her and other Black women during that time.
Corbitt says that he would like to see his sister have some peace before she leaves this earth, but her emphasis’ on justice over hatred suggests she has already found a way to create a refuge from the storm.
Mrs. Taylor deserves an apology from the highest levels of our government. She deserved it years ago and she certainly deserves it before she leaves this earth.
At 91, Mrs. Taylor has outlived six of her seven attackers. Though her health kept her from attending yesterday’s press conference, there is no doubting her spirit or her strength.
As Black women, we come from a history of injustice but also triumph. Despite the challenges we face individually and collectively today, we should remember the spirit of Mrs. Taylor and the strength that comes from finding some refuge within.