A Tradition of Testimony: Rape, Race, and the Movement for Equal Justice for Recy Taylor

Friday, January 8, 2010: 9:30 AM
Santa Rosa Room (Marriott)
Danielle McGuire , Wayne State University
It was near midnight on September 3, 1944, when the Holiness church in Abbeville, Alabama ended its evening service. After a night of singing and praying, Recy Taylor, a twenty-four-year-old African-American mother, headed toward home. When a passing car rolled to a stop, seven white men with knives and guns got out and walked toward her. One pointed a rifle at Taylor’s head and ordered her into the car and the others threatened to kill her if she ran away. They drove Taylor out of town to a vacant patch of land and stopped beneath a grove of trees. The assailants pushed Taylor out of the car and held her at gunpoint as each man “ravished” her. When they finished, they blindfolded her and dropped her off in the middle of town.
That night she told her father, husband and the local sheriff what happened.
When the Montgomery branch of the Alabama NAACP heard about the brutal assault a few days later, they sent Rosa Parks to investigate.
Within a few weeks, Parks helped form the “Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor.”  The Chicago Defender called the nationwide protest the “strongest campaign for equal justice to Negroes to be seen in a decade.”
Throughout the 1940s, white men abducted and assaulted black women with alarming regularity. Black women retaliated by speaking out. Their testimonies spilled out in churches, courtrooms and congressional hearings. Decades before radical feminists in the Women’s Movement urged rape survivors to “speak out,” black women’s public protests galvanized local, national and even international outrage and sparked larger campaigns for racial justice and human dignity.
When Recy Taylor spoke out against her assailants and Rosa Parks and her allies in Montgomery mobilized in her defense, they joined this tradition of testimony and protest.
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