Who Is Recy Taylor, The Woman Whose Name Oprah Thinks Everyone Should Know?

Get to know this hidden figure from U.S. history.

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey's speech at the 2018 Golden Globes, the one where she became the first Black woman in history to received the Cecil B. DeMille Award, was inspiring for many reasons. While her words evoked a sense of hope for the future, they also harkened back to remember those who came before us — notably a woman named Recy Taylor, a name Winfrey believes we should all know.

The 63-year-old living legend began by recounting a traumatic moment from Taylor's life. Back in 1944, Taylor — who was a 24-year-old wife and mother — was walking home from church in Abbeville, Alabama, when several armed White men abducted her, raped her, left her blindfolded on the side of the road, and threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone. Taylor's story was reported to the NAACP, where a woman named Rosa Parks was assigned as lead investigator. Unfortunately, this was a different time — during the Jim Crow era — and those men were never punished … despite confessions that may have otherwise have done them in.

"Recy Taylor died 10 days ago [on December 28, 2016], just shy of her 98th birthday," Winfrey said. "She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up."

"And I just hope — I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented, goes marching on," Winfrey continued. "It was somewhere in Rosa Parks' heart almost 11 years later, when she made the decision to stay seated on that bus in Montgomery, and it's here with every woman who chooses to say, 'Me too.' And every man — every man who chooses to listen."

With Winfrey introducing us to this hidden figure from our history, we thought it would be important to continue educating others on exactly who Taylor is with some extra details:

A far-reaching legacy.

Taylor's story is credited for being one of the early sparks of the civil rights movement that came to the forefront in the 1960s, according to Essence. Along with Taylor, Parks helped found The Committee for Equal Justice (also known as The Committee for Equal Justice for the Rights of Mrs. Recy Taylor) — an organization created in 1944, the same year as Taylor's rape, to help Black women fight against sexual violence and interracial rape. Many famous names joined the cause — including, but not limited to, W.E.B. DuBois, Mary Church Terrell, Langston Hughes, and Oscar Hammerstein II.

At the time, Taylor's story was covered extensively by Black news outlets such as the Chicago Defender, per The Washington Post, helping to galvanize support and organize advocates for equal rights. In White Nights, Black Paradise, Sikivu Hutchinson wrote: "[Taylor's] case became a major catalyst for Black women's civil rights resistance and the intersectional connection between sexual violence and state violence." And, as Winfrey pointed out, Taylor's case most likely had a lasting effect on Parks, whose actions on that bus in Montgomery is one of the turning points in U.S. history. Now, with the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, Taylor's refusal to give into a system that perpetuated and fostered crime against women lives on. She didn't keep quiet and her legacy is that women now and in the future speak out as well.

A book that led to an apology.

In 2010, historian Danielle L. McGuire wrote a book titled 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. It was in this book that many first learned details about Taylor's story and brought the case back into the public spotlight, leading to formal apologies from Alabama House of Representatives on behalf of the state in regards to how the case was handled.

"BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA, BOTH HOUSES THEREOF CONCURRING, That we acknowledge the lack of prosecution for crimes committed against Recy Taylor by the government of the State of Alabama, that we declare such failure to act was, and is, morally abhorrent and repugnant, and that we do hereby express profound regret for the role played by the government of the State of Alabama in failing to prosecute the crimes," the decree reads. "BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That we express our deepest sympathies and solemn regrets to Recy Taylor and her family and friends."

Taylor first heard these apologies were first heard on Mother's Day that year while she was at the same church she had worshipped in the night of her attack all those years ago.

A documentary with apt timing.

Last year, in what can only be considered perfect timing, a documentary was released about Taylor's life. The Rape of Recy Taylor was produced, written, and directed by Nancy Buirski — the writer and director of The Loving Story documentary in 2011 and producer on the Oscar-nominated Loving in 2016.

"Many ladies got raped," Taylor said in the movie, per Vox. "The peoples there — they seemed like they wasn't concerned about what happened to me, and they didn't try and do nothing about it. I can't help but tell the truth of what they done to me." And, per The New York Times, Taylor said: "The Lord was just with me that night."

"It is Recy Taylor and rare other black women like her who spoke up first when danger was greatest," Buirski told NBC News. "It is these strong women's voices of the 40's and early 50's and their efforts to take back their bodies that led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other movements that followed, notably the one we are witnessing today."

"A new day is on the horizon," Winfrey concluded in the speech. And through it, Taylor's legacy lives on.

Cover image via Krista Kennell / Shutterstock.com


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