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Why Recy Taylor, And Her Story Of Sexual Assault During The Jim Crow Era, Matter

She spoke up; if only she had gotten her justice.

Recy Taylor, 97, passed Thursday morning at a nursing home in Abbeville, Alabama. Unfortunately, many people may not know who she was or the impact of her story, but people really ought to say her name.

Taylor was one of the countless black women who was sexually assaulted during the Jim Crow era. Her story was the subject of a new Nancy Buirski documentary The Rape of Recy Taylor, exploring the little-known terror campaign waged against black women. 

In 1944, when she was walking home from church one evening, she was kidnapped, blindfolded and assaulted by six white men. Rosa Parks, who worked as a local NAACP official, went to Abbeville to agitate for the prosecution of Taylor’s attackers. Unsurprisingly, none of them was ever indicted.

The documentary debuted at the New York Film Festival this year. Taylor has also been a central figure in a book by historian Danielle 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. McGuire’s book traces how anti-rape activism in the South helped fuel the civil rights movement.

According to her brother Robert Lee Corbitt, 81, Taylor “had a very good life,” but she never recovered emotionally from the attack that took place when she was just 24 years old.

Taylor spent most of her adult years in Winter Haven, Florida. Her family moved her back to Abbeville when she was 93 because she began to suffer from dementia.

“She was a Christian all of her life,” Corbitt told The Undefeated. “She kept us in church all that time. I live about 500 feet from the church where she was going that night, and I’m also a deacon of that church.”

Corbitt said he moved back to Alabama after he retired from working as a building maintenance official in New York. His purpose was to research what happened to his sister and attempt to obtain some measure of justice for her. Corbitt is one of the primary sources for Buirski’s film. 

“She would only talk to me,” Corbitt said. “That’s why I dug at it so hard. After I retired, I devoted myself to getting something done about it. We did get an apology from the state of Alabama.”

Unfortunately, an apology doesn't bring justice, and that's something Taylor never got to see in this lifetime.

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