The Rape of Recy Taylor
It was 1944 when Recy Taylor was gang-raped by 6 local white boys as she walked home from church. Her story has been silenced right from the beginning, when a police officer whose ancestors had owned Recy’s family tried to persuade her to remain silent. She didn’t. It has been 84 years since this tragedy occured, but unfortunately it wasn’t the first, nor the last, time women’s stories have been ignored, whilst justice never occured.
It is 2018 and I am sitting in a small screening at Picturehouse Central. 3 other people share the room with me, all of us silent, waiting; 3 women, 1 man. I notice I am biting my cuticles, a habit I take up when I am anxious or nervous; I cross my legs and wait to hear a story I have not heard before.
Many of us have heard of, and admire, the shero Rosa Parks. It is a household name we are familiar with from history lessons at school. The moment that apparently started a movement, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus. But the story of Recy Taylor tells us this was not the beginning, but rather the end of Parks’ patience. Parks was a rape investigator for the NAACP long before her iconic defiance. She spent her life trying to bring justice to the black women who were raped, silenced and dehumanised.
The documentary starts with cinematic landscapes of the woods Taylor was raped in, we can hear the voices of her brother and sister take turns in describing Taylor. How, when they were just babies, their mother had died and Taylor had to takeover her role of motherhood at age 17. As a devout Christian, she frequently attended church services in her hometown of Alabama, where one night, as she walked home from church through a dark lane opposite the woods, she was approached by 6 white men ages 14-18. They were in a car and had a shotgun. They threatened and blindfolded her, dragged her into the woods, and spent 5 hours taking it in turns to rape her as she screamed for her 9 month old daughter, her husband, God…
Unfortunately, with our current cultural climate, hearing about sexual assault against women is now a daily expectation when we open the apps on our phones and turn the news on. What makes this a tragedy is how many black women didn’t speak up about their own experiences with the fear of more violence consequently coming for them. How many there were, I guess we’ll never know, but we can assume it was a lot. Taylor’s bravery influenced more women to come forward, but this did not mean justice would be served. In the past year we have seen thousands of women scream #metoo with the knowledge that their voices would not only be heard, but they would (mostly) be safe as they told their stories. A luxury we have, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like one.
What follows is an exploration of the ways in which the justice system frequently failed black women and men in the 20th Century. The documentary describes Taylor’s life after the assault; how Rosa Parks assisted in helping her try to get her story told, and how she was heavily influenced by her in the years leading up to the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955.
The ultimate crux of the story arc, though? The limitless power of Black Women. How, despite losing her daughter, Joyce Taylor, in a car crash and the lead up to her marriage breaking apart, Taylor continues to live, to fight, to speak out. The narrator illustrates that the background to each Civil Rights Movement is embedded in this observation:
“The women were there,
The women are there,
The women will always be here.”
So, if there is one thing you should do this week, make it this. Go and hear her story yourself. Feel angry, but listen. This is not one story being told, it is many women’s. The injustice inherent in sexual assault claims is still a prevalent problem, and one that should not be ignored.
Read about the documentary here: https://www.therapeofrecytaylor.com/the-film-1/
Article by VERVE Operative Helena Burton - Jones