It was an electrifying moment at last week's Golden Globes when Oprah Winfrey put the spotlight on a black woman from Alabama named Recy Taylor. In 1944, as she was coming home from church, Recy Taylor was kidnapped and raped by six white men. They left her blindfolded by the side of the road and threatened to kill her if she told anyone what had happened. She did anyway. Nevertheless, justice was never served.
Danielle McGuire teaches history at Wayne State University and is the author of the book, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance. She joined Stateside to discuss the story of Recy Taylor and the history of racial and sexual violence in the United States.
Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below.
Rosa Parks investigates Recy Taylor case
“The NAACP in Montgomery heard about what happened. They sent their very best investigator to figure out what was going on, and that was Rosa Parks. It was eleven years before the bus boycott, but Rosa Parks was secretary of the Montgomery NAACP, and what that really meant was that she was a field secretary. Her job was to go around the state and investigate crimes against African Americans and to do a kind of triage to determine which cases the NAACP could make a case out of or could launch into a national movement. And that’s what they decided to do with the Recy Taylor case.”
“There were two grand jury hearings, one that was in the fall of 1944, shortly after the assault. But none of the all-white, all-male Henry County grand jurors were willing to indict Taylor’s assailants.
“Then a pressure campaign started, formed by the committee for equal justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor, which Mrs. Parks helped to found. It was linked and organized by African American groups all around Alabama and then all around the country…
“So the governor sent his own private investigators to Abbeville… What they realized was that [the assailants] were guilty… The investigators found out that the county had blocked any kind of movement toward justice… The governor ordered a second grand jury hearing, but once again, those same Henry County grand jurors refused to indict the assailants."
“Countless Recy Taylors”: Rape as a tool of white supremacy
“From slavery through the better part of the twentieth century, white men abducted and assaulted black women with alarming regularity, and all too often with impunity. What happened with Recy Taylor was sadly all too common.”
“Rape is a weapon of war, and it’s a weapon of terror. So rape was used in many ways throughout the Reconstruction period and through the period where white supremacists overthrew state governments and took power back. Rape was a way to intimidate families, it was a way to overpower families, to assert white superiority and white supremacy.”
“A healthy dose of self-awareness”: On being a white woman studying black history
“As a white woman, [my responsibility] is to tell the truth about the past. It’s to have a healthy dose of self-awareness about being white and telling those stories, always being sure to remember that these are not my stories, but that I am using my privilege to provide a platform so that other people’s stories can be heard.
“I think that those of us who have privilege and power—like Oprah Winfrey did at the Golden Globes—we need to use that privilege and power to let other people hear, and to see, and to understand that there are many people among us who are marginalized by their race, by their class, by their physical ability, by their sexuality, who don’t get the same kind of attention and protection."