It is always difficult for women to speak up about harassment. When they did, they helped ensure that 2017 was the year they changed the world. The recent spate of sexual assault claims sweeping powerful men off their pedestals has been heartening for many. The hashtag #MeToo has inspired thousands of men and women worldwide to share their stories and shine a new light on one of the darker sides of power and those who wield it. But few can know or understand how hard it is for women to find their voice. Women like Recy Taylor.
The story of Recy Taylor is one with strikingly disturbing parallels to today. It is a story of pain and humiliation, a story of how justice was denied and of the courage it takes to speak out and be heard. Recy Taylor, who died yesterday at the age of 97, was a resident of Abbeville, Alabama when her life changed forever.
Recy Taylor was 24 years old when she was kidnapped at gunpoint by six white men on her way home from church on 3 September 1944. She was taken away and then raped repeatedly until her attackers left her lying on the side of the road. Her story gained nationwide attention when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) assigned Rosa Parks, a well-known activist, to investigate the case. Her investigation turned into a campaign for justice.
The campaign was spurred on by the fact that, despite admitting their guilt, two grand juries of all-white men refused to indict the six men responsible. Regardless, Recy Taylor was encouraged to speak out and in doing so, forced both the civil rights movement and the nation to tackle an issue that it still has trouble talking about.
Before Rosa Parks was involved, Taylor’s story was one that mainstream media, mostly owned and read by white people, ignored and so it was black-owned newspapers that led the charge and put pressure on the governor to act. Taylor’s story came to light in a world where gender roles were rigidly adhered to and racial segregation was a fact of life for many. It was a world where white men were in charge and where speaking out could cost you everything.
Nevertheless, Recy Taylor carried on and while she never received justice, she managed to secure an apology from Alabama’s state legislature in 1994. With the prominence of #MeToo, her tale is a timely reminder that men and women alike should never be afraid of speaking up against injustice.
it falls to all of us to ensure that those who were abused are not silenced, to give them the closure they deserve by bringing those who preyed on them to justice. The minute we let our guard down or let the stories fade from memory, others will suffer the same fate from those who feel they are above the law.
Let us stand with those who were abused.
We owe to Recy Taylor and all those like her to do so.