From Slavery Onward, A Black Woman’s Body Was Never Hers Alone

Recy Taylor with her daughter and husband

To mark the start of the ever-questionable Black History Month and what would have been the 106th birthday of the ever-iconic Rosa Parks – “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in” – we pay tribute to Recy Taylor, the 24-year-old black mother abducted and gang raped in 1944 Alabama by six white boys, and to all the other unnamed, unheard black women likewise victimized by what was long a “weapon of terror” wielded by white men in the Jim Crow South. Taylor was walking home from church in the small town of Abbeville when she was kidnapped, blindfolded and raped at gunpoint; begging for her life, she promised to stay silent so she could return to her husband and nine-month-old daughter. But she spoke up. Though she and her family were harassed and the boys were never brought to justice, Taylor’s rape became the focus of a high-profile  N.A.A.C.P. campaign led by a tough women’s rights advocate – Rosa Parks. It also became a galvanizing moment for a civil rights movement that took far too long to acknowledge a key, enduring injustice: In an America rooted in slavery, charged activist Fannie Lou Hamer, “A black woman’s body was never hers alone.”

Taylor’s harrowing story has been told in the book, “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance,” and in the film, “The Rape of Recy Taylor.” Both determinedly place her story in the broader context of the brutal history of sexual violence against black women, part of what Ida Wells, fiery 1890s anti-lynching activist and editor called a post-slavery “system of intimidation” designed to keep them “subservient and submissive.” Unlike lynchings of black men, there was little visual record of rapes of black women; still, they were so common, wrote activist Anna Julia Cooper, “Only the black woman can say, ‘When and where I enter, then and there the whole (race) enters with me.’” Taylor helped break the silence around those crimes; today, black women still toil to reclaim their bodies, stories, humanity. In 2011, the state of Alabama finally issued an apology, offering Taylor their “deepest sympathies and solemn regrets” for the failure to indict her attackers – a failure one Democratic lawmaker deemed “morally abhorrent.” Taylor was then 91; she died at 97, having earlier visited the Obama White House. To those seeking to retell her story, she explained speaking up long ago in stark, steadfast terms: “I had to say what they did to me.”

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Taylor. Photo by Al.com


Via Common Dreams. This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission or license.