Recy Taylor was only 24 years old the day her life changed forever. It was Sept 3, 1944 in Abbevilla, Alabama when she was abducted and raped by six white men.
The brutal crime is the focus of a documentary being shown at the Little Theatre Friday evening. The Rochester Association of Black Journalists is showing The Rape of Recy Taylor as the next film in the monthly Black Cinema Series. They’ve partnered with the the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys to present the film.
A panel will follow the screening and include: Amy Schwartz of Empire Justice and Mary Marino, Director RESTORE Sexual Assault Services.
“The movie is important because it talks about a historical incident that people should know about,” said Kevin Hicks, an organizer of the Black Cinema Series. “The fact that the movie subject just passed away and her story was brought to light by her brother, just shows that we need to be in tune with history.”
“The black press had covered this story but the majority didn’t,” he continued. “It’s not that it hadn’t been covered; it’s just that it’s just coming to light to a broader community.”
The Black Cinema Series brings a black film to the Little at least once a month- films may be created by black filmmakers or feature the black community. The goal is to provide a proper stage and spotlight to black cinema.
“We had a black cinema festival that went for 10 years,” said Hicks who explained that the series isn’t new- it’s just revamped.
“I think the Black Cinema Series has grown in that the way we’ve been putting together the panels, we’ve been able to reach out and get a broad range of panelists. We see some people repeat. When we did Get Out, the film had been out for a while but people wanted to experience it again.”
Organizers say they’re also collecting donations at this screening to benefit RESTORE: The Rape Crisis Center. Their needs include coloring books, colored pencils/crayons, journals and new underwear in various sizes. Donations will be collected before and after the film.
At the time, Taylor was not the only black woman brutalized by white men. Historians say during the Jim Crow Era, black women were often beaten, raped or even murdered with little legal repercussion for their assaulters. And Taylor was poor, thus even more marginalized. She was born to sharecropping parents and at 17, her mother died, leaving her to care for six siblings. By the time she was 24, she’d married and had a young daughter.
On that day, she was walking home from church with a friend and the friend’s son when a car pulled alongside them. US Army Private Herbert Lovett and six other men, all armed, were inside. They then accused her of injuring a white male earlier that day though she maintained she’d been with her friend all day who backed her up.
But the men didn’t believe her and forced her into the car at gunpoint.
“Get them rags off,” they told her when they’d taken her to a secluded place, and she was ordered to remove her clothes. Six raped her. While she was gone, her friend immediately reported to it to the police but despite a confession and three eyewitness reports, authorities didn’t even pursue the named men at first.
But Taylor wouldn’t be quiet. She demanded justice and spoke about her assault often.She’d receive death threats and even have her home firebombed. She eventually moved her husband and daughter into her family home to stay with siblings. Her entire family avoided going out at night; and she didn’t leave altogether.
Black press covered this issue extensively and the N.A.A.C.P later sent a young actitivist from the Montgomery Chapter- Rosa Parks. Then angry people began to write to the Governor of Alabama, Chauncey Sparks. They compared the police force to Nazis and demanded action until “Governor Sparks reluctantly agreed to launch an investigation.”
During that investigation the local sheriff lied about starting his own investigation when presented with the friend’s accusations and arresting the men. He also accused Taylor of being a “whore” who had intercourse with other people and had even been treated for a sexually transmitted disease. Degrading her character would allow for less sympathy.
However, one of the assailants, Joe Culpepper, admitted that he and the other rapists were out looking for a woman the night of the attack. He confessed that Lovett demanded Taylor get into the car at gunpoint and admitted that she was later raped, blindfolded, and left on the side of the road. His retelling matched Taylor’s original account. However, even with this information (plus other testimonies) two juries failed to see there was enough evidence to indict the men. They were never held legally accountable. It wasn’t until 2011 that Taylor received an apology from the Alabama state legislature. She died just last year, Dec 28 2017, at age 97 in her sleep.
“It’s very important we know our history,” said RABJ president Richard McCullough “We can’t shut it off. If they don’t teach it in school and a lot of times they’re not..what I say to young people is to please read and be fully vested. African-Americans built this country. Don’t ever say sorry you’re not part of this, you’re fully invested in this too.”
To purchase tickets for the movie, head to the Little’s website.