After 67 Years, Alabama Lawmakers Apologize to Woman

The Alabama Legislature has officially apologized to an elderly black woman who was raped nearly seven decades ago by a gang of white men as she walked home from church.

The Senate gave final approval Thursday [April 21, 2011] on a voice vote to a resolution that expresses “deepest sympathy and deepest regrets” to Recy Taylor, now 91 and living in Florida. She told The Associated Press last year that she believes the men who attacked her in 1944 are dead but that she still wanted an apology from the state of Alabama. Read More From the April 21, 2011 Associated Press article

On September 3, 1944, Ms. Taylor, then 24 years old and a mother of three, was kidnapped and raped by seven white men in the town of Abbeville, Alabama. The men had driven up behind her as she was walking home from church. They forced Ms. Taylor into a car at knife and gunpoint, blindfolded her, and drove her into the woods where they repeatedly raped her. The men then left Ms. Taylor on the side of the highway.

Collecting whatever strength she still had, Ms. Taylor walked home and immediately reported the crime to her father, her husband, and the local county sheriff, then Lewey Corbitt. In the next few hours, Ms. Taylor and her father both accompanied Sheriff Corbitt to locate the perpetrators. When they found them, the men confessed that they had in fact committed these crimes, and yet the men were never prosecuted.

County lawmakers apparently did not initiate an investigation or pursue charges against the known perpetrators. The case caught the attention of the NAACP, which sent Rosa Parks out to visit Ms. Taylor, and take her story back to Montgomery.

Ms. Taylor’s story sparked a national organizing effort that became important in the broader Civil Rights Movement. A number of prominent civil rights leaders throughout the country, including Rosa Parks, took up her case and formed the Committee for Equal Justice for Ms. Recy Taylor. As a result of the efforts of this committee, a grand jury investigation was finally initiated. Yet, two different all-white grand juries failed to indict the alleged perpetrators.

Now, as a result of the efforts of Ms. Taylor’s brother, Mr. Corbitt, and sympathetic public officials like Representative Dexter Grimsley, the state has finally recognized its own role in denying justice to Ms. Taylor and to her family. While the resolution explicitly states that it shall not be interpreted to provide Ms. Taylor with any remedy associated with the state’s actions, it is a significant step toward providing remedial justice to victims like Ms. Taylor, who, at a minimum, seek meaningful recognition of the crimes committed against them.

Resources

Official Apology

HJR 194, Representatives Grimsley, Ball, Melton, England, Holmes, Colston and Mitchell, March 24, 2011

Interviews

CRRJ Interview with Danielle L. McGuire, Assistant Professor, History, Wayne State University, April 11, 2011

CRRJ Interview with Melissa Nobles, Professor, Political Science, MIT, March 28, 2011

NPR Interview with Recy Taylor

Books

Dudden, Alexis, TROUBLED APOLOGIES AMONG JAPAN, KOREA, AND THE UNITED STATES, New York: Columbia University Press (2008)

McGuire, Danielle L., AT THE DARK END OF THE STREET: BLACK WOMEN, RAPE, AND RESISTANCE–A NEW HISTORY OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT FROM ROSA PARKS TO THE RISE OF BLACK POWER, New York: Alfred A. Knopf (2010)

Nobles, Melissa, THE POLITICS OF OFFICIAL APOLOGIES, New York: Cambridge University Press (2008)

Tavuchis, Nicholas, MEA CULPA: A SOCIOLOGY OF APOLOGY AND RECONCILIATION, Stanford: Stanford University Press (1991)