Sunday, 91-year-old Recy Taylor went to church in Abbeville, Alabama. Now a Florida resident, she made the trip to her old hometown for a special purpose: Taylor was finally receiving an apology from the State of Alabama for its “morally abhorrent and repugnant” conduct in response to her 1944 gang-rape.
The group of white men who admitted to the assault were never brought to trial, while Taylor and her family suffered threats and slander from law enforcement engaged in covering up the crime. Not even the concerted efforts of Rosa Parks and the NAACP could overturn the racist structure of the time to bring justice to this young Black woman. The long-overdue apology came after nearly 20,000 Change.org members signed a petition from Taylor’s youngest brother, Robert Corbitt, demanding an apology from the City of Abbeville and State of Alabama. Having won this amazing state level victory, Corbitt’s campaign now turns its focus to the city.
When Rep. Dexter Grimsley, himself an Abbeville native, introduced the state resolution, he vowed that he would personally deliver it to Recy Taylor upon passage, and Corbitt told Change.org that he made good on that promise this Sunday, giving Taylor the apology in front of family and friends at a local church. The resolution, which was signed by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on April 28th, expresses “profound regret for the role played by the government of the State of Alabama in failing to prosecute the crimes” (pdf).
Recy Taylor is also being honored this Thursday at a National Press Club event, “Reintroducing Rosa,” which was inspired by the excellent book that brought Taylor’s story to light: Danielle McGuire’s 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. The event, where McGuire will be speaking, will “share a more accurate account of the role Rosa Parks played in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the civil rights movement.”
Corbitt, now in his 70s, has been working to get an apology for his sister — who he says was like a mother to him growing up — ever since his retirement. He was (pleasantly) shocked at how, after years of work, the launch of the Change.org petition motivated a state apology in less than three months. Corbitt often comments on how local politicians have been nervously watching the signature count climb as hundreds and then thousands of people stood up for his oldest sister.
Yesterday, Corbitt asked to have the Abbeville City Council consider an apology resolution for Recy Taylor at its upcoming meeting on Monday, May 16th at 6 p.m., in the hopes of wrapping up the final leg of this campaign. The agenda will be announced after Wednesday, and a representative of the Alabama NAACP, which has been supportive of the present day Taylor campaign as well as the historical one, is expected to speak in support of the apology.
Because it was the local Abbeville law enforcement of 1944 that Corbitt remembers threatening him family, slandering his sister, and lying in the protection of her rapists, he won’t be satisfied until the city follows in the state’s footsteps to provide a formal apology. Abbeville Mayor Ryan Blalock has already offered his personal regrets, but only the City Council can officially apologize on behalf of the city. Corbitt wants Mayor Blalock to call upon Council Members to pass such a resolution, and for the Abbeville Council to step up by doing so immediately. Please add your voice in support of a full apology for Recy by signing his petition here.