Alabama Senate Apologizes to Recy Taylor for 1944 Rape Case

Taylor's case has been a symbol of the sexual violence black women suffered for decades.

By Benjamin Greenberg Apr 22, 2011

The Alabama Senate joined the state House yesterday in passing a resolution for an official state apology to Recy Taylor, 91, who was raped by seven white men in Abbeville, Ala., in 1944. According to the AP:

The Senate gave final approval Thursday 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.

The House approved the resolution last month. It now goes to Gov. Robert Bentley, who said Thursday he’s not personally familiar with details of the case, but sees no reason why he wouldn’t sign it.

Taylor’s case has for decades lingered as an icon of the sexual violence black women suffered from white men in the South. At the time, her case became a rallying point for a movement to end impunity for that violence. Today, federal law enforcement officials have reopened dozens of civil rights era murders, but have not revisited the rapes and sexual assaults that went un-prosecuted.

Taylor, who now lives in Florida, is not well enough to be interviewed, but I spoke to her brother Robert Corbitt, who has been her spokesperson since The Root first reported in February that Taylor wants apologies from the state and from the county and city where the rape occurred and was covered up. Corbitt is currently a resident of Abbeville.

"I’m glad to know that it’s gone that far," Corbitt said. "I’m waiting for the ink to dry and then I’ll feel like it’s official."

Recent public interest in Taylor’s case has followed the September 2010 publication of Danielle McGuire’s book, "At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance," which tells Taylor’s story. A petition drive and coverage by Colorlines and others has spurred Rep. Dexter Grimsley and other Alabama officials to respond swiftly to Taylor’s request for formal apologies.

A month ago, Corbitt attended a press conference held by Abbeville Mayor Ryan Blalock with Grimsley and other city and county officials, who offered personal apologies to Taylor and discussed issuing official state, county and city apologies.

"Our representative [Grimsley] said from the beginning that he was going to push it hard; he kept his word," said Corbitt. "I’m still waiting for the mayor to do whatever he’s gonna do."

County and city apologies are also in order, Cobitt explained, because in 1944, in the face of a state investigation, the Henry County sheriff and an Abbeville policeman took part in covering up the rape.

Corbitt hasn’t heard from Blalock or any other local officials since the press conference last month. "A personal apology and a official one is two different things," said Corbitt.

Benjamin Greenberg is a regular contributor to Colorlines and a founding member of the Civil Rights Cold Case Project. You can follow him on Twitter @minorjive.