How Many Recy Taylors?
Last year, my firm was retained by Odyssey Impact, a multi-faith media organization advancing social justice through film, to help devise an impact strategy for The Rape of Recy Taylor, a moving documentary about a young black mother in Alabama brutally raped by a half dozen white men in 1944.
We were immediately taken by the gripping facts of this lesser known story, the strength of Mrs Taylor who, against literally all odds, had the courage to try to prosecute the white men, and the role of a young Rosa Parks trying to bring some measure of justice for Mrs. Taylor.
We organized a private screening to share this important story, started to build awareness among key organizations in DC, and developed meaningful partnerships for the documentary. Our efforts, combined with the hard work and commitment of others, hit an apex recently with Oprah Winfrey's recent beautiful tribute to Mrs. Taylor at the Golden Globes. And more is on the way, as the Congressional Black Caucus has announced an effort to draw attention to Mrs. Taylor’s story as well.
Through this journey, as we connected with so many women of color touched by this film, what was revealed was a huge hole in this nation's understanding of itself -- the virtual lack of exploration or discussion about how many women of color were sexually abused, assaulted and raped by men, with no recourse, lest they and their families be subjected to further violence.
No publicity, no legal avenue to pursue, and frequently in the context of an employment which could only be surrendered with enormous consequences, if at all. It is alleged that Senator Strom Thurmond had a relationship with the 16 year old domestic servant in his home, which bore a child. The mind wanders, not too far, to grasp the nature of that 'relationship'.
The poignant story of Mrs. Taylor has underscored for us the dearth of historical recording, let alone memorialization, for this pandemic of violence. Lynching is an act of brutality meant to publicly terrorize. Almost every lynching was of a man or boy; exceptions exist, but this public terrorism was mostly of male victims.
Rape is that similar act of brutality, mostly but not always in a private sphere, also meant to terrorize.
It is time for our nation's accurate history to come out of the shadows; to explore and tell the truth about the vast number of sexual assaults of women working as servants or employees in homes and other private spaces.
In the coming months, we at Raben, along with the March on Washington Film Festival and partners around the Nation, will be gathering academics and experts to explore this asymmetry. What must we all do to tell this aspect of our history honestly, memorialize it, and minimize the occurrences from currently repeating history?
Join us. We can handle the truth, and we will be stronger as a nation for it.