Oprah Winfrey’s rousing speech didn’t just prompt a standing ovation at the Golden Globes — it’s got people talking about whether or not she’ll make a run for the White House in 2020.
The media mogul focused on the importance of the #MeToo movement, heaped praise on the free press, and called on listeners to take steps to fight injustice.
She also took time to share the story of the late Recy Taylor.
Taylor was a young African American woman living in Alabama when she was abducted and raped by a group of white men in 1944. Her quest for justice proved to be a pivotal but often overlooked moment for the American civil rights movement.
“Recy Taylor died ten days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday,” Winfrey said, during her speech. “She lived, as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.”
Here’s a look at the story of the late Recy Taylor:
Taylor was born in 1919 to a family of sharecroppers living in Abbeville, Alabama. The New York Times reported that she helped raise her six younger siblings after her mother died when she was 17.
By September 1944, the 24-year-old was married to Willie Guy Taylor and had a baby daughter, Joyce Lee.
On the evening of September 3, Taylor was walking back from church with her friend Fannie Daniel and Daniel’s son West, when they noticed a green Chevrolet pass by them several times.
The car carried a group of armed white men — Herbert Lovett, Hugo Wilson Dillard York, Luther Lee, Willie Joe Culpepper, Billy Howerton, and Robert Gamble. The men pulled alongside the churchgoers. Taylor attempted to run for the tree line, but she was forced into the car and abducted at gunpoint.
The assailants drove Taylor to a nearby patch of pine trees and forced her to take off her clothes. She begged the kidnappers to let her “go home to my husband and baby.” Lovett told her to “act just like you do with your husband or I’ll cut your d— throat.” He and five other men raped Taylor.
Taylor was blindfolded, driven to a nearby highway, and abandoned on the side of the road. The men said they would let her go, but warned her they would kill her if she told anyone about the attack, she later recounted to NPR. After her attackers drove off, she took off the blindfold and walked home.
In “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance,” Danielle L. McGuire writes the attack on Taylor wasn’t simply a horrific, random crime. It took place in a specific historical context, as part of “a ritual of rape in which white men in the segregated South abducted and assaulted black women with alarming regularity and stunning uniformity.”
But despite the threats against her life, Taylor reported the crime to the police. Daniel’s description of the car led police to bring in Wilson, who identified the other attackers. The local police showed little interest in aggressively pursuing the case.
Taylor and her family were targeted over her decision to speak out. Their porch was set on fire, death threats were circulated around town, and officials spread gossip that Taylor was a prostitute. They ended up moving back with Taylor’s relatives.
Meanwhile, as progress on the case stalled, the African American community of Abbeville sought help from the NAACP. The organization assigned Taylor’s case to a young investigator by the name of Rosa Parks. Parks met with Taylor, until a deputy sheriff threatened to lock her up if she didn’t leave town.
The involvement of Parks and the NAACP ensured that the case received national attention. Taylor’s story was printed in African American newspapers throughout the country. The negative attention forced Alabama Governor Chauncey Sparks to order an investigation.
Despite these efforts, however, Taylor’s case never went to trial. Two grand juries — both composed entirely of white men — were convened. The first grand jury was marred by the fact that the suspects hadn’t even been arrested, making it impossible for Taylor to identify her attackers. The second went nowhere despite the fact one of the attackers — Culpepper — admitted his guilt. Both grand juries refused to issue charges against the attackers.
Still, Taylor’s case would prove to be a pivotal moment for the civil rights movement. Led by Parks, the African American community would later mobilize again in order to win a major victory during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955.
Decades after she was attacked, Taylor received an apology from Alabama’s state legislature and the town of Abbeville until 2011, after McGuire’s book brought attention to her case.
Taylor died in an Abbeville, Alabama nursing home on December 28, 2017. She was 97. At the Golden Globes, Winfrey mentioned her recent passing: “Recy Tayor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years and even now are tormented, goes marching on.”