February 4, 2018 | Sevonna Brown, Gender Justice and Human Rights Project Manager
Recy On My Mind: A Survivor-Centered Re-Memory Project for the Legacy of Recy Taylor
I have always wondered
how women who carry war
inside their bones
still grow flowers
between their teeth.
-Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Questions for Ada
“Who come to see me?” Recy looked over her glasses at us as she said this to the attending nursing staff who guided us to where she was watching a game show on television amidst other residents at her nursing home . She smiled as we walked up to greet her. She squealed with excitement and presented a quiet, but fierce smile in silence for the first sacred moments of our visit. A hum landed between us.
Recy had a voice that was butterscotch sweet, and she used it to sing praises to God and tell stories about her ‘baby’ brother Robert. Her voice was sweet yet stern--she knew how to communicate exactly what she wanted and exactly how she planned to go about getting it. She spoke of her daughter, of raising her siblings, and of Rock Hill Holiness Church--where she was abducted from by seven white men, six of whom are responsible for her gang-rape.
In all we know about Recy, her love for God could not be missed. In fact the lifeblood of Recy’s survivor narrative is in her relationship with God.
Recy joked with us and kept a tune going as we talked. She asked us if we liked her hair and nails-- she had just gotten them done for the holiday and wanted them to be noticed, she remarked while fluffing the lapel on her leopard print blouse. She had wit that was spellbinding. These remarkable ways of Recy had us not only by her side from the beginning, but also inspirited our determination in holding sacred, Recy’s story.
That afternoon, an overcast day in July, we sat in the cafeteria of the intimate nursing home in Abbeville, Alabama where Recy Taylor told of us her healing and recovery following the traumatic 1944 fall day where she was kidnapped and raped by six white men.
Between hymns, laughter, and casting prayers, Ms. Recy’s memories emerged, easefully pouring in and out of our conversations like a honey escaping through a comb. She shared intimacies and even the major life-long consequences of the assault and snapshots of life after rape fell like polaroids from her mouth.
In her later years Recy battled dementia, and throughout our visits with her, every few moments her eyes would gloss over and she would recall vivid memories.
Recy looked back at herself in the mirror everyday for seventy three years after the horrific brutalization of rape, before she died in her sleep peacefully just three moons before her 98th birthday. Her heart sang of the inner lives of Black women rape survivors, her soul stirred a revolution.
We are indebted to her truth. We choose this homegoing moment to be in ritual with Recy who has gone on to join the ancestral chorus.
Recy Taylor’s story is “an argument for Black women’s liberation as a revolutionary force” in the words of Mary Ann Weathers from Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought.
It is not lost on us that Recy Taylor’s story does not belong to any one person -- other than herself. However, we would be remiss if we failed to note that the current victim narrative that is spiraling the currents of the internet, do not capture the fullness of Recy Taylor’s rich and colorful life, her character, or her survivorship. As culture keepers and story-bearers we see it a duty to speak to Recy’s true nature, sharing the alternative side of the story that is lost in this current movement’s translation.
Her act of resistance is in and of itself a home truth and a theology. Her full story is a pedagogy for this movement. For us, it is critical that we examine the way this nation, and the current feminist movement, is choosing to remember Recy Taylor.
As survivors and leaders of the Black feminist organization Black Women’s Blueprint, we gathered at the feet of Recy Taylor on multiple occasions, bowing to her bold and integritous act to come forward and share her story with the world. To be sure, survivors do not need to come out to the world as survivors in order to be in integrity with their truths, yet there is a passion for justice that Recy brought forth with the telling of her story.
Though we beared witness to her recounting of the narrative in her own way and on her own terms, we also celebrated with her, sang with her, and laughed with her. To hold both her truth and her true identity in tandem is what we call for in their moment of recognition.
We are deeply invested in a full narrative of survivor-ship that celebrates Recy Taylor beyond hashtags, safety pin buttons, and talking points. We not only acknowledge and honor the legacy of Recy Taylor, but see the visions of Recy that are brighter than the day of her rape.
Recy is not her rape--for us, Recy is a civil rights and anti-rape crusader, Freedom Fighter, a giant in the movement for survivor advocacy.
In this moment, what is important is to actually know who Recy Taylor was. Whether or not you wear a pin or repost Oprah Winfrey’s 75th annual Golden Globe award speech, knowing the full narrative and story of Recy Taylor is key in this hour of survivor uplift. We will not sit back in darkness as another Black woman’s stories goes misremembered.
In this moment we call forth truth-telling, honest recognition, painful confession, and the beginnings of reconciliation. The time is now for us to reclaim our bodies, our spiritual homes, and the sacred temples we choose to love in spite of trauma and violence. The project of truth telling and testimony cannot end here. It has to continue as there are thousands and maybe even millions of stories still to come forward. This is only the beginning of our work as truth bearers, holding the stories of Black women close to our own spirits and the traumas that we ourselves hold.
Recy Taylor was a woman, a life, an advocate, a force to be reckoned with, and a soldier in the movement for ending violence against women. We seek to ensure that Black women’s survivor narratives do not fade or become commodity for sale. We fight to ritualize and commemorate the life Recy lived through our continue work and we need your help.
We continue to speak with Robert Corbitt, Recy Taylor’s brother, in the spirit of his commitment to his sister and seeking justice for her. Taylor’s advocacy since has been the primary source of inspiration in shaping the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (BWTRC)’s values; honing political strategies; and providing hope to thousands of Black survivors around the country over decades.
We see this work as a witness statement, a cultural ledger, and symbolic eclipse of the legacy of the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Recy Taylor’s advocacy, serving as a pillar of communal ceremony in tribute to the long life that Recy lived and dedicated to survivors. The testimonies of Black women and girls who share the struggle and survivorship of rape speaks of the miracles we have created and built between diasporas of memory.
While we are proud to have witnessed Oprah’s insightful connection and mention of Taylor, it has been far too long that we have waited for an acknowledgement. Sitting with Recy in the final years of her life have left us awestruck at the legacy she leaves behind and the voices she buttresses with every survivor who decides to tell their story whether in public or in private, fighting for their lives with the sword of their own truth. Wangari Maathai– Kenya remarks, “Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy. These are things you fight for and then you protect.”
Underpinning this current political and social moment is a necessity: one that not only prioritizes the honoring and platform for survivors, but understanding their stories as the cornerstone for our cultural shifts and changemaking. We are honored to ensure Recy’s legacy is both re-membered and that the wave of revolution continue to meet us on the shore of survivorship.