The story of 'Dixie's most blatant rape case'

R. Marc Kantrowitz, BridgeTower Media Newswires

When her mother died, Recy Taylor was 17.  It fell upon her slender shoulders to raise her younger siblings.

Despite her many responsibilities, she married young and gave birth to a daughter.  Finding solace at the local segregated church in Abbeville, Alabama, 24-year-old Recy went often. Sept. 3, 1944, proved to be both her undoing and the birth of a movement.


After the services ended around midnight, Recy and two friends — 18-year-old West Daniel and his 61-year-old mother, Fannie — walked down the darkened and seemingly abandoned road lined by farms.

Ominously, a green beat-up car slowly passed and, more ominously, returned.  Seven armed white men jumped out, intent on escorting Recy to the dark side of humanity.

Engaging in what for many young, testosterone-driven men was a sick rite of passage and depravity, the seven set upon their fleeing prey and carried Recy away. Despite her screams to let her go home to her husband and baby, six had their way with her.

After the ordeal ended, one of her assailants helped her dress. Shoved into the car, she was blindfolded and driven back to the highway where she was released.

For many of the oppressed black females living in the area, it sadly was yet another instance of brutality and degradation. Knowing that taking any action would not only be useless but humiliating and potentially life-threatening, many suffered in silence, sharing their horror with only a cherished few.

Recy, however, was not like the others. Despite the threats that she had better not tell anyone, she did anyway.


The Daniels, who had been with Recy when she was taken, alerted a former police chief. From the description of the car, its owner was quickly identified. Soon, an obviously victimized Recy was found as well as one of her assailants, Hugo Wilson, whom she positively identified along with his car.

Wilson readily admitted “carrying her to the spot” and, along with his friends — teenagers and those in their early 20s: Dilliard York, Herbert Lovett, Luther Lee, Joe Culpepper and Robert Gamble — acknowledged having intercourse with her. A seventh member of the group whom Wilson also named, Billy Howerton, did not, as it turned out, join in on the rape. Wilson added that they did not use force and that they had paid her.

Sheriff George Gamble heard Wilson’s story and released him on a small bond, notwithstanding the Daniels’ corroboration of Recy’s violent abduction and her physical condition. None of the other young men named was questioned.

News traveled quickly from the town to the NAACP in Montgomery, which sent its best investigator — a militant anti-rape activist with a sharp mind and a dogged determination for ascertaining the truth — to Abbeville. She went to the Taylors’ rustic small rental.

The conversation between the two women was interrupted, however, when Deputy Sheriff Lewey Corbitt burst into the house and ordered the meeting over, saying, “I don’t want any troublemakers here in Abbeville.”

Returning to NAACP headquarters in Montgomery, the investigator went to work spreading the story, creating the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor. Before long, organizations across the country, from labor unions to the black press to women’s groups, were clamoring for justice.

As they waited, Recy was repeatedly threatened. Her home was firebombed, setting the front porch ablaze. Fearing for their safety, the Taylors never ventured out at night, avoided going into town, and moved in with her father and their many siblings. At night, her father, armed with a shotgun, hid in a tree to protect his family.


A grand jury convened in early October 1944. Because the police never arrested anyone associated with the crime and never asked Recy to view photos or a line-up, no identifications, other than Wilson, could be made. The all-white, all-male grand jury issued no indictments.

The smoldering fire of discontent burst and rapidly spread in the wake of the inaction. Branches of the Committee for Equal Justice sprang up in 16 states and in the nation’s capital. Petitions with thousands of signatures — including some from black soldiers fighting in Europe — flooded Gov. Spark’s office.

With the Abbeville affair now potentially threatening the war effort, the governor reluctantly ordered an investigation into what was being labeled “Dixie’s most blatant rape case.”


Sherriff Gamble told the investigators that he acted thoroughly and professionally and described Recy as a “[venereal-diseased] whore” married to a vagrant. Some other local whites however contradicted the lie, describing Recy as a peaceful, upstanding and respectable woman.

Of the seven men involved in the incident, four claimed Recy was a prostitute whom they paid. One claimed innocence, knowing nothing, not being present at the time, and mystified why he was being named. Joe Culpepper, to his credit, essentially corroborated Recy’s story.

A second grand jury was ordered.

Despite the mountain of evidence and the uncovering of lies, again no indictments were issued.

And a depressed, yet still-energized Committee for Equal Justice, having lost Recy’s battle, turned its attention to other newer cases of rape, violence and injustice. Sadly, there were more than enough to go around.
Still fearing for her safety and tired of long years of continuing harassment for her willingness to go forward, Recy Taylor eventually moved in Florida, where she picked oranges. Her marriage ended. Her husband died in the 1960s. Their only child was killed in a car accident in 1967.

Recy, a courageous, and forgotten, pioneer who refused to be silenced, died at 97. Prior to her death, the Alabama Legislature in 2011 officially apologized to her for the “morally abhorrent and repugnant” injustice.
As for the investigator who greatly aided Recy and with her formed the Committee for Equal Justice, she continued to work tirelessly for justice and reform. Her name was Rosa Parks.


The above column was based on the documentary “The Rape of Recy Taylor,” the book “The Dark End of the Street” by Danielle McGuire, and other internet sources. R. Marc Kantrowitz, a retired Massachusetts Appeals Court judge, can be contacted at