Editor’s note: The screening of this film has been postponed until March 7 due to the snowstorm on Feb. 7.
In the early 20th century, rapes of black women by white men were common. The victims were expected not to go to police, a vile aftereffect of the slave days, when humans were owned and their owners could do with them as they wished.
Recy Taylor of Abbeville, Ala., was an exception. On Sept. 3, 1944, Taylor was kidnapped while walking home from church and raped by six white men. Taylor and a witness immediately went to police. The NAACP came in to help with the case with a sexual-assault investigator, a young Rosa Parks.
Taylor’s brave stand is the focus of “The Rape of Recy Taylor,” a documentary to be shown Wednesday, Feb. 7, at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
Crystal Feimster, a professor of African American Studies at Yale University in New Haven, is featured prominently in Nancy Buirski’s film. The film is coming out at a perfect time, says Feimster, as the #MeToo movement is exposing sexual misconduct by well-respected men against vulnerable women.
“From the beginning of time black women and white women have spoken out against sexual violence. … But oftentimes these traumas are not stories people are interested in hearing. That’s part of the erasure that has happened,” Feimster says in a phone interview. “But there have been moments when people were able to hear those stories and recognize those truths in ways that are compelling and powerful. We’re in one of those moments right now. We’ve been in these moments before, like Anita Hill.”
Taylor’s story can be told in great detail because of the Rosa Parks connection, Feimster says, and because Taylor pursued justice for a long time.
“She left a historical record. There was an investigation. There was a grand jury. She left a trail for historians to follow.”
That trail was followed by Danielle L. McGuire, who told Taylor’s story in the 2011 book “At the Dark End of the Street,” which chronicled the history of sexual violence against African-American women. The stories told in McGuire’s book fit in with what is being called, Feimster says, “the long civil rights movement,” historical research that focuses on incidents that happened long before the Civil Rights watershed year of 1954 and illustrates the centuries-long fight for equal rights.
“If we think about the Jim Crow era, we think of the lynching of black men as a tool of political terror to keep people disenfranchised. Excluded from that narrative is the rape of black women,” Feimster says. “If you start farther back than , you see black women as victims of racial violence and injustice. Recy is part of that longer narrative.”
THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR will be shown at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 600 Main St. in Hartford, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. The screening is co-sponsored by the Amistad Center for Art & Culture and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and will be preceded by a reception. Admission is $9, $8 seniors and students, $7 members. thewadsworth.org.