“The Rape of Recy Taylor” documentary was difficult for family members to view, for reasons obvious and unexpected.
Three members of Taylor’s family were flown to Minnesota to view director Nancy Buirski’s documentary about the 24-year-old Abbeville, Ala., wife and mother who was leaving church in 1944 when she was kidnapped at gunpoint by a group of white men hunting for a black woman to rape. Despite confessions, two grand juries refused to charge them.
OMG Media Solutions founder Monique Linder secured the screening rights and flew the family members here for a daylong event honoring the life of Recy Taylor at the University of St. Thomas’ St. Paul campus. Taylor died late last year at age 97, never receiving justice but knowing her story would be told.
“It was just very emotional,” said Mary Joyce Owens, Taylor’s granddaughter. From the age of 8, Owens was raised by Taylor after an auto crash killed her sister, Evangeline, and her mother, Joyce, Taylor’s only child.
“I didn’t know anything about it until it was already released,” said Owens. “Aisha [her daughter] called me one day. ‘Mom, guess what? There’s a documentary.’ It was on Facebook. And my uncle [Robert Corbitt, Taylor’s brother] was on the red carpet in New York.”
Buirski did not respond to my question about this, but I assume Corbitt was the main contact for the filmmaker because he shot the home movie featured in the documentary.
Aisha Walker, Taylor’s great-granddaughter, and Henry Murry, Taylor’s nephew, joined Owens here to see the movie. “I got a little emotional,” said Walker. “Seeing her and hearing her voice in those old clips got me a little emotional.”
Buirski, whose first documentary was “The Loving Story,” was inspired to produce “The Rape of Recy Taylor” after reading Danielle L. McGuire’s “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance.” McGuire’s book details Rosa Parks’ civil rights work as an NAACP investigator of Taylor’s assault — a decade before the famed bus incident.
The documentary, which doesn’t quite live up to the scale of the story, touches on the tragic bond between Taylor and Parks, whose own diary revealed she was almost raped by a white man.
Q: What did you think of the documentary?
HM: It was very good but I think [there] was a disconnect [with] Rosa. They were like sisters.
MJO: I like that the story was told, but I wish it was told from a different perspective.
AW: I’m not a director or producer, but I watch a lot of movies. I don’t think that some of those old clips connected with the movie. ... I didn’t like how they gave the [rapists’] family members time to say what they did and brag on them. It wasn’t about them. I have nothing bad to say about them trying to get her story out; I think that was nice.
Q: Do any of you like church as much as Recy Taylor?
MJO: I love church. If she allowed you to go to the kiddie [events] on Saturday, you were going to church on Sunday.
HM: I do. That’s something she spoke on in the nursing home. They had church services, but it was not like a regular church, and she talked about how she missed that. She went every Sunday.
AW: [I attend] choir rehearsal. Usher board. Yeah.
MJO: Can I add this? She was a custodian at this school. She belonged to First Missionary Baptist Church in Winter Haven [Fla.] for years. [After a church schism, parishioners who supported the pastor held church in the school cafeteria, an arrangement set up by Taylor.] That’s how dedicated and faithful she was to church.
AW: In the movie they say she had a hard life. They left out she had a happy life, enjoyed life. She was always laughing.
Q: How do you think she was able go on and not let that assault define her?
MJO: Because of her faith in God.
HM: She always said that she wanted to go to heaven, and to go to heaven you had to forgive and you couldn’t hold grudges. She said she forgave them because she wanted to go to heaven.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.