Earlier this month, the 63-year-old actress and media mogul received the 2018 Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globe Awards. Her speech was filled with somber moments, standing ovations, past memories and the story of Taylor, a black woman who never received justice after being abducted and gang-raped by six white men in Alabama. On Dec. 28, Taylor died at age 97 in her hometown of Abbeville, Alabama.
In the weeks after she gave her speech, Winfrey was on assignment for 60 Minutes and ended up in Abbeville, where she visited Taylor’s grave.
“I don’t believe in coincidences, but if I did this would be a powerful one. On assignment for @60minutes I end up in the town of Abbeville where #RecyTaylor suffered injustice, endured and recently died. (GGspeech),” Winfrey captioned a photo shared to Instagram Tuesday of herself standing beside Taylor’s flower-adorned grave.
“To be able to visit her grave so soon after ‘speaking her name ‘sharing her story, a woman I never knew. Feels like🙏🏾☁️❤️” she wrote.
At age 24, Taylor was walking home from Rock Hill Holiness Church for a Pentecostal service in Abbeville on the night of Sept. 3, 1944, when six white men abducted and raped her, the New York Times reported in Taylor’s obituary. They forced Taylor into a green Chevrolet, blindfolded her and forced her to remove her clothes. The group’s leader Herbert Lovett instructed her to “act just like you do with your husband or I’ll cut your damn throat” before he and five other men raped her in the car.
After Taylor was tossed out of the car, the county sheriff arrived and though Taylor couldn’t identify her assailants, her description of the car matched that of one of her rapists. That man then identified the other assailants, though he insisted the men paid Taylor and did not rape her. The next day white vigilantes set her porch on fire, forcing Taylor, her husband, Willie Guy Taylor, and their 3-year-old daughter Joyce Lee to move in with Taylor’s father. The NAACP sent Rosa Parks, then a young activist, to investigate the case, which eventually went to trial. However, the all-white, all-male grand jury decided not to indict the men.
The case received widespread coverage in the black press, and activists (W. E. B. DuBois and Mary Church Terre were two of the most prominent ones to take up her cause) urged Gov. Chauncey Sparks to investigate. He did and a second grand jury received the case in 1945, but still refused to indict the men, four of whom admitted to having sex with Taylor.
In 2011, the Alabama Legislature apologized, calling the decision not to prosecute her assailants “morally abhorrent and repugnant.” The Alabama Legislature presented to Taylor an apology letter on Mother’s Day that year at the Pentecostal church, known presently as Abbeville Memorial Church of God in Christ, where she was coming from the night she was raped in 1944.
In Winfrey’s speech, she referenced the Golden Globes’ support for the Time’s Up initiative and noted of Taylor’s rapists, “Their time is up. And I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years and even now tormented, goes marching on.”