"In 1944, Recy Taylor was a young wife and mother walking home from a church service she'd attended in Abbeville, Alabama, when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped, and left blindfolded by the side of the road coming home from church," Winfrey said, accepting the annual Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement.
"They threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone, but her story was reported to the NAACP where a young worker by the name of Rosa Parks became the lead investigator on her case and together they sought justice. But justice wasn't an option in the era of Jim Crow."
"The men who tried to destroy her were never persecuted. Recy Taylor died ten days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up."
"Their time is up. And I just hope—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."
Taylor died in her sleep on 28 December at a nursing home in Abbeville, her brother Robert Corbitt said. He said Taylor had been in good spirits the previous day and her death was sudden. She would have been 98 on Sunday. Taylor was 24 when she was abducted and raped as she walked home from church in Abbeville. Her attackers left her on the side of the road in an isolated area.
The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) assigned Rosa Parks to investigate the case, and she rallied support for justice for Taylor. Two all-white, all-male grand juries declined to charge the six white men, who had admitted to authorities that they assaulted her.
In a 2010 interview, Taylor said that she believed the men who attacked her were dead, but she still would like an apology from officials. “It would mean a whole lot to me,” Taylor said. “The people who done this to me ... they can’t do no apologising. Most of them is gone.”
The Alabama Legislature passed a resolution apologising to her in 2011. Taylor’s story, along with those of other black women attacked by white men during the civil rights era, is told in At the Dark End of the Street, a book by Danielle McGuire released in 2010.
A documentary on her case, The Rape of Recy Taylor, was released this year. “It is Recy Taylor and rare other black women like her who spoke up first when danger was greatest,” Nancy Buirski, the documentary’s director, told NBC News. “It is these strong women’s voices of the Forties and early Fifties and their efforts to take back their bodies that led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other movements that followed, notably the one we are witnessing today.”
Additional reporting by AP.