“Eleven years before Rosa Parks’ famous act of civil disobedience on that Montgomery bus, she stood up for Recy Taylor,” said Monique Linder.
“I had to bring ‘The Rape of Recy Taylor’ to the Twin Cities,” said Linder, founder of OMG Digital Media Solutions and the force behind the film’s local screening next week.
“The history books say Rosa Parks was this poor, tired seamstress on a bus, but she was a fierce activist, and we don’t read that in history books,” Linder said.
More will learn it in this documentary about Taylor, a black 24-year-old wife and mother from Abbeville, Ala., who was abducted and raped by a gang of white men who confessed to the 1944 crime but were never convicted. Taylor, who was 97 when she died in December, kept speaking out about the rape despite Jim Crow-era repression.
Parks traveled to Abbeville numerous times to investigate the rape for the NAACP. When the threats against Taylor and her family expanded to firebombing, Parks moved Taylor to Montgomery for months to keep her safe.
Linder laid the groundwork for the local screening last year when she worked with the film’s director, Nancy Buirski, who also directed “The Loving Story,” about the couple who helped abolish laws against interracial marriage. “I secured the rights for the exclusive screening at the University of St. Thomas March 24,” said Linder. She is also producer of the day’s black history and culture event, which will honor Taylor. Members of Taylor’s family are expected to attend and speak, Linder said. “My conversations with Recy Taylor’s family confirms the significance of telling her story, so no woman should ever have to go through life never seeing justice served,” she said.
Tickets for the 3 p.m. screening are free and can be reserved through UjamaaPlace.org.
Recently, Linder and I met up in Alabama, where we went to Abbeville to interview Taylor’s nephew Henry Murry and visited Tuskegee University to pay respects to Linder’s famous relative Booker T. Washington. We also met at the nonprofit Ujamaa Place in St. Paul.
Q: When did you first become aware of this shameful chapter involving black women being hunted for rape in the Deep South?
A: I think it was really while working on this documentary, preparing for the screening a year ago, that I learned of this particular case. It hit home there was this horrible thing going on in the South. But growing up, in New Jersey (my family is from Virginia and West Virginia) I heard references to the things going on in the South beyond the denial of civil rights.
Q: You learned that your family history probably includes a story like Recy Taylor’s?
A: That’s the painful part. My family lineage is from Booker T. Washington. The history books say he did not know his father. His father was white; he knew that. He was told his father was the neighboring plantation owner. We know slaves were considered property. My logic kicks in and it would have been illogical for the neighbor plantation owner to go on another plantation to impregnate a slave. More likely, Booker’s mother, a cook in the house, was raped by the slave master. So yes, I am direct lineage of the Recy Taylor story, and that is why telling her story means so much to me. I am not going to leave it up to schools to teach my grandchildren about black history.
Q: We are at Ujamaa Place, a nonprofit that is a passion of yours. First, tell me: What does Ujamaa mean?
A: It means cooperative economics in Swahili. Ujamaa Place focuses on helping men who have been in the criminal justice system transform their lives. I direct all the media here. Most the men, who are between the ages of 18 and 27 primarily, are enrolled in what is called “The Theory of Transformation.” Because they have been in the criminal justice system, a lot of men are starting over but a big part of the programming is helping them navigate the challenges of poverty. Most of the men have lived in systemic poverty all their lives. [Ujamaa creates] the opportunity for men to get skills, education and a job. Sometimes it’s that first job. Sometimes they have to first deal with their mental health and issues.
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.