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Apologies issued for unprosecuted rape of black woman in 1944 (Recy Taylor)

Justice delayed is justice denied. But city, county and state recognition is an important first step toward recognizing Recy Taylor’s humanity and the state’s mishandling of her 1944 case.

By Lance Griffin, Dothan Eagle

It was a steamy summer night in Abbeville in 1944 when seven white men abducted, blindfolded and raped 24-year-old Recy Taylor, a black woman, while she was walking home from church.

Her younger brother, Robert Corbitt, who was 9, remembers his father’s shirt soaked with sweat after searching for Taylor for hours. He remembers his father sitting in a tree and guarding their house at night while the children slept inside.

He remembers standing on the porch of their home, crying.

“It’s just like it happened yesterday to me,” he said.

Corbitt also remembers that none of the seven men were ever indicted by a grand jury, despite what appeared to be strong evidence of their involvement.

Monday, Corbitt, who still lives in Abbeville, sat in a crowded courtroom at the Henry County Courthouse in Abbeville and heard two city leaders apologize for what happened.

“I open my heart up to say I am deeply sorry for what happened to Mrs. Recy Taylor in 1994,” Rep. Dexter Grimsley, D-Abbeville, said Monday.

Abbeville Mayor Ryan Blalock also apologized.

“Obviously, I am sorry whenever a resident of Abbeville, past or present, feels pain,” Blalock said.

Henry County Commission Chairman and Probate Judge Jo Ann Smith said it was “apparent the system failed in 1944.”

“I stand here and say, and pray, that in 2011, things are handled much differently than in the past,” Smith said.

Taylor’s story made national headlines after the incident was mentioned in the 2010 book “At the Dark End of the Street” by Danielle McGuire. Several advocacy groups picked up on the story after the book was published in September.

A petition on the website change.org, seeking an official apology from the state and Abbeville, has received more than 6,900 signatures.

Grimsley said he planned to introduce a resolution in the Alabama Legislature calling for an official apology, but said he has not finalized the language of the resolution.

Blalock said any formal apology from the city would have to come in the form of a motion from a council member, then approved by a majority vote. He added that the city did not have the authority to investigate and prosecute felonies in 1944.

Corbitt said Taylor, now 91 and living in Winter Haven, Fla., was physically unable to come to Abbeville Monday. He did say the family would still seek a formal apology from the state.

Corbitt said he kept track of the men believed to be responsible for the rape. He said six have died. He lost track of the seventh about three years ago.

Blalock said he hopes Abbeville will be recognized for the city that exists today, not the one that existed 67 years ago.

“We are better now at race relations than we have ever been,” Blalock said. “Why can’t we celebrate that?”

Corbitt said race relations in Abbeville are “very much different” now.

“This couldn’t have happened today. I believe that,” Corbitt said.