On Thursday, I went to Washington DC to honor Recy Taylor and to “reintroduce” Rosa Parks as a militant detective and fierce activist for human dignity and civil rights at the National Press Club. We started the day with a private tour of the White House, which was incredibly moving. I first met Recy Taylor the same day Barack Obama was inaugurated as President and Michelle Obama became the First Lady. I never thought we would be in the White House together and I’m pretty sure she never expected to be there, either; especially as a guest of honor. That evening, Ms. Taylor got to see just how many people have been inspired by her courageous testimony and bold truth-telling since she was kidnapped and assaulted in 1944. Taylor, 91, wept as the standing-room-only crowd at the National Press Club celebrated her tenacity and strength and recognized her as a civil rights heroine. “I never lived in a way that nobody cared about my feelings,” she said.”I never lived that kind of life, but I always wanted it. Now I believe that a lot of people care about me and that makes me feel good.” Seeing her cry broke my heart and made me proud at the same time–all I ever wanted in writing the book was to make history recognize Taylor’s (and the other women I write about) humanity and get justice if I could–even if that only meant documenting the crimes committed by white men against black women and black women’s testimony and resistance. So that it was part of American history. But this history is painful and I feel terrible about digging up past wounds and buried shame. At the same time, it’s so important. I think this event showed me–as I’ve always known–that history has consequences and it really matters. It affects real people and their lives. In this case, I hope that the history I’ve researched and written about will, in some small way, benefit Ms. Taylor and the women who share her history.
See photos of the event and Mrs. Taylor on the At the Dark End of the Street facebook page.