ABBEVILLE, Ala. — Nearly 70 years after Recy Taylor was raped by a gang of white men, leaders of the rural southeast Alabama community where it happened apologized yesterday, acknowledging that her attackers escaped prosecution because of racism and an investigation bungled by police.
“It is apparent that the system failed you in 1944,’’ Henry County probate judge and commission chairwoman JoAnn Smith told several of Taylor’s relatives at a news conference at the county courthouse.
Taylor, who has agreed to be publicly identified, said in an interview last year that she believes the men who attacked her are dead, but she would still like an apology from the state.
Taylor, 91, lives in Florida and did not attend the news conference. Family members said she was in poor health and was not up to traveling to Abbeville or speaking with reporters. But her 74-year-old brother Robert Corbitt, who still lives in town, said he would relay the apology to his sister. “What happened to my sister way back then . . . couldn’t happen today,’’ he said. “Boy, what a mess they made out of it. They tried to make her look like a whore and she was a Christian lady.’’
Taylor was 24, married, and living in her native Henry County when she was gang-raped in Abbeville. She was walking home from church when she was abducted, assaulted, and left on the side of the road in an isolated area. Two all-white, all-male grand juries declined to bring charges.
State Representative Dexter Grimsley, a Democrat from Newville, said police bungled the investigation and harassed Taylor. “I would like to extend a deep, heartfelt apology for the error we made here in Alabama,’’ Grimsley said yesterday, looking straight at Corbitt. “It was so unkind. We can’t stand around and say that it didn’t happen.’’