At the Golden Globe Awards last night, Oprah Winfrey evoked the name of Recy Taylor who was abducted and raped by six white men as she walked home from church one night in 1944. She was 24 years old, a mother and wife, and living in Abbeville, Alabama. The men were never prosecuted. Ms. Taylor and her family were harassed by her rapists and were forced to leave their home. The case received widespread coverage in the African American press and helped invigorate the civil rights movement. In her speech, Oprah said, "She lived as we have all 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 truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.
The moving speech ended with the hope that a new day is dawning "when nobody ever has to say, “Me too” again."
How do we heal the generations of women past who in 2018 might be able to come forward to say #MeToo but who could not say it in 1960 or 1940 or 1900? I believe these traumas are passed on from generation to generation. As I've written elsewhere, we carry these traumas in our bodies from generation to generation. Telling their stories is part of their/our healing.
In that spirit, I share the story of Mary (not her real name), an African American woman I met in the 1980s when I was in my twenties. When we met, she was recently released from prison. She had been incarcerated since she was a teenager for killing the white man who raped her. By the time she was released, she was in her sixties. For a Black teenaged girl to kill a white man in 1940s East Texas, Jim Crow Texas, there was little hope for another outcome. She came of age in prison, grew into womanhood, middle age and eventually into her old age incarcerated. She never had the opportunity to learn how to make her own decisions, to live independently, to learn about the world. Yet, she was funny and kind and talkative.
As a young woman, I couldn't imagine how Mary had survived. And in many ways, she didn't. She couldn't figure out how to be in the world. She couldn't stay in her boarding house-- it was too claustrophobic. The last I knew of her, she was homeless, living in an East Austin park, accompanied by a pack of dogs that protected her. Even in the cold months, she would say she was happy there. She needed lots of space. When I moved back to El Paso in late 1986, I lost track of her.
I've never stopped thinking about her, though. Now I am Mary's age when we first met and as I begin the process of looking back over my life, evaluating the good and the bad, what I've done well and how I've make mistakes, I think even more about her and wonder what became of her.
There are countless Mary's in our lives. Some are in our familias. Others, like Mary, cross our paths briefly. I, too, hope for a day when no one will have to say #MeToo. Today, I remember Mary and all the other women whose stories we carry in our bodies and ask that we #TellHerStory.