“I want to be remembered as a person who stood up to injustice…and most of all, I want to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free and wanted others to be free.” — Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks is the civil rights icon whose legendary refusal to give up her seat for a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 sparked the beginning of the modern-day Civil Rights Movement. As her story is retold, there is so much more to learn about Parks whose anger led her to defy Jim Crow segregation that ruled the lives of Black people. Parks was not the demur seamstress as she was often characterized; she was an activist who faced and fought inequality and injustice her entire life.
A new exhibition at the Library of Congress is titled and reveals the real “Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words.” It includes photographs and letters, along with personal reflections in her own perfectly-styled, right-leaning cursive writing with which she shares her innermost feelings and thoughts about her life and times fighting for civil rights.
“Rosa Parks lived a life dedicated to equal rights and social justice, and she helped change the country with the example she set,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. Hayden is the first African American and the first woman to serve in this post, and this exhibit, she says, is an honor and a privilege to have come during her tenure.
“Our new exhibition is an important milestone for Rosa Parks to tell her story for new generations through her own words and pictures now preserved at the Library of Congress,” Hayden said.
The Rosa Parks collection, the first-ever exhibition dedicated to Rosa Parks, displays 90 items, including the Parks family bible and a manuscript in which Parks recalls a childhood encounter with a boy who threatened to hit her and how she responded. Also on display are political buttons, brochures, photographs and a handmade blue dress from Parks’ wardrobe on loan from the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, to name a few.
Parks died of natural causes on Oct. 24, 2005, at the age of 92. She was the first woman and the second Black person to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol, where an estimated 50,000 walked by to view her casket. She is buried in a cemetery in Detroit between her mother and her husband, Raymond Parks, whom she described as a mild-mannered man who became intensely angry with her and the civil rights leaders following her arrest on that bus in Montgomery.
A 96-page companion book written by Susan Reyburn of the Library of Congress also contains private manuscripts and handwritten notes that “bring to light Parks’ inner thoughts and struggles throughout her life and activism.
“These writings reveal her keen observations, youthful rage, strong faith, and ongoing hope, as well as an abiding love for those closest to her,” observed Hayden.
Fred Gray, Parks’ attorney and longtime friend, was among the special guests attending the opening of the exhibition, along with Jane Gunther, the white female passenger who offered Parks a bus seat. Gray, 88, is a renowned civil rights attorney and preacher who continues to practice law in Tuskegee, Alabama. He represented and won Parks’ case when she was arrested and he won an acquittal from an all-white jury for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who faced charges for tax evasion.
Gray said the Parks exhibit should remind young people that the fight against racism and inequality is far from over.
“The question now is what are you going to do about it,” Gray said.
The Library of Congress officially opened the exhibit on Dec. 5; it remains on display through August 2020.
Visit Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, South Gallery, Second Floor, 10 First Street SE. Mon.- Sat. from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. For questions about reserved group tours, call 202-707-0919.