"Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words," a New Exhibition Supported by the Ford Foundation, Offers Intimate View of Seminal Figure's Life
Washington, DC - Rosa Parks, the civil rights icon made famous for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1955, is often mischaracterized as a quiet seamstress, with little attention paid to her full life story. A new Library of Congress exhibition, “Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words,” will reveal the real Rosa Parks was a seasoned activist with a militant spirit forged over decades of challenging inequality and injustice.
Opening Dec. 5, this will be the first exhibition of the Rosa Parks Collection, which includes her personal writings, reflections, photographs, records and memorabilia. The collection was placed on loan with the Library in 2014 and became a permanent gift in 2016 through the generosity of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
“Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words” will immerse visitors in Parks’ words, reflections, handwritten notes and photographs from throughout her life, allowing her to tell her own life story. Four sections of the exhibition will explore Parks’ early life and activism, the Montgomery bus boycott, the fallout from Parks’ arrest for her family and their move to Detroit, and the global impact of her life.
“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. “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.”
Born and reared in Alabama during the Jim Crow era of legally mandated segregation, Rosa Louise McCauley was taught by her grandfather “never to accept mistreatment.” She married Raymond Parks, a charter member of the NAACP branch in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1932, and together they were early activists for racial equality. They would organize to free the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930s. In 1943, Rosa Parks became the secretary of the Montgomery NAACP, and the branch focused on voter registration and cases of racial violence and discrimination.
After the bus incident, she was punished with death threats, unemployment and poverty – but remained committed to the struggle for social justice.
Throughout her life, Parks would advocate for civil rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, prisoners’ rights and black youth, and she spoke out against apartheid and other injustices around the world.
Highlights from the exhibition include:
- The Parks’ family Bible – being exhibited for the first time;
- Photographs and letters documenting Parks’ family and early years;
- Parks’ account of “keeping vigil” with her grandfather to protect their home from Klansmen;
- A manuscript in which Parks recalls a childhood encounter with a white boy who threatened to hit her and how she responded;
- Parks’ personal reflections on her arrest for refusing to surrender her seat on a bus to a white passenger on Dec. 1, 1955, recounting the emotional toll of incarceration...