Born and raised in Alabama, Rosa Parks’ activism began in earnest at age 30, when she joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and was elected secretary at her first meeting. Twelve years later, on December 1, 1955, on her way home from a long day of work as a department store seamstress, the bus driver asked her and three other black passengers to get up so that a single white man could sit down. Such a request was par for the course in highly segregated Montgomery. But this time around, Parks refused to budge. Arrested and fined $14 for violating Jim Crow laws, her treatment prompted an immediate boycott of Montgomery’s city buses, led by a young Martin Luther King Jr. Despite the threat of violence—local whites, for example, dynamited King’s house—the boycott lasted for more than a year, ending only when the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregated buses to be unconstitutional.
During the bus boycott, both Parks and her husband lost their jobs. Unable to find new employment and facing constant death threats, they moved briefly to Hampton, Virginia, before settling in Detroit, where they would spend the rest of their lives. After a few more years working as a seamstress, Parks was hired in 1965 as an administrative aide to Michigan congressman John Conyers Jr. Remaining politically active, she joined protests of such things as General Motors’ 1986 decision to close several plants. Parks died in 2005 at age 92, not long after being awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. In a final tribute, she became the first woman to ever lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
Over the course of her life, Parks saved thousands of photographs and documents, including letters from presidents, birthday and thank-you cards from schoolchildren, personal correspondence with family and friends, tax returns and even a handwritten recipe for “featherlite” pancakes (key ingredient: peanut butter). To the chagrin of historians, this sizeable archive languished unseen in a warehouse for nearly a decade owing to a legal dispute between her heirs and friends. Finally, in 2014, Howard G. Buffett, the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, acquired the archive for $4.5 million through his philanthropic foundation and gave it to the Library of Congress on a 10-year loan. Since then, the Library of Congress has worked to digitize the collection, announcing last week that it was now available online for public viewing. (At the conclusion of the loan, the digital files will stay at the LOC, even if the physical items move elsewhere.)
In one undated letter from the archive, Parks explains her reasoning for refusing to relinquish her bus seat on that fateful day in 1955. “I had been pushed around all my life and felt at this moment that I couldn’t take it anymore,” she writes. “When I asked the policeman why we had to be pushed around? He said he didn’t know. ‘The law is the law. You are under arrest.’ I didn’t resist.” Another manuscript contains her reflections on race relations in Montgomery, which she refers to as “the Cradle of the Confederacy, Heart of Dixie.” Lamenting the absurdity of the city’s racial customs, she points out that the airport had separate restrooms for “white ladies” and “colored women,” but that the planes themselves were integrated. “Night time integration and day time segregation makes this a very mixed up place,” she writes.
As her reputation grew, Parks met with numerous celebrities and world leaders, including boxer Muhammad Ali, author Maya Angelou, Vice President Al Gore and Pope John Paul II (all of whom are shown alongside her in archival photos). She also maintained a correspondence with King, who, in a 1957 postcard, declares, “I am thinking of you constantly.” Yet the archive equally shines in providing poignant family moments, such as a series of tender letters she penned to her husband during a brief time apart. “I miss you so very much and wish you were here,” she writes in one. “The weather is not cold now but you should be here to warm my feet by the time winter comes.”
Rosa Parks’ Archive Goes Digital - HISTORY
Digital History ID 610
Author: César Chavez
Annotation: In early April 1962, a thirty-five year-old community organizer named César Estrada Chavez set out single-handedly to organize impoverished migrant farm laborers in the California grape fields. He, his wife, and their eight children packed their belongings into a dilapidated nine-year-old station wagon, and moved to Delano, California, a town of twelve thousand, which was the center of the nation's table grape industry. Over the next two years, Chavez spent his entire lifetime savings of $1,200 creating a small social service organization for Delano's field laborers, which offered immigration counseling, citizenship classes, funeral benefits, credit to buy cars and homes, assistance with voter registration, and a cooperative to buy tires and gasoline. As the emblem of his new organization, the National Farm Workers Association, Chavez chose a black Aztec eagle inside a white circle on a red background.
Chavez's sympathy for the plight of migrant farm workers came naturally. He was born in Yuma, Arizona, in 1927, one of five children of Mexican immigrants. When he was ten years old, his parents lost their small farm he, his brothers and sisters, and his parents hoed beets, picked grapes, and harvested peaches and figs in Arizona and California. There were times when the family had to sleep in its car or camp under bridges. When young César was able to attend school (he attended more than thirty), he was often shunted into special classrooms set aside for Mexican-American children.
In 1944, when he was 17, Chavez joined the navy. He served for two years on a destroyer escort in the Pacific. After World War II was over, he married and spent two-and-a-half years as a sharecropper raising strawberries. That was followed by work in apricot and prune orchards and in a lumber camp. Then in 1952 his life took a fateful turn. He joined the Community Service Organization (CSO), which wanted to educate and organize the poor so that they could solve their own social and economic problems. After founding CSO chapters in Madera, Bakersfield, and Hanford, California, Chavez became the organization's general director in 1958. Four years later, he broke with the organization when it rejected his proposal to establish a farm workers' union.
Most labor leaders considered Chavez's goal of creating the first successful union of farm workers in U.S. history an impossible dream. Farm laborers suffered from high rates of illiteracy and poverty (average family earnings were just $2,000 in 1965), they also experienced persistently high rates of unemployment (traditionally around nineteen percent) and were divided into a variety of ethnic groups: Mexican, Arab, Filipino, and Puerto Rican. That farm workers rarely remained in one locality for very long also hindered unionism, as did the ease which employers could replace them with inexpensive Mexican day laborers, known as braceros, who were trucked into California and the Southwest at harvest time. Farm workers were specifically excluded from the protection of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. Unlike other American workers, farm workers were not guaranteed the right to organize, had no guarantee of a minimum wage, and had no federally guaranteed standards of work in the fields. State laws requiring toilets, rest periods, and drinking water in the fields were largely ignored.
In September 1965, Chavez was drawn into his first important labor controversy. The Filipino grape pickers went on strike. "All right, Chavez," asked one of the Filipino grape pickers' leaders, "are you going to stand beside us, or are you going to scab against us?" Despite his fear that the National Farm Workers Association was not sufficiently well organized to support a strike--it had less than $100 in its strike fund--he assured the Filipino workers that members of his association would not go into the field as strikebreakers. MI>Huelga! --the Spanish word for strike--became the grape pickers' battle cry.
Within weeks, the labor strike began to attract national attention. Unions, church groups, and civil rights organizations offered financial support for La Causa, as the farm workers' movement became known. In March 1966, Chavez led a 250-mile Easter march from Delano to Sacramento to dramatize the plight of migrant farm laborers. That same year, Chavez's National Farm Workers Association merged with an AFL-CIO affiliate to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee.
A staunch apostle of nonviolence, Chavez was deeply troubled by violent incidents that marred the strike. Some growers raced tractors along the roadside, covering the strikers with dirt and dust. Others drove spraying machines along the edges of their fields, spraying insecticide and fertilizer on the picketers. Local police officers arrested a minister for reading Jack London's definition of a scab ("a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water-logged brain, and a combination backbone made of jelly and glue"). Some strikers, in turn, intimidated strikebreakers by pelting them with marbles fired from slingshots and by setting fire to packing crates. One striker tried to drive a car into a group of growers.
In an effort to quell the escalating violence and to atone for the militancy of some union members, Chavez began to fast on February 14, 1968. For five days he kept the fast a secret. Then, in an hour-long speech to striking workers, he explained that continued violence would destroy everything the union stood for. The "truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness," he said, "is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice." For twenty-one days he fasted he lost thirty-five pounds and his doctor began to fear for his health. He finally agreed to take a small amount of bouillon and grapefruit juice and medication. On March 11, he ended his fast by taking communion and breaking bread with Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
The strike dragged on for three years. To heighten public awareness of the farm workers' cause, Chavez in 1968 initiated a boycott of table grapes. It was the boycott that pressured many of the growers into settling the strike. An estimated 17 million American consumers went without grapes in support of the farm workers bargaining position. By mid-1970, two thirds of California grapes were grown under contract with Chavez's union.
In the years following its 1970 victory, Chavez's union has been beset by problems from within and without. Union membership dwindled from more than 60,000 in 1972 to a low of 5,000 in 1974. (It has since climbed back to around 30,000). Meanwhile, public concern for the plight of migrant farm workers declined.
Following his death at the age of sixty-six in 1993, twenty-five thousand people marched for more than two-and-a-half hours to the spot where Chavez founded the United Farm Workers Union. There, the mourners recalled his extraordinary legacy. As a result of his efforts, the most backbreaking tool used by farm workers, the short hoe, was eliminated, and the use of many dangerous pesticides in the grape fields was prohibited. His labors also brought about a seventy percent increase in real wages form 1964 to 1980, and establishment of health care benefits, disability insurance, pension plans, and standardized grievance procedures for farm workers. He helped secure passage in California in 1975 of the nation's first agricultural labor relations act, which prohibited growers from firing striking workers or engaging in bad-faith bargaining. Thanks to his efforts, migrant farm laborers won a right held by all other American workers: the right to bargain collectively.
In this selection, Chavez discusses government complicity in undermining farm workers' unions.
Document: Mr. Chavez. After 3 months of striking in 1979 we have come to the conclusion very little progress has been made in the last 40 years.
In the 1930's when the farm workers tried to organize a strike, they were looked upon and treated by the local power structures in the rural communities as un-American, as subversive, and as some sort of criminal element. We today are looked upon pretty much the same way.
Just as in the 1930s, when a strike occurred, they were called criminal whether they be in Salinas, Calexico, Monterey County, Imperial County, or in Delano and Bakersfield, Calif. When a union strikes, it becomes then not simply a labor-management dispute as you see in other cases, but in our experience it becomes then on one side the workers, on the other side agribusiness and all of the local institutions, political and social, organize then to break the strike--the police, the sheriffs, the courts, the schools, the boards of supervisors, city councils. Not only that, but the State or Federal agencies that reside within those rural areas, are also greatly influenced by this overwhelming political power. The agribusiness industry wields the political power and uses it to break our strikes and destroy the union.
They have two standards of conduct against Mexicans and against unions. As long as we, Mexican farm workers, keep our place and do our work we are tolerated, but if the Mexican worker joins a union, if he stands up for justice and if he dares to strike, then all the local institutions feel duty-bound to defend what they consider to be their ideal of the American way of life. These communities, then, do not know what to do with us and they don't know what to do without us.
For so many years we have been involved in agricultural strikes organizing almost 30 years as a worker, as an organizer, and as president of the union--and for all these almost 30 years it is apparent that when the farm workers strike and their strike is successful, the employers go to Mexico and have unlimited, unrestricted use of illegal alien strikebreakers to break the strike. And, for over 30 years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has looked the other way and assisted in the strikebreaking.
I do not remember one single instance in 30 years where the Immigration service has removed strikebreakers. The employers use professional smugglers to recruit and transport human contraband across the Mexican border for the specific act of strikebreaking.
We have observed all these years the Immigration Service has a policy as it has been related to us, that they will not take sides in any agricultural labor dispute. They have not taken sides means permitting the growers to have unrestricted use of illegal aliens as strikebreakers, and if that isn't taking sides, I don't know what taking sides means.
The growers have armed their foremen. They have looked to professional agencies to provide them unlimited numbers of armed guards recruited from the streets, young men who are not trained, many of them members of the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi Party. who are given a gun and a club and a badge and a canister of tear gas and the authority and permission to go and beat our people up, frighten them, maim them, and try to break the strike by using this unchecked raw power against our people.
An Act of Courage, The Arrest Records of Rosa Parks
On December 1, 1955, during a typical evening rush hour in Montgomery, Alabama, a 42-year-old woman took a seat on the bus on her way home from the Montgomery Fair department store where she worked as a seamstress. Before she reached her destination, she quietly set off a social revolution when the bus driver instructed her to move back, and she refused. Rosa Parks, an African American, was arrested that day for violating a city law requiring racial segregation of public buses.
On the city buses of Montgomery, Alabama, the front 10 seats were permanently reserved for white passengers. The diagram shows that Mrs. Parks was seated in the first row behind those 10 seats. When the bus became crowded, the bus driver instructed Mrs. Parks and the other three passengers seated in that row, all African Americans, to vacate their seats for the white passengers boarding. Eventually, three of the passengers moved, while Mrs. Parks remained seated, arguing that she was not in a seat reserved for whites. James Blake, the driver, believed he had the discretion to move the line separating black and white passengers. The law was actually somewhat murky on that point, but when Mrs. Parks defied his order, he called the police. Officers Day and Mixon came and promptly arrested her.
In police custody, Mrs. Parks was booked, fingerprinted, and briefly incarcerated. The police report shows that she was charged with "refusing to obey orders of bus driver." For openly challenging the racial laws of her city, she remained at great physical risk while held by the police, and her family was terrified for her. When she called home, she spoke to her mother, whose first question was "Did they beat you?"
Mrs. Parks was not the first person to be prosecuted for violating the segregation laws on the city buses in Montgomery. She was, however, a woman of unchallenged character who was held in high esteem by all those who knew her. At the time of her arrest, Mrs. Parks was active in the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving as secretary to E.D. Nixon, president of the Montgomery chapter. Her arrest became a rallying point around which the African American community organized a bus boycott in protest of the discrimination they had endured for years. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 26-year-old minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, emerged as a leader during the well-coordinated, peaceful boycott that lasted 381 days and captured the world's attention. It was during the boycott that Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., first achieved national fame as the public became acquainted with his powerful oratory.
After Mrs. Parks was convicted under city law, her lawyer filed a notice of appeal. While her appeal was tied up in the state court of appeals, a panel of three judges in the U.S. District Court for the region ruled in another case that racial segregation of public buses was unconstitutional. That case, called Browder v. Gayle, was decided on June 4, 1956. The ruling was made by a three-judge panel that included Frank M. Johnson, Jr., and upheld by the United States Supreme court on November 13, 1956.
For a quiet act of defiance that resonated throughout the world, Rosa Parks is known and revered as the "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement."
The documents shown here relating to Mrs. Parks's arrest are copies that were submitted as evidence in the Browder v. Gayle case. They are preserved by the National Archives at Atlanta in Morrow, Georgia, in Record Group 21, Records District Courts of the United States, U.S. District Court for Middle District of Alabama, Northern (Montgomery) Division. Civil Case 1147, Browder, et al v. Gayle, et al.
Bass, Jack. Taming the Storm?The Life and Times of Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. and the South's Fight over Civil Rights. NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1993.
Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1988.
Parks, Rosa. Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today's Youth.
Parks, Rosa and Jim Haskins (contributor). Rosa Parks: My Story.
Stevenson, Janet. "Rosa Parks Wouldn't Budge." American Heritage, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, February 1972.
Williams, Juan. Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1987.
Bredhoff, Stacey, Wynell Schamel, and Lee Ann Potter. "The Arrest Records of Rosa Parks." Social Education 63, 4 (May/June 1999): 207-211.
Rosa Parks’ Archive Goes Digital - HISTORY
Montgomery Bus Boycott
Digital History ID 3625
Author: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Annotation: This speech was delivered four days after the arrest of Rosa Parks. It was given at the First Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) Mass Meeting, held at Holt Street Baptist Church December 5, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama.
Document: [King:] My friends, we are certainly very happy to see each of you out this evening. We are here this evening for serious business. (Yes) We are here in a general sense because first and foremost we are American citizens (That's right) and we are determined to apply our citizenship to the fullness of its meaning. (Yeah, That's right) We are here also because of our love for democracy, (Yes) because of our deep-seated belief that democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action (Yes) is the greatest form of government on earth. (That's right)
But we are here in a specific sense, because of the bus situation in Montgomery. (Yes) We are here because we are to get the situation corrected. This situation is not at all new. The problem has existed over endless years. (That's right) For many years now Negroes in Montgomery and so many other areas have been inflicted with the paralysis of crippling fears (Yes) on buses in our community. (That's right) On so many occasions, Negroes have been intimidated and humiliated and impressed-oppressed-because of the sheer fact that they were Negroes. (That's right) I don't have time this evening to go into the history of these numerous cases. Many of them now are lost in the thick fog of oblivion, (Yes) but at least one stands before us now with glaring dimensions. (Yes)
Just the other day, just last Thursday to be exact, one of the finest citizens in Montgomery (Amen)--not one of the finest Negro citizens (That's right) but one of the finest citizens in Montgomery--was taken from a bus (Yes) and carried to jail and arrested (Yes) because she refused to get up to give her seat to a white person. (Yes, That's right) Now the press would have us believe that she refused to leave a reserved section for Negroes, (Yes) but I want you to know this evening that there is no reserved section. (All right) The law has never been clarified at that point. (Hell no) Now I think I speak with, with legal authority--not that I have any legal authority, but I think I speak with legal authority behind me (All right)--that the law, the ordinance, the city ordinance has never been totally clarified. (That's right)
Mrs. Rosa Parks is a fine person. (Well, well said) And since it had to happen I'm happy that it happened to a person like Mrs. Parks, for nobody can doubt the boundless outreach of her integrity. (Sure enough) Nobody can doubt the height of her character, (Yes) nobody can doubt the depth of her Christian commitment and devotion to the teachings of Jesus. (All right) And I'm happy since it had to happen, it happened to a person that nobody can call a disturbing factor in the community. (All right) Mrs. Parks is a fine Christian person, unassuming, and yet there is integrity and character there. And just because she refused to get up, she was arrested.
And you know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. [Thundering applause] There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. (Keep talking) There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life's July, and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. (That's right) [Applause] There comes a time. (Yes sir, Teach) [Applause continues]
We are here, we are here this evening because we're tired now. (Yes) [Applause] And I want to say, that we are not here advocating violence. (No) We have never done that. (Repeat that, Repeat that) [Applause] I want it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation (Well) that we are Christian people. (Yes) [Applause] We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. (Well) The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. (Yes) [Applause] That's all.
And certainly, certainly, this is the glory of America, with all of its faults. (Yeah) This is the glory of our democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a Communistic nation we couldn't do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime we couldn't do this. (All right) But the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right. (That's right) [Applause] My friends, don't let anybody make us feel that we to be compared in our actions with the Ku Klux Klan or with the White Citizens Council. [Applause] There will be no crosses burned at any bus stops in Montgomery. (Well, That's right) There will be no white persons pulled out of their homes and taken out on some distant road and lynched for not cooperating. [Applause] There will be nobody amid, among us who will stand up and defy the Constitution of this nation. [Applause] We only assemble here because of our desire to see right exist. [Applause] My friends, I want it to be known that we're going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city. [Applause]
And we are not wrong, we are not wrong in what we are doing. (Well) If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. (Yes sir) [Applause] If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. (Yes) [Applause] If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. (That's right) [Applause] If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to earth. (Yes) [Applause] If we are wrong, justice is a lie: (Yes) love has no meaning. [Applause] And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water (Yes) [Applause] and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Keep talking) [Applause]
I want to say that in all of our actions we must stick together. (That's right) [Applause] Unity is the great need of the hour (Well, That's right) and if we are united we can get many of the things that we not only desire but which we justly deserve. (Yeah) And don't let anybody frighten you. (Yeah) We are not afraid of what we are doing, (Oh no) because we are doing it within the law. (All right) There is never a time in our American democracy that we must ever think we're wrong when we protest. (Yes sir) We reserve that right. When labor all over this nation came to see that it would be trampled over by capitalistic power, it was nothing wrong with labor getting together and organizing and protesting for its rights. (That's right)
We, the disinherited of this land, we who have been oppressed so long, are tired of going through the long night of captivity. And now we are reaching out for the daybreak of freedom and justice and equality. [Applause] May I say to you my friends, as I come to a close, and just giving some idea of why we are assembled here, that we must keep--and I want to stress this, in all of our doings, in all of our deliberations here this evening and all of the week and while--whatever we do, we must keep God in the forefront. (Yeah) Let us be Christian in all of our actions. (That's right) But I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love, love is one of the pivotal points of the Christian face, faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in calculation. (All right) Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.(Well)
The Almighty God himself is not the only, not the, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, "I love you, Israel." He's also the God that stands up before the nations and said: "Be still and know that I'm God, (Yeah) that if you don't obey me I will break the backbone of your power, (Yeah) and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships." (That's right) Standing beside love is always justice (Yeah) and we are only using the tools of justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion but we've come to see that we've got to use the tools of coercion. Not only is this thing a process of education but it is also a process of legislation. [Applause]
As we stand and sit here this evening and as we prepare ourselves for what lies ahead, let us go out with a grim and bold determination that we are going to stick together. [Applause] We are going to work together. [Applause] Right here in Montgomery, when the history books are written in the future, (Yes) somebody will have to say, "There lived a race of people, (Well) a black people, (Yes sir) 'fleecy locks and black complexion,' (Yes) a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. [Applause] And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization." And we're gonna do that. God grant that we will do it before it is too late. (Oh yeah) As we proceed with our program let us think of these things. (Yes) [Applause]
[Recording interrupted] Mrs. Parks, and Mr. Fred Daniel. He will tell you why they're being, you know why Mrs. Parks is being presented, and also Mr. Fred Daniel will be presented. Reverend French will make the presentation.
[French:] Fellow American citizens. I say "American citizens" because I believe tonight more than any other time in my whole life that we have arrived at the point in life where we can see for ourselves a new destiny. (Yes) Our horizons are broader. I think the record of our racial group speaks with various languages attesting to the fact that we have been, since the lifting of the bonds of slavery, law-abiding, honest, tax-paying citizens of America. (Yeah) [Applause] And we believe that our record warrants for us (All right) the recognition of citizens of America. (Yes) We don't mean Negro citizens. We don't mean second-rate citizens. We simply mean citizens of America. (That's right) [Applause] I have a responsibility to and for a group of students. Like possibly many of you out there before me, I have the responsibility of teaching them democracy. I don't have to remind you that when occurences like these take place and many of the other things that have happened occur, and when they begin firing questions away at you, you feel just a little unequal to the task of formulating them into real citizens of America. (Yes) But that's our solemn responsibility. And each of us, I'm sure, has accepted that responsibility, and we are going to do our best with molding these [Recording interrupted] active in civic and social affairs in the community. [Applause] An upstanding, law-abiding citizen, one who would deprive no one of rights that belong to them. (All right) [Applause] It has already been pointed out to you time and again that she was ordered from her seat on the bus, a public conveyance for which she had paid the legal fare.(Well) [Applause] What difference does it make even if the president of the United States, and [he's] the greatest individual in these United States of America that I know about, [Applause] if he had gotten on the bus, Mrs. Parks was a lady, and any gentleman would allow a lady to have a seat.(Speak up) [Applause] But because other passengers came after she was seated, she was ordered to leave her seat and because she refused, she was put in jail. I have the responsibility, and it's not an easy task, to present to you the victim of this gross injustice, almost inhumanity, and absolute undemocratic principle, Mrs. Rosa Parks. [Applause] [Recording interrupted]
You know, during my life, I've heard tell of a number of false alarms. But I have a responsibility of presenting another victim. President, late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said some years ago, in one of his fireside chats, to the people of this nation, that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. (All right) [Applause] When we become victims of fear, it is hard indeed to explain our actions. (All right) Thank God I feel that I can say this evening that we are moving sanely and soberly. We are not allowing our emotions to control us. We are guiding and channeling our emotions to the extent that we feel that God shall give us the victory. [Applause]
The press would have us believe that someone has organized some goon squads, whatever that is, [Laughter] whose purpose it was to molest and intimidate those who attempted to board the city buses this morning. But if that kind of thing happened, thank God I don't know anything about it. (That's right) But somebody became a victim of that kind of fear and notion. And you know the psychologists have a way of saying that if you begin thinking of things strong enough, you can become such a victim of that kind of thing until it becomes a reality to you. [Applause] Somebody saw a young man, a citizen of America, attending the courtesies that any young man would attend a lady walking down the street. And he was so engrossed with the idea of intimidation and violence that even the light, gentle touch of the hand appeared to be an act of molesting to this individual. (That's right, Speak up)
Now the press again would have you believe that here was a young man who latched on to a lady who was attempting to board the bus and wrestled her away from the door, saying "You can't ride this bus. I won't allow you to do it." (Yes) [Applause] But I have the responsibility of presenting to you, the gentleman that is so erroneously accused. Again we present a young man, an American citizen, one who is preparing himself for greater service to this country, a student at Alabama State College, [Applause] a member of the First Baptist Church of the city of Montgomery, [Applause] a young man who is so industrious and zealous about his undertaking and his studies until he gets up early hours in the morning and carries a paper route before he goes to school and makes good grades in the classroom. I have the responsibility of presenting Mr. Fred Daniel. (Yes) [Applause] [Recording interrupted]
They have the moral courage to stand. But these alone cannot win this victory that inevitably must be ours. (All right) [Applause] Each of us here, and those who are not here tonight, have a responsibility in this great task. (Yes) And I'm pleading to you, this evening, to let every one of us, under God, join our hands and hearts together in this great concerted effort. And let each of us go out from here resolved as never before in our lives, to never give back one inch until we shall be accorded the full respect and rights. [Applause] [Recording interrupted]
[King:] I think we are moving on with a great deal of enthusiasm this evening, the type of thing that we need in our efforts. And we are certainly very happy to see that indeed. We at least see that you are with this cause and you are with our struggle. It is a struggle for all of us, not just one, but all (Yeah) and we're gonna stick with it. I'd like to say just before we move to the next point that I'm very happy to see all over this audience, some of the outstanding figures from over the state. (Right) Montgomery is not only here but I see folk here from Mobile and Birmingham and tuscaloosa and some of our other points in Alabama. [Applause] I see Reverend Ware here from Birmingham, one of the outstanding ministers of our state and a great champion of civil rights, and then that stalwart, militant Christian gentleman, Emory Jackson of the Birmingham World we're certainly happy to see him here, one of the greats in our struggle for democracy and first-class citizenship and many others that I will not take our time to mention. I'm very happy to see them here.
Now at this point, Reverend Abernathy, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Montgomery, will come to us and read the resolutions and recommendations. I want you to listen to this and be very careful in listening to it. Listen with a great deal of interest so that you will know everything he said, because we want you to vote on it after it's over. Reverend Abernathy of the First Baptist Church.
[Abernathy]: Thank you, Dr. King. All of you who know me, know very well that I would love to make a speech now. [Laughter, applause] I, whenever you start talking about freedom and start talking about justice, you know I have something to say about it. (Well) And you further know, those of you who heard me on this past Sunday morning by radio, beyond a shadow of doubt I stand for integration in this American society. (Amen) [Applause] But I have been asked to read these resolutions. And I want to read them carefully to you in order that you might understand them. I've only received them a few moments ago, and it may be that I'll read slow. I'm sorry that some members of the press have dismissed themselves because there are some things in here I'd really want them to have. [Applause] I certainly hope, I certainly hope that the television man will come back. (Well) [Applause] You know, it isn't fair to get part of it. I want you to get all of it. [Applause] I guess I better read. (Read) [Laughter, applause] Resolution:
Whereas, there are thousands of Negroes in the city and county of Montgomery who ride buses owned and operated by the Montgomery City Lines, Incorporated, and
Whereas, said citizens have been riding buses owned and operated by said company over a number of years, and
Whereas, said citizens, over a number of years, and on many occasions, have been insulted, embarrassed, (Yeah) and have been made to suffer great fear of bodily harm (That's right) by drivers of buses owned and operated by said bus company, (Yeah) and
Whereas, the drivers of said buses have never requested a white passenger riding on any of its buses to relinquish his seat and to stand so that a Negro may take his seat. [Applause] However, said drivers have on many occasions, too numerous to mention, requested Negro passengers on said buses to relinquish their seats and to stand so that white passengers may take their seats. [Applause] and
Whereas, said citizens of Montgomery city and county pay their fares just as all other persons who are passengers on said buses, (All right) and are entitled to fair and equal treatment, (Yeah) [Applause] and
Whereas, there has been any number of arrests of Negroes caused by drivers of said buses, and they are constantly put in jail for refusing to give white passengers their seats and to stand. (All right) [Applause]
Whereas, in March of 1955, a committee of citizens did have a conference with one of the officials of the said bus line at which time said officials arranged a meeting between attorneys representing the Negro citizens of this city and attorneys representing the Montgomery City Lines, Incorporated, and the city of Montgomery, and
Whereas, the official of the bus line promised that as a result of the meeting between said attorneys, he would issue a statement of policy clarifying the law with reference to the seating of Negro passengers on the buses, and
Whereas, said attorneys did have a meeting and did discuss the matter of clarifying the law, however, the official of said bus lines did not make public the statement as to its policy with reference to the seating of passengers on its buses, and
Whereas, since that time, at least two ladies have been arrested for an alleged violation of the city segregation law with reference to bus travel, and
Whereas, said citizens of Montgomery city and county believe that they have been grossly mistreated as passengers on the buses owned and operated by said bus company (All right) in spite of the fact that they are in the majority with reference to the number of passengers riding the said buses. [Applause]
In light of these observations, be it therefore resolved as follows:
Number One. That the citizens of Montgomery are requesting that every citizen in Montgomery, regardless of race, color or creed, to refrain from riding buses owned and operated in the city of Montgomery by the Montgomery Lines, Incorporated, [Applause] until some arrangement has been worked out [Applause] between said citizens and the Montgomery City Lines, Incorporated.
Now I'm reading it slow and I want you to hear every word of it.
Number Two. That every person owning or who has access to an automobile will use their automobiles in assisting other persons to get to work without charge. [Applause]
Number Three. That the employees, I repeat, that the employers of persons whose employees live a great distance from them, as much as possible, afford transportation for your own employees. [Applause]
That the Negro citizens of Montgomery are ready and willing to send a delegation of citizens to the Montgomery City Lines, Incorporated, to discuss their grievances and to work out a solution for the same. (All right) [Applause]
Be it further resolved, that we have not, I said, we have not, we are not, and we have no intentions of using any unlawful means or any intimidation (Go ahead) to persuade persons not to ride the Montgomery City Lines buses. [Applause] However, we call upon your conscience, (All right) both moral and spiritual, to give your whole-hearted support (That's right) to this worthy undertaking. [Applause] We believe we have a just complaint and we are willing to discuss this matter with the proper authorities. (Yes) [Applause]
Thus ends the resolution. [Applause] Dr. King, prayerfully, spiritually, sincerely, I wish to offer a motion. I move that this resolution shall be adopted. (Dr. King, I second the motion) [Applause]
[King:] It has been moved, it has been moved, and seconded, that these recommendations and these resolutions would be accepted and adopted by the citizens of Montgomery. Are you ready for the question? (Thundering Yes)
All in favor, stand on your feet. [Enthusiastic applause] Opposers do likewise. Opposers do likewise. [Laughter] There is a prevailing majority.
I certainly want to thank you my friends for this tremendous response. [Pause] My friends, in order that nothing, that we will not be misquoted, and particularly with the resolutions, copies are prepared for the press. So that if the press would like to secure copies, they may do that, so that we will not be misquoted. [Enthusiastic applause] [Recording interrupted]
. . . said here this evening because everything is being recorded. Reverend Glasco is here on hand recording everything that is being said, so that we're not doing anything in the dark, here. Everything is recorded. [Applause] Now my friends I just want to say once more to you. I've got to leave, I have presided to this point. It so happens that we have a group of very fine men who can do a much better job than I've done, and we're gonna let them do it. You know, we preachers have many engagements sometime. And I've got to go speak to the fathers and sons of this city. So that I'm gonna have to leave.
But just before leaving I want to say this. I want to urge you. You have voted. And you have done it with a great deal of enthusiasm, and I want to express my appreciation to you, on behalf of everybody here. Now let us go out to stick together and stay with this thing until the end. [Applause] Now it means sacrificing, yes, it means sacrificing at points. But there are some things that we've got to learn to sacrifice for. (Yeah) And we've got to come to the point that we are determined not to accept a lot of things that we have been accepting in the past.
So I'm urging you now. We have the facilities for you to get to your jobs. And we are putting, we have the cabs there at your service, automobiles will be at your service. And don't be afraid to use up any of the gas. If you have it, if you are fortunate enough to have a little money, use it for a good cause. Now my automobile is gonna be in it, it has been in it. And I'm not concerned about how much gas I'm gonna use. (That's right) I want to see this thing work.
And we will not be content until oppression is wiped out of Montgomery, and really out of America. We won't be content until that is done. We are merely insisting on the dignity and worth of every human personality. And I don't stand here, I'm not arguing for any selfish person. I've never been on a bus in Montgomery. But I would be less than a Christian if I stood back and said, because I don't ride the bus, I don't have to ride a bus, that it doesn't concern me. [Applause] I will not be content, I can hear a voice saying, "if you do it unto the least of these, my brother, you do it unto me." [Applause]
And I won't rest, I will face intimidation, and everything else, along with these other stalwart fighters for democracy and for citizenship. We don't mind it, so long as justice comes out of it. And I've come to see now that as we struggle for our rights, maybe some of them will have to die. But somebody said, if a man doesn't have something that he'll die for, he isn't fit to live. [Enthusiastic applause]
Now let me tell you this. You know, it takes money to do what we're about to do. We can't do it clapping hands now. And we can't do it saying "Amen." (That's right) That's not enough. That is, that encourages the speaker to go on. But that isn't enough. We need money to do this. And we're gonna have to get ourselves some money tonight. And we're gonna ask everybody here, that's everybody outside and inside, to get ready to make a contribution to this cause. (That's right) And the money will be well used. And the committee will tell you, someone will tell you what it will be used for. Now we're asking Reverend Bonner to come here, from the First CME Church, to come and take this offering. I'm gonna ask Brother Nixon to assist him. And we're gonna, I'm gonna ask--huh?--Brother Matthews, also. Where's Brother Matthews? Yeah. Brother Matthews here, the president of our NAACP, to come here and assist. Now I want to say this. We're gonna need somebody to go outside and collect money. So that I'm gonna ask about, we'd say about ten people, I'm gonna ask ten of the ministers of the city to assist us in taking this offering. [Rev. Bonner begins calling out names] My friends, let me say this. Just a moment, Reverend Bonner, we don't want anybody to leave until this is over. I'm gonna leave mine as I leave, and this will continue. Reverend Bennett will continue in presiding. I'm sorry I have to leave, but I'm certainly happy to see your enthusiasm.
Description of Series
The manuscript collection is arranged in eleven series:
Family Papers, 1900-2005
Includes correspondence, certificates, notes, financial records, employment records, insurance documents, medical records, photographs, news clippings, and other material pertaining to the family of Rosa Parks. Letters to and from Parks arranged alphabetically by name of immediate family member. Papers of Parks's husband, mother, brother, and father arranged alphabetically by name of family member and alphabetically thereunder by topic or type of material. Letters from extended family grouped together in a chronological arrangement.
General Correspondence, 1928-2006
Includes letters Parks received from prominent individuals a chronological file of largely incoming correspondence from friends, acquaintances, organizations, event planners, and the general public greeting cards and the letters and drawings of children. Arranged alphabetically and chronologically.
Subject File, 1937-2005
Includes correspondence, memoranda, invitations, notes, writings, interview transcripts, programs, flyers, name tags, newsletters, lists, certificates, song sheets, petitions, photographs, and other material pertaining to Parks's affiliation with organizations and institutions, her participation in major civil rights events, and various efforts to honor her. Arranged alphabetically by name of organization, institution, or event, by topic, or by type of material.
Writings, Notes, and Statements, 1956-1998
Contains book galleys, drafts of writings, notes, notebooks, interviews, prayers, spiritual reflections, and statements by Parks. Arranged alphabetically by type of material.
Includes programs, flyers, tickets, and other printed matter pertaining to Parks's speaking engagements, the honors she received, and the events she attended. Arranged in two parts: events featuring or honoring Parks and a general file of events that she most likely attended even though her name does not appear in programs. Each part is arranged chronologically within.
Resolutions and Other Honors, 1967-2006
Contains resolutions, tributes, certificates, honorary degrees, and poetry honoring Parks. Arranged alphabetically in categories and within each category by name of organization, institution, person, or state. These materials are included as part of the oversize series in this online edition.
Includes financial, employment, insurance, estate, and medical records, appointment calendars, address books, biographical material, membership and business cards, telephone messages, a recipe, a questionnaire, and other material documenting Parks's daily life and material circumstances. Arranged alphabetically by type of material or topic.
Printed Matter, 1947-2005
Contains magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, brochures, commemorative stamps, calendars, and various printed ephemera either pertaining to or collected by Parks. Arranged alphabetically by type of material or topic. Partially digitized.
Books Owned by Parks, 1866-2001
Books owned by Parks. Some of the books are inscribed with the names of family. Others contain inscriptions to Parks by the author or the person giving her the book. Arranged alphabetically by name of author or title. Partially digitized.
The Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Arranged alphabetically by name of medal.
Oversize material consisting of resolutions, tributes, certificates, honorary degrees, correspondence, writings, political ephemera, labor and campaign buttons, a calendar, a family Bible, and newspapers. Arranged and described according to series, containers, and folders from which the items were removed. Partially digitized.
NOTE: Also available with this online collection are the Visual Materials from the Rosa Parks Papers.
The digital collections of the Library of Congress contain a wide variety of primary source materials related to Rosa Parks, including photographs, documents, and webcasts. Provided below is a link to the home page for each relevant digital collection along with selected highlights.
Rosa Parks Papers
The papers of Rosa Parks (1913-2005) span the years 1866-2006, with the bulk of the material dating from 1955 to 2000. The collection, which contains approximately 7,500 items in the Manuscript Division, as well as 2,500 photographs in the Prints and Photographs Division, documents many aspects of Parks's private life and public activism on behalf of civil rights for African Americans.
Articles, essays and a video presentation about the collection:
Civil Rights Oral Histories
On May 12, 2009, the U. S. Congress authorized a national initiative by passing The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-19). The law directs the Library of Congress (LOC) and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) to conduct a survey of existing oral history collections with relevance to the Civil Rights movement to obtain justice, freedom and equality for African Americans and to record new interviews with people who participated in the struggle, over a five year period beginning in 2010.
Civil rights activist Ruby Sales (b. 1948) describes the central role and importance of Rosa Parks and other working women for the freedom struggle in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Rosa Parks: In Newspapers and Comic Books
Civil rights activist Rosa Parks (1913-2005), whose birthday was February 4th, is best known for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a public bus in segregated Montgomery, Alabama. Her refusal and arrest on December 1, 1955 sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and helped fuel the modern civil rights movement.
Events in Rosa Parks’ life are chronicled in newspapers and comic books and reinforce her well-justified iconic status. At times, though, their simplified coverage perpetuates the myth of Parks as the quiet seamstress who was too tired to stand to give up her seat. By contrast, the Rosa Parks Papersਊt the Library of Congress and the new exhibition drawn from them, Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words, provide insight into Parks as a lifelong activist. Still, newspapers and comic books, whatever their limitations and biases, can be valuable in providing contemporary historical and cultural context.
As a young woman, Parks helped her husband, Raymond, in organizing support to defend the Scottsboro Boys, nine black teenagers falsely convicted of raping two white women in Alabama in 1931. She was also active in trying to save the life of Jeremiah Reeves, who, in 1952, at the age of 16, had a consensual relationship with a white woman who then accused him of rape. Even though the case went twice to the Supreme Court, Reeves was executed at the age of 22.
Parks cited the August 1955 kidnapping and brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the acquittal of his murderers that September as impetus for her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man.
These and other early events in Parks’ life provide the backdrop for her refusal to give up her bus seat, her deep commitment to the subsequent bus boycott, and her continuing activism.
Local coverage of the boycott can be particularly revealing and is accessible on The Montgomery Advertiser’s website, “The Montgomery Bus Boycott: They Changed the World”: Newspaper Front Pages. These front pages and articles provide examples covering a wide range of dates from the boycott’s beginning to its end with some articles digitizedਊnd others available in text format.
While Rosa Parks was not a plaintiff in Browder v Gayle, the Supreme Court case legally ending racial segregation on public transportation in the state of Alabama, her actions helped move the decision forward.
Comic book coverage of Parks began early on. In 1957, the Fellowship of Reconciliation published Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, a 16-page comic book that provided a concise version of the story of the Montgomery bus boycott. Rosa Parks appeared briefly, but heroically, with the story focused on Martin Luther King Jr., as the title suggests. The story is told through the eyes of a young black man, who becomes an activist after being inspired by Rosa Parks’ bravery. However, it still provides the simplistic explanation: “Because she was tired and her feet ached, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the bus.”
The story provided an example of the potential of nonviolent action for advancing social change. The comic book was distributed through civil rights organizations, churches, and schools. Its compelling message has been translated into multiple languages over the years, including into Arabic in 2008.
The real-life Rosa Parks truly was brave: she and her husband endured multiple death threats, unemployment, and poverty. Newspapers covered their move, along with her mother, from Montgomery, Alabama to Detroit, Michigan in August 1957, where her only brother Sylvester and his family lived. In October 1957, she moved alone to Hampton, Virginia to work as a hostess at the Holly Tree Inn at Hampton Institute, hoping her husband and mother would be able to join her there. Her employment and housing did not work out as she had hoped and she returned to Detroit in 1958.
After a decade of poverty in Montgomery and Detroit, Parks volunteered for John Conyers’ congressional campaign. Following his victory, she worked in Congressman Conyer’s Detroit district office from 1965 to 1988–all the while, continuing her activism.
As recognition of Parks’ significance grew, she received multiple honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. She was covered more extensively in newspapers, comics, and graphic novels. In 2013, Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin wrote the first book in their graphic novel trilogy, March, illustrated by Nate Powell. They included Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott in Book One. It is Book Three, though, published in 2016, that features Parks in a later role, speaking on March 25, 1965 outside the Alabama State Capitol at the end of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march. This third march was completed under guard of federal marshals and federalized Alabama National Guard troops, after the earlier murders of activists Jimmie Lee Jackson and James Reeb, and the beatings of march leaders John Lewis,ਊmelia Boynton, and others on theꃭmund Pettus Bridge.
March: Book Three, written by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin, art by Nate Powell (Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2016), p. 236-237.
The newspaper articles shown above were located by searching the Library of Congress website, Chronicling America, which only recently has been able to include selected newspapers through 1963 that have been found to be in the public domain. You can find additional free examples of newspaper articles focused on Rosa Parks with a wider date range via the commercial database Newspapers.com at Topics: Famous People: Rosa Parks.
For more extensive research, please visit the Library’s Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room in Washington, DC. Here you can searchommercial databases we have accessible on-site, such as ProQuest Historical Newspapers (with Historical Black Newspapers), and NewspaperArchive. You can examine a wide array of newspapers on microfilm, including The Montgomery Advertiser, the Detroit Free Press, and Theꃞtroit News. You can also see original comic books and those on microfiche in our collection.
Can’t visit us soon? Check into resources available through your local libraries, including databases and interlibrary loan of newspaper microfilm from the Library of Congress and other research libraries.
Another important reason to visit: see the exhibition, Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words, in person. If that’s also not possible,heck out the exhibition online and see these additional recent Library of Congress blog posts about her:
Rosa Parks’ Archive Goes Digital - HISTORY
In early May 1961, a group of 13 men and women, both black and white, set out from Washington, D.C., on two buses. They called themselves "freedom riders" they wanted to demonstrate that segregation prevailed throughout much of the South despite a federal ban on segregated travel on interstate buses. The freedom riders' trip was sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a civil rights group dedicated to breaking down racial barriers through nonviolent protest. Inspired by the nonviolent, direct action ideals incorporated in the philosophy of Indian Nationalist Mahatma Gandhi, the freedom riders were willing to endure jail and suffer beatings to achieve integration. "We can take anything the white man can dish out," said one black freedom rider, "but we want our rights . and we want them now."
In Virginia and North Carolina, the freedom riders met with little trouble. Black freedom riders were able to use white restrooms and sit at white lunch counters. But in Winnsboro, South Carolina, police arrested two black freedom riders, and outside of Anniston, Alabama, a white hurled a bomb through one of the bus's windows, setting the vehicle on fire. Waiting white thugs beat the freedom riders as they tried to escape the smoke and flames. Eight other whites boarded the second bus and assaulted the freedom riders before police restrained the attackers.
In Birmingham, Alabama, another mob attacked the second bus with blackjacks and lengths of pipe. In Montgomery, a club-swinging mob of 100 whites attacked the freedom riders and a group of white youths poured an inflammable liquid on one black man, igniting his clothing. Local police arrived ten minutes later, state police an hour later. Explained Montgomery's police commissioner: "We have no intention of standing police guard for a bunch of troublemakers coming into our city."
President Kennedy was appalled by the violence. He hastily deputized 400 federal marshals and Treasury agents and flew them to Alabama to protect the freedom riders' rights. The president publicly called for a "cooling-off period," but conflict continued. When the freedom riders arrived in Jackson, Mississippi, 27 were arrested for entering a "white-only" washroom and were sentenced to 60 days on the state prison farm.
The threat of racial violence in the South led the Kennedy administration to pressure the Interstate Commerce Commission to desegregate air, bus, and train terminals. In more than 300 Southern terminals, signs saying "white" and "colored" were taken down from waiting room entrances and lavatory doors.
Civil rights activists next aimed to open state universities to black students. Many Southern states opened their universities to black students without incident. Other states were stiff-backed in their opposition to integration. The depth of hostility to integration was apparent in an incident that took place in February 1956. A young woman named Autherine Lucy became the first black student ever admitted to the University of Alabama. A mob of 1,000 greeted the young woman with the chant, "Keep 'Bama White!" Two days later, rioting students threw stones and eggs at the car she was riding in to attend class. Lucy decided to withdraw from school, and for the next seven years, no black students attended the University of Alabama.
A major breakthrough occurred in September 1962, when a federal court ordered the state of Mississippi to admit James Meredith--a nine-year veteran of the Air Force--to the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Ross Barnett, the state's governor, promised on statewide television that he would "not surrender to the evil and illegal forces of tyranny" and would go to jail rather than permit Meredith to register for classes. Barnett flew into Oxford, named himself special registrar of the university, and ordered the arrest of federal officials who tried to enforce the court order.
James Meredith refused to back down. A "man with a mission and a nervous stomach," Meredith was determined to get a higher education. "I want to go to the university," he said. "This is the life I want. Just to live and breathe--that isn't life to me. There's got to be something more." He arrived at the Ole Miss campus in the company of police officers, federal marshals, and lawyers. Angry white students waited, chanting, "Two, four, six, eight--we don't want to integrate."
Four times James Meredith tried unsuccessfully to register at Ole Miss. He finally succeeded on the fifth try, escorted by several hundred federal marshals. The ensuing riot left 2 people dead and 375 injured, including 166 marshals. Ultimately, President Kennedy sent 16,000 troops to stop the violence.
Recy Taylor, Rosa Parks, and the Struggle for Racial JusticeMrs. Recy Taylor, 1944, credit: &ldquoThe Rape of Recy Taylor&rdquo Courtesy of The People's World/Daily Worker and Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University
Recy Taylor, a 24-year-old black mother and sharecropper, was walking home from church in Abbeville, Alabama, on Sept. 3, 1944, when she was abducted and gang-raped by six white men. The crime, which N.A.A.C.P. activist Rosa Parks investigated and which garnered extensive coverage in the black press, never saw an indictment for the accused.
In the film “The Rape of Recy Taylor,” director Nancy Buirski explores Taylor’s story, Rosa Parks’ work on her behalf, and the history of racial violence, particularly against women, in the postwar South.
In 1944, a 24-year-old Afro-American woman from Alabama was raped by six white men. Her case was defended by Rosa Parks, a legendary human rights activist. Using old film footage about racial incidents, the director speaks out on the issue of the sexual exploitation of black women.
In the book “At the Dark End of the Street” Danielle L. McGuire writes, “After World War I, the Alabama Klan unleashed a wave of terror designed to return ‘uppity’ African Americans to their proper place in the segregated social order.”
It was against that backdrop this Parks witnessed and sought justice for the victims of widespread bigotry rippling throughout the state. Alongside other activists, Parks founded the “Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor” to bring attention to the case. With the support of W.E.B. DuBois, Mary Church Terrell and Langston Hughes, among others, the case rose to prominence, however, the accused were never brought to justice.
“Whites didn’t like blacks having that kind of attitude,” Parks said of black soldiers returning to the South. Many soldiers expected better treatment following their military service. Southerners instead “started doing all kinds of violent things to black people to remind them that they didn’t have rights.”
Indeed, the problem of racial prejudice in the South was a deep-seated one - a problem founded on a longstanding history of intimidation.
“Unsubstantiated rumors of black men attacking innocent white women sparked almost 50% of all race riots in the United States between Reconstruction and World War II,” says McGuire. He references the uptick in rumors of black-on-white rape “whenever African Americans asserted their humanity or challenged white supremacy.”
Mrs. Recy Taylor, 1944, credit: “The Rape of Recy Taylor”
Faced with few options for legal recourse, African American women chose to share their stories, drawing on a longstanding history of testimony and truth-telling to shed light on their pain.
“While survivors of sexualized violence rarely received justice in Southern courts,” McGuire writes, “black women like Recy Taylor who were raped by white men in the 1940s used their voices as weapons against white supremacy.”
It wasn’t until 2011, nearly 60 years after the case, that the state of Alabama issued a formal apology to Taylor for her treatment by the state’s legal system.
“[Taylor] was an American hero and an Alabama treasure who spoke up in the face of racism, hate and sexual violence,” Alabama Rep. Terri A. Sewell said in a statement. “By standing up to injustice over six decades ago, Recy Taylor inspired generations of men and women to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable.”
Taylor died in Abbeville Dec. 21, 2017, three weeks after the release of “The Rape of Recy Taylor.” She was 97.
The fact that Recy, and women who suffered similar crimes, told their stories in the face of intimidation brought nationwide attention to issues of racial violence. Alhough the Recy Taylor case did not succeed in the short term, the bravery of these women helped to mobilize communities and build coalitions that would become the pillars of the civil rights movement.
Recy Taylor article in The Chicago Defender, credit: “The Rape of Recy Taylor”
Rosa Louise Parks was nationally recognized as the “mother of the modern day civil rights movement” in America. Her refusal to surrender her seat to a white male passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, December 1, 1955, triggered a wave of protest December 5, 1955 that reverberated throughout the United States. Her quiet courageous act changed America, its view of black people and redirected the course of history.
Mrs. Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley, February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. She was the first child of James and Leona Edwards McCauley. Her brother, Sylvester McCauley, now deceased, was born August 20, 1915. Later, the family moved to Pine Level, Alabama where Rosa was reared and educated in the rural school. When she completed her education in Pine Level at age eleven, her mother, Leona, enrolled her in Montgomery Industrial School for Girls (Miss White’s School for Girls), a private institution. After finishing Miss White’s School, she went on to Alabama State Teacher’s College High School. She, however, was unable to graduate with her class, because of the illness of her grandmother Rose Edwards and later her death.
As Rosa Parks prepared to return to Alabama State Teacher’s College, her mother also became ill, therefore, she continued to take care of their home and care for her mother while her brother, Sylvester, worked outside of the home. She received her high school diploma in 1934, after her marriage to Raymond Parks, December 18, 1932. Raymond, now deceased was born in Wedowee, Alabama, Randolph County, February 12, 1903, received little formal education due to racial segregation. He was a self-educated person with the assistance of his mother, Geri Parks. His immaculate dress and his thorough knowledge of domestic affairs and current events made most think he was college educated. He supported and encouraged Rosa’s desire to complete her formal education.
Mr. Parks was an early activist in the effort to free the “Scottsboro Boys,” a celebrated case in the 1930′s. Together, Raymond and Rosa worked in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP’s) programs. He was an active member and she served as secretary and later youth leader of the local branch. At the time of her arrest, she was preparing for a major youth conference.
After the arrest of Rosa Parks, black people of Montgomery and sympathizers of other races organized and promoted a boycott of the city bus line that lasted 381 days. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was appointed the spokesperson for the Bus Boycott and taught nonviolence to all participants. Contingent with the protest in Montgomery, others took shape throughout the south and the country. They took form as sit-ins, eat-ins, swim-ins, and similar causes. Thousands of courageous people joined the “protest” to demand equal rights for all people.
Mrs. Parks moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1957. In 1964 she became a deaconess in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).
Congressman John Conyers First Congressional District of Michigan employed Mrs. Parks, from 1965 to 1988. In February, 1987, she co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development with Ms. Elaine Eason Steele in honor of her husband, Raymond (1903-1977). The purpose is to motivate and direct youth not targeted by other programs to achieve their highest potential. Rosa Parks sees the energy of young people as a real force for change. It is among her most treasured themes of human priorities as she speaks to young people of all ages at schools, colleges, and national organizations around the world.
The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development’s “Pathways to Freedom program, traces the underground railroad into the civil rights movement and beyond. Youth, ages 11 through 17, meet and talk with Mrs. Parks and other national leaders as they participate in educational and historical research throughout the world. They journey primarily by bus as “freedom riders” did in the 1960′s,the theme: “Where have we been? Where are we going?”
As a role model for youth she was stimulated by their enthusiasm to learn as much about her life as possible. A modest person, she always encourages them to research the lives of other contributors to world peace. The Institute and The Rosa Parks Legacy are her legacies to people of good will.
Mrs. Parks received more than forty-three honorary doctorate degrees, including one from SOKA UNIVERSITY, Tokyo Japan, hundreds of plaques, certificates, citations, awards and keys to many cities. Among them are the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, the UAW’s Social Justice Award, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non – Violent Peace Prize and the ROSA PARKS PEACE PRIZE in 1994, Stockholm Sweden, to name a few. In September 1996 President William J. Clinton, the forty second President of the United States of America gave Mrs. Parks the MEDAL OF FREEDOM, the highest award given to a civilian citizen.
Published Act no.28 of 1997 designated the first Monday following February 4, as Mrs Rosa Parks’ Day in the state of Michigan, her home state. She is the first living person to be honored with a holiday.
She was voted by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most Influential people of the 20th century. A Museum and Library is being built in her honor, in Montgomery, AL and will open in the fall of the year 2000 (ground breaking April 21, 1998). On September 2, 1998 The Rosa L. Parks Learning Center was dedicated at Botsford Commons, a senior community in Michigan. Through the use of computer technology, youth will mentor seniors on the use of computers. (Mrs. Parks was a member of the first graduating class on November 24, 1998). On September 26, 1998 Mrs. Parks was the recipient of the first International Freedom Conductor’s Award by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
She attended her first “State of the Union Address” in January 1999. Mrs. Parks received a unanimous bipartisan standing ovation when President William Jefferson Clinton acknowledged her. Representative Julia Carson of Indianapolis, Indiana introduced H. R. Bill 573 on February 4, 1999, which would award Mrs. Rosa Parks the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor if it passed the House of Representatives and the Senate by a majority. The bill was passed unanimously in the Senate on April 19, and with one descenting vote in the House of Representatives on April 20. President Clinton signed it into law on May 3, 1999. Mrs. Parks was one of only 250 individuals at the time, including the American Red Cross to receive this honor. President George Washington was the first to receive the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor. President Nelson Mandela is also listed among the select few of world leaders who have received the medal.
In the winter of 2000 Mrs. Parks met Pope John-Paul II in St. Louis, MO and read a statement to him asking for racial healing. She received the NAACP Image Award for Best Supporting Actress in the Television series, TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, “Black like Monica”. Troy State University at Montgomery opened The Rosa Parks Library and Museum on the site where Mrs. Parks was arrested December 1, 1955. It opened on the 45th Anniversary of her arrest and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
“The Rosa Parks Story” was filmed in Montgomery, Alabama May 2001, an aired February 24, 2002 on the CBS television network. Mrs. Parks continues to receive numerous awards including the very first Lifetime Achievement Award ever given by The Institute for Research on Women & Gender, Stanford University. She received the Gandhi, King, Ikeda award for peace and on October 29, 2003 Mrs. Parks was an International Institute Heritage Hall of fame honoree. On February 4, 2004 Mrs. Parks 91st birthday was celebrated at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. On December 21, 2004 the 49th Anniversary of the Mrs. Parks’ arrest was commemorated with a Civil Rights and Hip-Hop Forum at the Franklin Settlement in Detroit, Michigan.
On February 4, 2005 Mrs. Parks’ 92nd birthday was celebrate at Calvary Baptist Church in Detroit, MI. Students from the Detroit Public Schools did “Willing to be Arrested,” a reenactment of Mrs. Parks arrest. February 6, 2005 Mrs. Parks received the first annual Cardinal Dearden Peace Award at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Detroit, MI. February 19 – 20, composer Hannibal Lokumbe premiered an original symphony “Dear Mrs. Parks.” Mr. Lokumbe did this original work as part of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s ” Classical Roots Series.” The beginning of many events that will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Mrs. Parks’ arrest December 1, 1955.
Mrs. Parks has written four books, Rosa Parks: My Story: by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins, Quiet Strength by Rosa Parks with Gregory J. Reed, Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue With Today’s Youth by Rosa Parks with Gregory J, Reed, this book received the NAACP’s Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, (Children’s) in 1996 and her latest book, I AM ROSA PARKS by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins, for preschoolers.
A quiet exemplification of courage, dignity, and determination Rosa Parks was a symbol to all to remain free. Rosa Parks made her peaceful transition October 24, 2005.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott
Sixty years ago, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old black woman, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama, public bus.
On December 1, 1955, Parks, a seamstress and secretary for the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was taking the bus home after a long day of work.
The white section of the bus had filled, so the driver asked Parks to give up her seat in the designated black section of the bus to accommodate a white passenger.
When it became apparent after several minutes of argument that Parks would not relent, the bus driver called the police. Parks was arrested for being in violation of Chapter 6, Section 11, of the Montgomery City Code, which upheld a policy of racial segregation on public buses.
Parks was not the first person to engage in this act of civil disobedience.
Earlier that year, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. She was arrested, but local civil rights leaders were concerned that she was too young and poor to be a sympathetic plaintiff to challenge segregation.
Parks—a middle-class, well-respected civil rights activist—was the ideal candidate.
Just a few days after Parks’s arrest, activists announced plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The boycott, which officially began December 5, 1955, did not support just Parks but countless other African Americans who had been arrested for the same reason.
E. D. Nixon, president of the local NAACP chapter, called for all African-American citizens to boycott the public bus system to protest the segregation policy. Nixon and his supporters vowed to abstain from riding Montgomery public buses until the policy was abolished.
Instead of buses, African Americans took taxis driven by black drivers who had lowered their fares in support of the boycott, walked, cycled, drove private cars, and even rode mules or drove in horse-drawn carriages to get around. African-American citizens made up a full three-quarters of regular bus riders, causing the boycott to have a strong economic impact on the public transportation system and on the city of Montgomery as a whole.
The boycott was proving to be a successful means of protest.
The city of Montgomery tried multiple tactics to subvert the efforts of boycotters. They instituted regulations for cab fares that prevented black cab drivers from offering lower fares to support boycotters. The city also pressured car insurance companies to revoke or refuse insurance to black car owners so they could not use their private vehicles for transportation in lieu of taking the bus.
Montgomery’s efforts were futile as the local black community, with the support of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., churches—and citizens around the nation—were determined to continue with the boycott until their demand for racially integrated buses was met.
The boycott lasted from December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks was arrested, to December 20, 1956, when Browder v. Gayle, a Federal ruling declaring racially segregated seating on buses to be unconstitutional, took effect.
Although it took more than a year, Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her seat on a public bus sparked incredible change that would forever impact civil rights in the United States.
Parks continued to raise awareness for the black struggle in America and the Civil Rights movement for the rest of her life. For her efforts she was awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by the executive branch, and the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor given by the legislative branch.
To learn more about the life of Rosa Parks, read Michael Hussey’s 2013 Pieces of History post Honoring the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”
And plan your visit to the National Archives to view similar documents in our “Records of Rights” exhibit or explore documents in our online catalog.
Copies of documents relating to Parks’s arrest submitted as evidence in the Browder v. Gayle case are held in the National Archives at Atlanta in Morrow, Georgia.