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A True Vision of Mrs. Rosa Parks Now Available for the World To See

Posted February 9, 2015

By Patrice K. Muhammad

Rosa Parks waving from a United Airways jetway in Seattle, WA photo/courtesy:Gil Baker 1956

Rosa Parks waving from a United Airways jetway in Seattle, WA photo/courtesy:Gil Baker 1956

The Rosa Parks Collection at the Library of Congress formally opened to researchers on February 4, the birthday of the civil-rights icon who was often referred to as “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement’’.
The collection is comprised of thousands of items including personal correspondence and photographs, autobiographical notes, letters from presidents, her Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal, additional honors and awards, clothing and furniture, and 200 drawings by schoolchildren and hundreds of greeting cards from individuals thanking her for her inspirational role in the civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks and Congressman John Conyers, in Detroit, Michigan, circa 1990. Parks served on Conyer's Staff  between 1965 and 1988.

Rosa Parks and Congressman John Conyers, in Detroit, Michigan, circa 1990. Parks served on Conyer’s Staff between 1965 and 1988.

“We know that Mrs. Parks would be proud that the Library of Congress holds her legacy in the high esteem that it deserves, and will make it available to the world to learn from and cherish,” said Elaine Eason-Steele, who co-founded the Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development with Mrs. Parks in 1987.
Howard G. Buffett, chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, said, “My goal was always to ensure this historic collection would be made available for the public’s benefit so that as many people as possible can learn about Rosa Parks and the sacrifices she made to support the civil rights movement.’’
The collection has been described as very personal. There are letters to her husband and mother who she was often away from as she helped the movement or took jobs out of state for much needed income for the family.
Included is a poster for a fundraiser to help the financially strapped Parks’s, who were unable to find work after Mrs. Parks stand in Montgomery.
The Library caption of fundraising poster stated, “In the summer of 1960, the press had begun reporting on Park’s poverty that continued long after the bus boycott and the loss of her job as an assistant tailor at Montgomery Fair department store. The Parkses left Montgomery for Detroit in 1957.  Unfortunately, their move coincided with a major national recession that hit Detroit particularly hard.  In 1960, Jet magazine described her as “penniless, debt-ridden, [and] ailing with stomach ulcers and a throat tumor, compressed into two rooms with her husband and mother.” Income tax returns and other financial and medical records in the collection prove how valid, and almost understated, this description was.’’
Her rage and frustration can be read in the many previously unpublished writings that are being seen for the first time. In a journal passage after being released from jail, Mrs. Parks wrote, “Let us look at Jim Crow for the criminal he is and what he has done to one life multiplied millions of times over these United States and the world. He walks us on a tightrope from birth.’’
The Buffet Foundation made a court offer for the items that were sitting in storage because of a legal dispute between Mrs. Parks’s friends and family.

Broadside, Tribute Dinner honoring Parks, 3 April 1965, COBO Hall, Detroit, Mich. The event was organized by the Women’s Public Affairs Committee of 1000 and featured Coretta Scott King and Ralph Abernathy as speakers. Proceeds from the dinner went to Rosa Parks.

Broadside, Tribute Dinner honoring Parks, 3 April 1965, COBO Hall, Detroit, Mich. The event was organized by the Women’s Public Affairs Committee of 1000 and featured Coretta Scott King and Ralph Abernathy as speakers. Proceeds from the dinner went to Rosa Parks.

“These artifacts were things that Mrs. Parks had originally given to her institute. She started this institute 30 years ago and she gave her entire modest estate to the institute,” as directed by her will, Atty. Steve Cohen was quoted as saying in an August 29, 2014 Detroit Free Press article. Cohen represented the, still active, Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute.
Mr. and Mrs. Parks did not have any children. Their nieces and nephews sued, within months of her death, for a share of her modest estate. A judge granted the group of 13 family members, 20% of the estate.
Anita Peek, Executive Director, Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development is pleased that the collection is out of storage and available for the public. “Since we are not in possession of it, we couldn’t be more excited that it is with the Library of Congress. That means that the public at large has an opportunity to know the great woman she was. Too many people have diminished [Mrs. Parks] and I think this gives her an opportunity to let them know who she really was.’’
Mrs. Peek considers, “My Story’’ by Rosa Parks required reading for those who want to know her history before and after the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She shared that Mrs. Parks worked for freedom and justice since she was a child. “In 1943 she finally was finally given a voter registration card in Montgomery, AL after three tries, being given a written exam and threatening to call the NAACP if her test was not graded properly. She was always there.’’ Peek said.
From Monday, March 2 through Monday, March 30, a sampling of approximately two dozen items from the collection will be on view in three glass cases on the first floor of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The one-month display is free and open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
In addition, starting on Saturday, March 7, several items from the collection will be included in the ongoing major exhibition “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom,” which is open through Sept. 12, 2015. Located on the second floor of the Jefferson Building, the exhibition is free and open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
The Rosa Parks Collection is on loan to the Library for 10 years from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. During that time, the Library will digitize the documents and visual materials and make them widely available through its website www.loc.gov.
Information can also be found on the website for the only organization founded by Rosa Parks to preserve her legacy, www.rosaparks.org.