Rad American Women: R is for Rosa Parks

The Rosa Parks Papers are now available anywhere.

Rounding out Women's History Month and our Rad American Women theme, we want to let you know that the Library of Congress has digitized and made available online its collection of papers and photographs on the life and career of Rosa Parks. The collection, which includes 7,500 manuscripts and 2,500 photographs, was purchased in 2014 by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and deposited at the Library of Congress on a 10 year loan. It has been open to in-person researchers for a year but is now accessible online to researchers worldwide as the Rosa Parks Papers

The contents of the Rosa Parks Papers are huge and wide-ranging. Mrs. Parks seems to have kept everything. The collection includes items such as a poll tax receipt, letters to her mother, recipes, and a postcard from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the 1970s Mrs. Parks donated some of her papers to Wayne State University in her adopted home of Detroit, Michigan. That collection amounts to six boxes covering the years between 1954 to 1976 with a focus on her activities in Detroit. By contrast, the papers at the Library of Congress are in 40 boxes include material on Rosa Parks and her family's history from 1866 to 2006. What is invaluable to researchers is how these papers show us that she didn't just fall accidentally into her role as the heroine who wouldn't give up her seat on the bus to a white man. Instead the papers illuminate her lifetime of political and civil rights activism. 

The collection itself has a fascinating history. After Mrs. Parks's death, her descendants and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development entered into a legal dispute over her estate. A judge ruled that her papers and other belongings be consigned to an auctioneer and sold to a single bidder, and the proceeds divided among the parties. The collection sat unsold, and unavailble for study by scholars, for eight years because the initial price had been set too high to attract a buyer. In 2014 the collection was purchased by Howard Buffett for the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for $4.5 million. Buffett then lent the papers to the Library of Congress where library staff spent months organizing and preparing them for use. 

Do you want to know more about this Rad American woman? Try The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis, Rosa Parks by Douglas Brinkely, or her autobiography with Jim Haskins, Rosa Parks: My Story. Herbert Kohl's She Would Not Be Moved describes the way we fail to do justice to Mrs. Parks's pro-active role in the Civil Rights movement in Montgomery. Another perspective on the Rosa Parks story can be gathered from the story of Claudette Colvin, a pregnant Montgomery teenager who had previously refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. Phillip Hoose tells Colvin's story in Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. To learn more about the Rosa Parks Papers at Wayne State University, click here. Mrs. Parks provided oral histories to projects at Radcliffe and the University of Florida. Transcripts can be found online. To hear Rosa Parks's story in her own voice, listen to a rare radio interview between Mrs. Parks and Studs Turkel.