Rosa Parks – An armchair guide to a major exhibition of her life and work

Though snippets of the story and role of Rosa Parks are known, the fact is that much of her personal story has heretofore been hidden to the public. The Rosa Parks Collection at the Library of Congress, formally opened just last week, sheds much more light on the personal life of this courageous civil rights leader. The Rosa Parks Collection is on loan for ten years from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to the Library of Congress.

The collection contains 7500 manuscripts and 2500 photographs. Throughout the month of March a sampling of approximately two dozen items will be on view in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Items from the collection will also be included in the ongoing exhibition, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom,” which will open at the Library in September.

Visitors to the exhibition — including virtual visitors — may well find a Rosa Parks they had not known. One poignant example is Parks’ description of her treatment at the downtown public library, where “a colored person will not be permitted to come in and read a book or be given one to take out. The requested book will be sent to the colored branch library, on the east side of town.”

The exhibition proves that Rosa Parks was more complex and more passionate than the stoic protester often portrayed in accounts of her life. Instead, it is clear from her letters that she was filled with rage that inspired her protests. She wrote that “I want to feel the nearness of something secure. It is such a lonely, lost feeling that I am cut off from life. I am nothing. I belong nowhere and to no one.”

Parks wrote that “little children are so conditioned early to learn their places in the segregated pattern as they make their first toddling steps and are weaned from the mother’s breast.” The conditioning last a lifetime. “There is just so much hurt, disappointment and oppression one can take. The bubble of life grows larger. The line between reason and madness grows thinner.”

The letters include Parks’ references to the murder of Emmett Till and to the terror of the Ku Klux Klan in her home town of Pine Level, Alabama where “KKK moved through the country, burning negro churches, schools, flogging and killing.”

On the one hand, Parks’ refusal to abandon her seat on the public bus meant financial hardship. On the other hand, it earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as the respect and admiration of countless individuals, including political and social leaders ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt to Martin Luther King who said of her: “No one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, ‘I can take it no longer.’”

One need not travel to Washington, DC to experience the richness of the Rosa Parks exhibition:

 

 

 

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2 responses to “Rosa Parks – An armchair guide to a major exhibition of her life and work

  1. Wonderful piece!

    We will be leaving the neighborhood the first week in March. Our home has been sold and we will be moving to Applewood Pointe in Roseville. It is best that this be done while I am able to manage a move. Didn’t want to simply slip away without letting you know since our house was not on the market and without a for sale sign. I will truly miss my neighbors and this community.You have been such a wonderful neighbor and friend. I can still follow your posts.

    Lois

  2. Hi Mary, I love your endeavor. Have you heard of this lady? Her little park is right in the heart of Los Angeles. When I taught U.S. History, I have my students go there and have them write something of their reflections. Search By »Online Community »See and Hear »Get Involved »Resources »The Registry »Donate » Biddy MasonDate: Sat, 1818-08-15*On this date in 1818, Bridget “Biddy” Mason was born. She was a once illiterate Black slave woman who worked as a nurse/midwife and then walked from Mississippi to California to become a successful entrepreneur and a generous contributor to social causes. From Mississippi, she was born on a plantation owned by Robert Marion Smith and Rebbecca (Crosby) Smith. In 1847, Smith became a Mormon convert and decided to move to the Utah Territory with his household and slaves where Brigham Young was starting a Mormon community. In this strenuous two-thousand-mile cross-country trek, Mason was responsible for herding the cattle. She also prepared meals, acted as a midwife and took care of her children. In 1851, Smith moved his household again, this time to San Bernardino, California. Smith probably did not know that California had been admitted to the Union in 1850 as a free state and that slavery was forbidden there. At this time she had made friends in the L. A. black community and one of them (Charles Owens) helped Mason petition the court and in 1856 won freedom for herself and for her daughters. She moved to Los Angeles and found employment as a nurse and midwife. Hard work and her nursing skills allowed her to become economically independent. She became a domestic to Dr. John S. Griffin who served most of the Los Angeles area. Mason was also very frugal and only ten years after gaining her freedom, she bought a site on Spring Street for $250 becoming one of the first black women to own land in Los Angeles. This site is now in the center of the commercial district in the heart of the city. In 1884, she sold a parcel of the land for $1500 and built a commercial building with spaces for rental on the remaining land. She continued making wise decisions in her business and real estate transactions and her financial fortunes continued to increase until she accumulated a fortune of almost $300,000. Her grandson, Robert Curry Owens, a real estate developer and politician, was the richest African-American in Los Angeles at one time. Mason was a founding member of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1872. She also gave generously to various charities and provided food and shelter for the poor of all races and she never forgot the jail inmates whom she visited often. In 1872 she and her son-in-law, Charles Owens, founded and financed the Los Angeles branch of the First African Methodist Episcopal church, L. A.’s first black church. Biddy Mason died January 15, 1891 and was buried in an unmarked grave at Evergreen cemetery in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles. Nearly a century later, on March 27, 1988 a tombstone was unveiled which marked her grave for the first time in a ceremony attended by Mayor Tom Bradley and about three thousand members of the First African Methodist Episcopal church. Thursday, November 16, 1989 was declared Biddy Mason Day and a memorial of her achievements was unveiled at the Broadway Spring Center located between Spring Street and Broadway at Third Street in Los Angeles. Reference: Epic Lives: One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference, edited by Jessie Carney Smith, Oscar L. Sims Visible Ink Press, 1993.

    Have a good evening.

    Rami

    Date: Sun, 8 Feb 2015 22:43:56 +0000 To: ramisamuelson@hotmail.com

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