Library of Congress Announces New Exhibit, Book Telling Rosa Parks’ Story In Her Own Words

Photo: JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP (Getty Images)

For decades, we’ve been told of the courage and fortitude of Rosa Parks. Now, for the first time ever, the story of the woman who invigorated the Civil Rights Movement will be shared in her own words.

On Dec. 5, the Library of Congress will debut the first exhibit of the Rosa Parks Collection: “Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words.” Featuring personal writings, reflections, photos, records, and other memorabilia, it seeks to reveal that the civil rights icon was much more than the quiet seamstress she’s often mischaracterized as while demonstrating her commitment to both racial equality and social justice.

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In a statement to The Root, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden gave visitors a taste of what to expect:

“‘Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words’ will immerse visitors in Parks’ words, reflections, handwritten notes and photographs from throughout her life, allowing her to tell her own life story. Four sections of the exhibition will explore Parks’ early life and activism, the Montgomery bus boycott, the fallout from Parks’ arrest for her family and their move to Detroit, and the global impact of her life.”

Highlights from the exhibition will include the following mementos and memorabilia:

  • The Parks’ family Bible – being exhibited for the first time
  • Photographs and letters documenting Parks’ family and early years
  • Parks’ account of “keeping vigil” with her grandfather to protect their home from Klansmen
  • A manuscript in which Parks recalls a childhood encounter with a white boy who threatened to hit her and how she responded
  • Parks’ personal reflections on her arrest for refusing to surrender her seat on a bus to a white passenger on Dec. 1, 1955, recounting the emotional toll of incarceration
  • Letters and documentation of the Montgomery bus boycott and its consequences for those who joined the protest
  • Political buttons, brochures, photographs and letters documenting the civil rights movement from the Parks papers and the vast NAACP Records at the Library
  • A handmade blue dress from Parks’ wardrobe, on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Correspondence to Rep. John Conyers of Michigan when Parks worked on his congressional staff from 1965 to 1988
  • The Spingarn Medal citation, the NAACP’s highest honor, awarded to Parks in 1979
  • The Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to Parks at the White House in 1996
  • The Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Parks in 1999

In addition to the exhibit, the University of Georgia Press will partner with the Library of Congress to publish Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words, a companion book with the same name. It will include more than 80 images from the Rosa Parks collection with many appearing in print for the first time.

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“Rosa Parks lived a life dedicated to equal rights and social justice, and she helped change the country with the example she set,” Hayden said. “Our new exhibition is an important milestone for Rosa Parks to tell her story for new generations through her own words and pictures now preserved at the Library of Congress.”

To learn more about this exhibit, visit the Library of Congress website.

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Jay Connor

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for ya'll to stop putting sugar in grits.