The Rosa Parks Archive
About the Archive
Rosa Parks, winner of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor (our nation's two highest awards), is known to everyone as "the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement." Her heroic efforts more than half a century ago forever altered the course of life in America. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that Barack Obama could have become President were it not for Mrs. Parks.
When she passed away in the fall of 2005, Rosa Parks left a substantial body of material retained from decades of interactions with everyone from the youngest school children on to American presidents and other world leaders. Knowing that this material - constituting the Rosa Parks Archive - will be inspirational to all who experience it for generations to come, a permanent home is now being considered. Guernsey's, the New York firm recognized for its events relating to John F. Kennedy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and popular cultural icons ranging from John Coltrane to Mickey Mantle, has been selected to represent the Archive. Proceeds from its placement will be divided between the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development and the family of Mrs. Parks.
The Rosa Parks Archive consists of thousands of items of virtually every description. Her countless awards range from the most significant to the most charming, the latter presented to Mrs. Parks by many of our nation's school children. One section of her library contains volumes inscribed to her by such noteworthy figures as Dr. Martin Luther King and President Clinton while another section contains somewhat worn text books with Rosa Parks' own name written in pencil from her childhood days at the Industrial School for Girls in Montgomery. The archive reflects Mrs. Park's day-to-day life with personal items ranging from her wardrobe, her eyeglasses, her driver's license, her address book, and her Bible. The archive contains a well-traveled suitcase filled with assorted fabrics from Rosa's days in Montgomery as a seamstress.
Certainly, one of the most important sections within the Archive is the one containing ephemera - the hundreds of handwritten documents, letters, certificates and other pieces of paper written by, and to, Rosa Parks. In her own hand, Mrs. Parks describes living conditions growing up in Alabama. Early in 1956, on the reverse side of an NAACP mimeographed flyer, she wrote, "When I was a very little girl, not more than 10 yrs old... a white boy had met me in the road and said he would hit me. He made a threatening gesture with his fist. I picked up a small piece of brick and drew back to strike him if he should hit me. I was angry. He went his way without further comment." In another document, she writes about life under the oppressive Jim Crow laws and of her arrest, “I had been pushed around all my life and felt at this moment that I couldn’t take it anymore. 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”. In early 1957 she writes to a scholar from the North recounting the numerous humiliations of ordinary life in segregated Montgomery, and of the Emmett Till murder, “I am sure you read of the lynch-murder of young Emmett Till of Chicago. This case could be multiplied many times in the South, not only Miss., but Ala., Georgia, Fla. In my lifetime, I have known Negroes who were killed by whites without any arrests or investigation and with little or no publicity. It is the custom to keep such things covered up.” Additionally, there are pages of her penciled notes instructing, in great detail the way African-American citizens of Montgomery should comport themselves during the (now historic) bus boycott.
By any standard, the Rosa Parks Archive must be considered one of the most substantial bodies of material ever to be made available. In the end, one institution will be chosen to permanently house items that can only serve to inspire and educate. That proceeds from the placement of this Archive will be used to further the work initiated by Mrs. Parks is all the more meaningful. The Rosa Parks Archive...providing an unprecedented glimpse of treasured items from one of our nation's most legendary - and beloved - figures.