The Library of Congress presented a special program on Tuesday to honor the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for loaning the Rosa Parks Collection to the Library. A special guest was U.S. Rep. John Conyers, who employed Rosa Parks in his Detroit congressional office for 22 years.
Conyers described Rosa Parks as a quiet, humble person with a beautiful personality. He told the story of how one day she came to him and said:
“‘I’d like to ask for a pay reduction.’ I said ‘I beg your pardon? Nobody’s ever asked for that before.’ Nobody’s ever asked for it since. I said, ‘A pay reduction? Rosa Parks what are you talking about?” She said ‘Well, you know how you let me go to so many places in the country and even overseas. I feel I should have a reduction and I ask you to do that.”
“I said ‘Mrs. Parks, you honor me by coming to my office and having worked with me for so long.’ It was no secret that more people came to see Rosa Parks in my office than came to see me. That’s an example of the kind of person she was.
“For our government and our Library to raise her to this height makes me very, very proud of all of you,” Conyers said.
The Rosa Parks Collection is on loan to the Library from the Buffett Foundation for 10 years. During the event, Buffett also spoke and described how he came to acquire the collection.
According to Buffett, he had been watching the evening news and heard about the materials sitting in boxes in New York for 10 years.
“I thought, ‘that’s crazy. How can that be right?'” he said. He told his wife that his foundation should look into buying the collection, make sure it got preserved and put it somewhere for people to see.
It wasn’t until a woman from Florida – Patricia O’Toole – wrote to Buffett encouraging his foundation to buy the Parks collection and place it in good hands that he decided to act.
“I’m glad Patricia O’Toole wrote me that letter,” he said. “This is just the right thing to do.”
Buffett ending his remarks by saying that he travels a lot around the world: “Everybody wants to come to America. Everybody wants to come to the United States. There is a huge reason for that. There are many, but one is freedom and that is what Rosa Parks represents – freedom.”
Several items from the Rosa Parks collection are included in the Library’s ongoing major exhibition “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom,” which is open through Jan. 2, 2016. Later this year, selected collection items will be accessible online.
Donna Urschel, Public Affairs Specialist in the Office of Communications, contributed to this report.