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Image 6 of Rosa Parks Papers: Writings, Notes, and Statements, 1956-1998; Notes; General; Undated

Rosa Parks’ Writing and Activism: “The Struggle Continues”

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Rosa Parks, widely known for her dramatic stand that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and remembered as a central figure of of the civil rights movement, was also both a lifelong activist and an accomplished speaker. The Library’s exhibition Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words notes that “Contrary to popular belief, Parks was not a demure seamstress who chose not to stand because she was physically tired.” Both her strategic work toward equality and her care with words are abundantly evident in many items in the Rosa Parks Papers, housed in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.

Fellow activist Ruby Nell Sales situates Parks’ actions as part of a larger rebellion:

And one other point I want to make about that is that, when we look at Rosa Parks, people often think that she was – she did that because of her civil rights and wanting to sit down on the bus. But she also did that – it was a rebellion of maids, a rebellion of working class women, who were tired of boarding the buses in Montgomery, the public space, and being assaulted and called out-of-their names and abused by white bus drivers…It went to the very heart of Black womanhood. (1:07:10-1:07:55)

Parks’ writing also documents her commitment to an ongoing struggle. Students might examine a series of fragments jotted on the back of a pharmacy bag to gain a sense of both Parks’ purpose and her process, first scanning the full page to note the various ink colors as well as the crossed-out and replaced phrasing.

Detail from Image 6 of Rosa Parks Papers: Writings, Notes, and Statements, 1956-1998; Notes; General; Undated

Ask students what evidence in these fragments suggests that the revisions occurred over time. Students might notice the different colors of ink. They might also notice the revision including “1990s,” suggesting that she was writing this several decades after the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.

Students might note that entries toward the bottom of the page connect to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., naming both King and his dream of the “beloved community.”

Detail from Image 6 of Rosa Parks Papers: Writings, Notes, and Statements, 1956-1998; Notes; General; Undated

The nature of primary sources is that they are often incomplete and offer little context. While that is certainly true of much of the collection of Parks’ papers, an exhibition entry notes that this fragment, revised, eventually was published in her 1994 book Quiet Strength.

Rosa Parks’ writing offers insights into both her writing process and her place in history. Students can examine many more examples of Parks’ notes and informal drafts in this online folder, and can consult other resources from the Library to spark further exploration.

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