In the segregated world of 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, one valiant Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger in the colored section of a public bus. What resulted after–from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the broader Civil Rights Movement–would earn her a seat in the halls of American history and, more importantly, in the hearts of generations to follow.
Schoolbooks and historical narratives have all but elevated Parks’s story in our collective imagination into the stuff of legend; but sheer adulation often falls short of appreciating the people behind tall tales. To honor the beloved civil rights activist this Black History Month, we decided to turn our attention to the Rosa Parks that her friends, family, and loved ones knew and cherished.
Image: Rosa Parks Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955)
Credit: Creative Commons Picasa Web Albums
In her most intimate portrait yet, Rosa Parks is described in vivid and endearing detail by her niece Sheila McCauley Keys in Our Auntie Rosa. Disclosed are tender memories of Parks’s journey through heartbreaks and personal triumphs, all of which paint a fuller picture of Parks beyond her monumental service to the public. Below is an excerpt from the book:
Auntie Rosa was laid-back and had a great sense of humor, and with her slight Southern accent, she always got our attention when clever things came out of her mouth. But there was one topic she didn’t discuss a lot or joke about. She and Uncle Parks couldn’t have children, so we quickly became the sons and daughters she never got the chance to raise. Once, Auntie Rosa was overheard saying, “Brother has all these children, and I don’t have any.” She would have loved to bring her own sons and daughters into the world, but it must not have been God’s plan. In the end, she would have thirteen of us, plus more people around the world, who called her “mother” than many biological moms put together.
Her long hair was usually pinned up tightly, but when she let it down, it hung past her back, almost behind the knees. Sometimes she’d let the girls comb it–a ritual that would be repeated for years to come, even by the next generation of grand-nieces who also loved and adored her.
Image: Rosa Parks reading in her home on Wildemere Street, Detroit (1986)
Image Credit: Our Auntie Rosa
In 1977, when both Uncle Parks and our father died only a few months apart, Auntie Rosa became an emotional anchor for our family. She didn’t even show signs of breaking down after losing the two most important men in her life. Now, she had thirteen nieces and nephews. Only four short years later, our mother joined Father and Uncle Parks. Who could we look to for guidance? The support Auntie Rosa showed each of us in different ways is what nurtured us through the various stages of our adulthood and soon helped us teach our own children the values she exemplified.
The book is available at the following outlets: