As Black History month is about to end, I thought that this story is one that needed to be shared because it is vaguely known.
Known for being the “mother of the civil rights movement” by refusing to give up her bus seat, a six-page essay written by Rosa Parks reveals her activism that is basically erased by history. Among other things, this essay reveals Parks’ rape by a white man while she was employed as a housekeeper in 1931. It was this incident that fueled Parks’ activism into investigating rapes of black women. Parks organized people in her community to advocate for Black women who were raped in Jim Crow South. She dedicated her work to protecting and defending black female rape victims as the secretary for the Montgomery NAACP. Parks was very instrumental in investigating the rape of Recy Taylor, who was a sharecropper gang raped by white men in 1944.
Reflecting on her own rape, Parks wrote “He moved nearer to me and put his hand on my waist. I was very frightened by now (or just plain scared to death).”
Civil rights historian Danielle L. McGuire is author of the book At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance-A New History of the Civil Rights Movement From Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power that exposes the significance of women behind the Civil Rights movement and the dual hardship that they encountered because of their race and gender. Of Parks’ hidden truth, McGuire says, “Her story was pretty much well-rehearsed, and limited to her time in Montgomery and the bus incident. Her story had become mythic and iconic…..I can’t imagine what that felt like for her to have a whole history of activism and political work erased and turned almost into a cartoon character.”
It’s unfortunate that Rosa Parks’ work has to be marginalized to the bus boycott incident. Furthermore, there are many black women whose stories have been overlooked by society, either to the benefit of black men or white women. Rosa Parks is just one example. Nevertheless, Rosa Parks was a hero, an activist, an advocate who inspired a crucial movement, but her true story is neglected by the history books.