The impetus for this website came from three directions. First, Rosa Parks is one of the most well-known Americans of the 20th century. She is studied in classes throughout the country. But much of what is easily accessible on the web about her biography distorts and diminishes her “life history of being a rebel,” as she put it, missing her decades of political work before the boycott and almost completely ignoring her forty years of life and activism in Detroit. So one goal of this website is to provide a fuller and more accurate history for people to teach and learn about Rosa Parks–her life, her beliefs, and her six decades of political work in Montgomery and Detroit.
The second motivation came from current struggles for racial justice today, particularly the Black Lives Matter movement. One of the through-lines in Rosa Parks’ six decades of activism was her resolve to change and challenge the injustices endemic in the criminal justice system. Yet this part of her work–and the civil rights movement more broadly–is not often acknowledged in popular accounts of the struggle. So the “read the story” section tells Rosa Parks’ history though criminal justice, showing the continuities of injustice, criminalization, and sustained struggle between the efforts of civil rights activists during the 1950s-1970s and movements challenging mass incarceration, police brutality, and government repression today.
The third impetus came from a grant through the Mellon Seminar for Public Engagement and Collaborative Research of the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center. This support provided us the time, space and encouragement to think about how to change how we teach and learn about Rosa Parks and make Rosa Parks’ full history more publicly known and accessible.
The site is the product of a yearlong collaboration between Jeanne Theoharis, Say Burgin, and Jessica Murray. It draws on numerous archival sources, particularly Rosa Parks’ papers held at the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University and at the Library of Congress, as well as The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.
Jeanne Theoharis is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College of City University of New York and the author or co-author of seven books and numerous articles on the civil rights and Black Power movements, the politics of race and education, social welfare and civil rights in post-9/11 America. Her widely acclaimed biography The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks won a 2014 NAACP Image Award and the Letitia Woods Brown Award from the Association of Black Women Historians and was named one of the 25 Best Academic Titles of 2013 by Choice. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, The Nation, The Root, Slate, The Intercept, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Say Burgin is Lecturer in American History at the University of Leeds (UK). Her teaching and research interests broadly relate to 20th century African American history, with a particular focus on the women’s liberation and black freedom struggles. She is currently working on a monograph on the myth of white ejection from the Black Power movement and has published in the Journal of American Studies, the Journal of International Women’s Studies, and the Women’s History Review.
Jessica Murray is a doctoral student in Human Development/Psychology at The Graduate Center, CUNY and helped to create this site in her role as a Digital Fellow for the Center for the Humanities at The Graduate Center. Her other interests include mobilities, transportation, technology, disability studies, accessibility, and disability rights. She earned a BFA in Design from the University of Texas at Austin in 2003 and worked as a graphic designer in a variety of media before coming to The Graduate Center in 2012. She completed an MA in Liberal Studies, in the Psychology of Work and Family track in 2014.