February is Black History Month and I was intrigued to hear that the Library of Congress had released additional historical documents related to Rosa Parks “The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement”. On February 6th 2015, the Library of Congress opened the largest collection to date of documents related to civil rights icon Rosa Parks, making thousands of photographs and manuscripts available to researchers for first time; experts say trove, long delayed amid legal dispute, will help paint a full picture of Parks’ persona, including her feisty spirit, her intellectual prowess and her long struggle with poverty and health problems. The collection is actually on loan to the Library of Congress for 10 years by the collection’s owner Howard Buffett, the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

After her arrest, for refusal to give up her seat, she was taken into custody before being released on bail the same day. Her subsequent trial for violating segregation laws became the impetus for the Montgomery bus boycott beginning on December 5, 1955. E.D. Nixon, who had been head of the state’s NAACP, helped form the Montgomery Improvement Association to manage the boycott, and a young Martin Luther King Jr. was named its president. Parks was continually threatened, such that her mother talked for hours on the phone to keep the line busy from constant death threats. Parks and her husband lost their jobs after her stand and didn’t find full employment for nearly ten years. Even as she made fundraising appearances across the country, Parks and her family were at times nearly destitute. She developed painful stomach ulcers and a heart condition, and suffered from chronic insomnia. Raymond, unnerved by the relentless harassment and death threats, began drinking heavily and suffered two nervous breakdowns. The black press, culminating in JET magazine’s July 1960 story on “the bus boycott’s forgotten woman,” exposed the depth of Parks’ financial need, leading civil rights groups to finally provide some assistance.

About two dozen items will be on display to the public in March, with several also included through mid-September in the library’s exhibition “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom.” The library also plans to digitize the collection over the 10 years it is on loan from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, hoping to post as much of it as possible online, depending on copyright negotiations.


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Ms. Parks’s poll tax receipt from 1957. Credit Library of Congress/The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development

Wayne State University has a smaller collection of Mrs. Parks’s manuscripts, which she gave to the college in 1976, focusing primarily on her work as an activist while living in Detroit. After the death of Mrs. Parks in 2005, the collection, which includes about 7,500 manuscripts and 2,500 photographs, sat in storage at an auction house for years awaiting a buyer. A legal battle between her family and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which she founded, kept the documents from scholars.

The papers, which include records revealing her trouble with ulcers and her struggle with poverty, also show how much Mrs. Parks suffered even as she earned the respect of so many, said Jeanne Theoharis, a political-science professor at Brooklyn College who wrote “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.”


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A draft letter to her mother written by Mrs. Parks in May 1956. The letter was written on Montgomery Fair department store stationery. Mrs. Parks was let go from her job as an assistant tailor at the store that month.

Credit Library of Congress/The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development

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