A Year in Recommendations: The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Park, by Jeanne Theoharis

51PbJr7C-TL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Rosa Parks is an iconic figure in the Civil Rights movement as well as American history, and yet she is also the most misunderstood. While in the collective imagination she is the little old lady who, tired after a long day of work, refused to leave a bus seat when ordered to by a bus driver in Birmingham, Alabama, she was in fact a dedicated and forward thinking revolutionary for social and economic justice. Long a member of the NAACP, Parks fought against racial segregation, often quietly, but no less importantly in the years prior to the bus boycott. She was also an indefatigable supporter of Malcolm X and did not turn her back, as other civil rights activists were forced to do, on Marxist and socialist activists. This side of Mrs. Parks rarely makes it to the mainstream, but earlier this year, Jeanne Theoharis’s biography The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Park, corrects that oversight. The Mrs. Parks who emerges from Theoharis’s document is still the quiet, shy, and unassuming woman of the public imagination, but underneath that is someone of great intelligence, steely reserve, and tenacity. The biography covers Parks’ life from childhood to death, revealing aspects of her work as a social and political activist that was new to me. For instance, Parks continued with her work long after the boycott, often in the shadow of civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, working with Marxists and Black Panther activists toward social and economic justice. She would do this work well into the 1980s and 1990s, until her death. Parks also bristled at the persona that was created of her in public as well as the sexism she and other women in the movement faced. Theoharis’s well-written and exhaustively researched biography is a testament to a women who deserves far more credit for her role in the civil rights struggle and her commitment to justice.

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