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"Charisma is not a word often used to describe Rosa Parks yet we have to recognize her star. The Rosa Parks challenge to the political system was deep and lasting even while she never raised her voice. The first female Speaker of the House of Representatives once said, 'You can get a lot done if you don’t need to take credit for it.' She took a page from the book of Parks. Theoharis’ scholarship brings forth a woman whom many followed without ever realizing they were. She was courageous and strong. She also had a wonderful sense of humor. And an awesome sense of responsibility. This is a much needed book on the woman who is, arguably, the most important person in the last half of the twentieth century. Just as the Lincoln Memorial needs a statue of Frederick Douglass gently bending over with a pen in his hand for Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. needs a statue of Rosa Parks just one or two steps ahead mouthing the words: 'Come on, Dr. King. We’ve got work to do.'"
—Nikki Giovanni, Poet
“How Theoharis learned the true nature of this woman is a story in itself. Parks always stood in the background, never volunteered information about herself and eschewed fame. There were no letters to consult; even her autobiography exposed little of the woman’s personality. She hid her light under a bushel, and it has taken an astute author to find the real Parks. Even though her refusal to give up her bus seat sparked a revolution, Rosa Parks was no accidental heroine. She was born to it, and Theoharis ably shows us how and why.”
—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“Historian Theoharis offers a complex portrait of a forceful, determined woman who had long been active before the boycott she inspired and who had an even longer career in civil rights afterward.”
"Theoharis submits a lavishly well-documented study of Parks’s life and career as an activist.”
"Verdict: This meticulously researched book is for everyone; advanced middle school and beyond.”
Posted February 5, 2013
New York Times Op Ed. review excerpt.
Rosa Parks, Revisited By CHARLES M. BLOW
Published: February 1, 2013
Most of what you think you know about Rosa Parks may well be wrong.
On the verge of the 100th anniversary of her birth this Monday comes a fascinating new book, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,” by Jeanne Theoharis, a Brooklyn College professor. It argues that the romanticized, children’s-book story of a meek seamstress with aching feet who just happened into history in a moment of uncalculated resistance is pure mythology.
As Theoharis points out, “Rosa’s family sought to teach her a controlled anger, a survival strategy that balanced compliance with militancy.”
Parks was mostly raised by her grandparents. Her grandfather, a follower of Marcus Garvey, often sat vigil on the porch with a rifle in case the Klan came. She sometimes sat with him because, as the book says she put it, “I wanted to see him kill a Ku Kluxer.”
When she was a child, a young white man taunted her. In turn, she threatened him with a brick. Her grandmother reprimanded her as “too high-strung,” warning that Rosa would be lynched before the age of 20. Rosa responded, “I would be lynched rather than be run over by them.”
One of the most troubling and possibly most controversial scenes in the book occurs when Rosa is a young woman working as a domestic. A white man whom she calls “Mr. Charlie” tries to sexually assault her. Determined to protect herself, she taunts him as she evades him, haranguing him about the “white man’s inhuman treatment of the Negro.”
“How I hated all white people, especially him,” she continued. “I said I would never stoop so low as to have anything to do with him.”
Parks added that “if he wanted to kill me and rape a dead body, he was welcome but he would have to kill me first.”
The author points out that although the story is recorded in Parks’s own handwriting, it isn’t clear whether it’s completely true, half true or just allegory.. ..
When Parks died in 2005, Theoharis says, “The Rosa Parks who surfaced in the deluge of public commentary was, in nearly every account, characterized as ‘quiet.’ ‘Humble,’ ‘dignified,’ and ‘soft-spoken,’ she was ‘not angry’ and ‘never raised her voice.’ ”
Parks, like many other Americans who over the years have angrily agitated for change in this country, had been sanitized and sugarcoated for easy consumption.
As Theoharis writes: “Held up as a national heroine but stripped of her lifelong history of activism and anger at American injustice, the Parks who emerged was a self-sacrificing mother figure for a nation who would use her death for a ritual of national redemption.”
Fortunately, this book seeks to restore Parks’s wholeness, even at the risk of stirring unease.
The Rosa Parks in this book is as much Malcolm X as she is Martin Luther King Jr.
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