Form and Content
Rosa Parks: My Story traces the experiences of the author from her reminiscences of both childhood marvels and assaults in segregated Tuskegee and Pine Level, Alabama, to her position as a lauded activist in the office of Congressman John Conyers of Detroit, Michigan, and her subsequent retirement. The book is largely episodic, and each of the twelve chapters explores an aspect of Rosa Parks’s sense of cultural isolation and disparagement in a emotional topography in which terror was the norm among African Americans. The first-person narration relates Parks’s view of a “separate and unequal” South disinclined to treat black people with respect. The story gains its expansiveness from the author’s lively recollection of happenstances and individuals whose lives intersected with hers. The book’s most moving episodes are Parks’s bus stand, described in “You’re Under Arrest” and “They’ve Messed with the Wrong One Now,” and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, in the chapter “Stride Toward Freedom,” in which the relentless Old Guard citizenry sparred with the Montgomery Improvement Association. Parks’s straightforward, emphatic narration is not only a recollection of one woman’s odyssey through Alabama’s legalized segregation but also a demonstration of success achieved through nonviolent action.
In Rosa Parks, the author provides photographs of herself and her family, as well as scenes of the seven handcuffed Scottsboro Boys, a black classroom, the “colored” section of a segregated bus, a “colored” water fountain in a local city park, a Ku Klux Klan rally, Edgar Daniel Nixon, president of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Martin Luther King, Jr., and Montgomery bus boycotters—all of which illustrate the existence of black people in mid-twentieth century Alabama. The photographs and scenes reinforce Parks’s crucial presence in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s.
Opening with the historic “tired of being pushed around” dialogue on December 1, 1955, between the author and the white male bus driver who made an attempt to execute a local law, Parks positions herself centerfront in a movement that led to the desegregation of public facilities in Alabama—and the entire United States. After frequent setbacks in the movement, such as telephone insults and harassment, firings, jailings, firebombings of homes and churches, unfair and hostile treatment by insurance agencies, and local court injunctions to quell civic activism, on November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation on Montgomery buses was unconstitutional.
In the initial chapter, “How It All Started,” Parks prefaces her book with an early memory of a “time that a white man treated me like a regular little girl, not a little black girl.” As she relates, “A Yankee soldier patted me on the head and said I was a cute little girl.” The gesture and remark were atypical. Parks then lists the nurturing people in her family and the community who played some small part in her resolute goal “not to take no stuff off white people.” Reared in her maternal grandparents’ home, Parks informs readers that Sylvester Edwards instilled in his daughters (Leona and Fannie) and their children “a don’t put up with bad treatment from anybody” credo. Parks maintains that this tenet “was passed down almost in our genes.”
Out of fear of reprisals, most black...
(The entire section is 856 words.)