Skip to navigationSkip to content

Newly released files paint an intimate portrait of civil rights icon Rosa Parks

Library of Congress/McLain's Photo Service
Rosa Parks collects $2 in dues to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909. 1956.
By Thu-Huong Ha
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Emblazoned on the memories of Americans young and old is the story of Rosa Parks, the African-American woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus, in 1955. Her defiance lit the fuse for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and made Parks a hero of the US civil rights movement.

Digitized documents, released online to the public yesterday (Feb. 25) by the Library of Congress, gives an inside look at Park’s world.

The 7500 documents and 250 photographs cover 140 years of Parks’s life and legacy. They include correspondences with Martin Luther King, Jr. and with her mother, as well as scraps of writing about the pain of oppression.

In an email to Quartz, Helena Zinkham, the library’s acting director of collections, writes that she hopes the archive will provide “a better sense of what it was like to be an activist—the risks taken by Mrs. Parks, the influences on her life, and how she motivated others.”

“Most people have the perception that Rosa Parks was the lady who wore pink, the lady who always had a beautiful purse,” says Maricia Battle, of the library’s prints and photographs department, in a video. But what the files show, she says, “is that she was a lion underneath all of that.”

Library of Congress/Gil Bake
Parks on a United Air Lines jetway in Seattle. 1956.
Courtesy Library of Congress
A postcard from Martin Luther King, Jr. in Europe to Parks. 1957.
Courtesy Library of Congress
A receipt for Parks’s annual poll tax, which she was required to pay to vote. 1957.
Library of Congress/UPI
Activist Kwame Toure and Parks. Feb. 14, 1983.
Courtesy Library of Congress
Parks and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. c. 1968.

The collection is on loan to the Library of Congress from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for the next eight years.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.