this post is part of the Poetry Friday collection*
Dr. Carla D. Hayden photograph by JG Annino at FAMU, Tallahassee
I salute the Library of Congress staff and its director Dr. Carla D. Hayden, for unending reasons, including our national library’s collection of historical civil rights materials. This Bookseedstudio focus is on Rosa Parks, whose Feb. 4, 1913 birthday, as the Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement is remembered publicly in many areas, from the nation’s Capitol south to Alabama and westward to California.
It’s also marked at home with awe by those of us who curl up with a riveting new read, generously leavened with photos I recognize immediately, from this exemplar’s historic timeline. Rosa on the bus. Rosa with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And, Rosa on Dec. 1, 1955.
That day she paid her public bus fare, but wasn’t allowed to sit in an empty bus seat of her choosing, in Alabama. She was judged guilty, fined $10 and given 14 days hard city labor.
Guilty, of being black where blacks, by local law, were denied access to tax-supported facilities.
A Landmark New Book
Because the Library of Congress received, archived and has made available, a massive collection of this incredible history-maker’s notes, kept by hand on single sheets and notebooks, and also her letters, essays, arrest details, bus boycott assignments, and other documents, a valuable, new Rosa Parks exhibit and book, beckons. It is Rosa Parks, In Her Own Words.
As noted by the book’s author Susan Reyburn, Rosa’s flowing cursive, which sprang from her expressive mind, bears witness in pencil and pen, across the backs of envelopes, paper pharmacy bags, small pocket calendars, assorted stationary, lined notebooks and other papers.
This pathfinder recorded events going back to age six, when she milked cows and picked cotton, created her first quilt, and stayed up all night fully clothed, ready to escape if needed, as white men, who often worked as law officers during the day, felt free to ravage black neighborhoods, burning buildings and flogging or killing black people found outside at night.
“Grandfather stayed up to wait for them to come to our house…
We could not undress or go to bed at night.
The doors and windows were boarded and nailed tight from inside.”
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks
I trace my fingers over her handwriting and marvel at how fortunate this nation is to be the beneficiary of her bravery, her ideas and her positive civil disobedience actions. Can we have her calm proud gaze on one of our currencies?
Reading along in her moment-by-moment notes, I shout obscenities at her near-rapist, the night when teenage Rosa Louise McCauley babysits for a white couple. A six-foot, 200-pound white bully, known to the white family, uses a con to get onto the back porch. He threatens Rosa for hours, as he guzzles liquor he has brought inside the house. He suggests sex for money. Read the heart-wrenching seesaw of keep away around a large upholstered chair. She won’t attempt escape, because of her duty to the white child asleep upstairs. The return of the couple ends the attack.
“I was not for sale. The U.S. Mint wouldn’t buy me, if he could offer it.”
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks
From physically dangerous moments, to everyday insults, the story in Rosa Parks, In Her Own Words, is as inspiring as any world civil rights leader’s memoir. Reading this led me to a poem:
Check Out The Book
Oh, sure, gal.
We got that book you want.
Yeah, I say for sure, right here.
No. Now you know you can’t check it out, Rosa!
This is THE downtown li’bary.
You know your kind gotta check out over at your kind’s branch.
You don’t ever, why you can’t never, ever, all your life,
check out books here.
I say, STAND ASIDE, girl!
Why dear Miss Katrina, so good to see you.
And just how may it be my pleasure, to help?
c. 2020 JG Annino
Beyond Checking-out Books
Unarmed, without a bodyguard, Rosa Parks slipped into rural backwater communities of her state, as the top sexual assault investigator for the NAACP. She also collected other eye-witness experiences, such as of the school superintendent who refused to allow black children on a public schoolbus. And consider that all this is before she tests the limits of segregation of the tax-supported bus system.
On Dec. 14, 2019 in Tallahassee, I was fortunate to have placed in my hands by The Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla D. Hayden, the freshly released book, ROSA PARKS, In Her Own Words.
Dr. Hayden delivered powerful words at the Florida A & M University commencement. And I also am grateful to my longtime friend and mentor, Librarian-educator Lenita Joe, retired, who was a kind bridge to my attendance at a post-graduation, local friends’ conversation with Dr. Hayden, who was born in Our Town. I expect to report on that in a later post.
Some 90 years after young Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was denied a book at her main library branch, her hand-written words, notes, documents, photographs, detailing little-known aspects of her personal civil rights history, dwell in the new nonfiction book ROSA PARKS, In Her Own Words, a book on paper, on-line and in glorious exhibit, showcased in an exhibit created by this nation’s most important public library open to all – THE. LIBRARY. OF. CONGRESS.
C. The Library of Congress
Find the book in many locations, including here.
Several pages of the Library of Congress exhibit are designed for families and schools.
If you write or podcast about this book or visit the exhibit in person or online, leave a link. I expect to further share the book and my poem at Tallahassee’s My Favorite Books’ open mic. night.
Jan Godown Annino/ February 2020
AND some past related articles
Bookseedstudio has several times visited the Library of Congress with joy, including here and here.
And again, happy happy birthday, dear Rosa Louise McCauley Parks! We love you. We thank you.
C. all rights reserved, The Library of Congress
- here is more detail on the Poetry Friday collection that occurs in Kidlitosphere – you may want to join in.