The archive of personal effects that belonged to civil rights activist Rosa Parks is locked away in a warehouse in New York due to a legal battle eerily similar to the ongoing Martin Luther King Jr. case, where his children are fighting over the dispensation of his bible and Nobel Peace Prize.
Ms Parks rose to fame in 1955 when, on a cold December evening in Montgomery, Alabama, tired after a long day at work, she decided to take a seat in the front of a city bus rather than in the colored section in back, and refused to move when ordered to do so by the bus driver. Her arrest for civil disobedience sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement.
Ms Parks went on to become an inspiring symbol in the struggle for equality. The United States Congress called her “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement” when she was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given by the U.S. legislative branch. The medal bears the legend “Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement”.
Watch this brief biography for more information about the life of Rosa Parks:
Family and Friend’s Battle Over Rights to Rosa Parks’ Possessions
The archive, which could be worth millions of dollars, according to an Associated Press (AP) report, includes photographs with presidents, her Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom, a pillbox hat that she may have worn on the Montgomery bus, a signed postcard from Dr. King, documents from civil rights meetings and her work for the NAACP in Montgomery, and personal correspondence and other writings.
These personal items of Ms Parks hold particular significance at this time, as 50th anniversary celebrations commemorating the civil rights era take place around the country. Additionally, the Smithsonian Institute is actively seeking artifacts to display in the new museum of African-American history in Washington, DC.
But, according to the AP report, “a years-long legal fight between Parks’ heirs and her friends… …led to the memorabilia being taken away from her home city of Detroit and offered up to the highest bidder. So far, no high bidder has emerged.”
According to longtime friend Elaine Steele, who heads the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, Parks wanted people to see her mementos and learn from her life. “In my opinion, it was quite clear what she wanted,” she stated.
Unfortunately, as with the King case, heirs to the estate challenged her will, and her archives were seized by a court; a judge ordered it sold in one lump sale. Until someone is willing to offer the $8 million to $10 million asking price, the entire archive remains locked away from public view.
1. Rosa Parks, Wikipedia
2. 106th Congress Public Law 26, U.S. Government Printing Office, May 4, 1999; To authorize the President to award a gold medal on behalf of the Congress to Rosa Parks in recognition of her contributions to the Nation.
3. Rosa Parks Archives Remain Unsold in Warehouse, By Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press, April 10, 2014