A graceful, informative biography of the mother of the Civil Rights movement, who wouldn’t stand for Jim Crow on her bus.
Brinkley (The Unfinished Presidency, 1998, etc.) examines the background of the soft-spoken, prayerful woman who seemed unlikely to become a historic icon. “Before King there was Rosa Parks,” wrote Nelson Mandela, and Brinkley demonstrates that before Rosa Parks there was a poor, fatherless seamstress from Tuskegee named Rosa McCauley. Her hometown gave her Booker T. Washington’s proud self-reliance, while the African Methodist Episcopal Church fueled her courageous expectations for justice and righteousness. Her grandfather moved the family to Montgomery, carrying a shotgun to ward off the threats of Ku Klux Klan violence. Brinkley reports on a litany of lynchings, murders, and other segregation-related arrests that Parks witnessed before and after she married a barber named Raymond Parks. While Raymond was perhaps best known for his reluctance to have his wife turned into a civil-rights symbol (and consequently a target for racists), the author credits him with radicalizing her through his espousal of NAACP politics and attendance at passive-resistance seminars. Brinkley nonetheless makes a good case that Parks did not plan her epochal rebellion during that bus-ride of December 1, 1955, in advance. “It seemed as if Rosa Parks were two people: one, a traditionally submissive Negro laborer; the other, a modern African-American woman bold enough to demand her civil rights.” Each moment of Parks’s defiance (her refusal to yield, her subsequent arrest, etc.) is described in detail. Brinkley then depicts the astonishing phenomenon by which a one-day bus boycott turned into a pivotal protest of six months, and he presents the input of Reverend King and others. He also summarizes Parks’s historic impact and provides 11 pages of bibliography for those who wish to study the controversy in greater detail.
No collection of African-American history should miss this bus.