2014 NAACP Image Award Winner: Outstanding Literary Work – Biography / Auto Biography
2013 Letitia Woods Brown Award from the Association of Black Women Historians
Choice Top 25 Academic Titles for 2013
The definitive political biography of Rosa Parks examines her six decades of activism, challenging perceptions of her as an accidental actor in the civil rights movement
Presenting a corrective to the popular notion of Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress who, with a single act, birthed the modern civil rights movement, Theoharis provides a revealing window into Parks’s politics and years of activism. She shows readers how this civil rights movement radical sought—for more than a half a century—to expose and eradicate the American racial-caste system in jobs, schools, public services, and criminal justice.
In her introduction to this biography, Brooklyn College political scientist Theoharis (coauthor of Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside of the South) notes the common perception of Rosa Parks (1913 2005): "hidden in plain sight, celebrated and paradoxically relegated to be a hero for children." Into that gap, Theoharis submits a lavishly well-documented study of Parks's life and career as an activist. In tracing her work with the Montgomery NAACP and other groups from the 1930s onwards, and then following her move from Alabama after the 1956 bus boycott to Detroit, Theoharis maps a lifetime devoted to civil rights, thereby destabilizing our notions of Parks as a "tired seamstress" who simply kept her seat on a bus one day in 1955. The "iconography of Parks," as Theoharis shows, can be used as an entry point for understanding the broader trends in the historiography of the civil rights movement. She notes how the "national fable" of Parks offers "its untarnished happy ending and its ability to reflect the best possibilities of the United States," thus downplaying more subversive philosophies like the Black Power movement, which Parks also championed. Theoharis calls for a reconsideration of Parks's legacy and of the movement she, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and others are responsible for initiating. 16 b&w illus.