Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

February 4, 1956

On February 4, 1956, the Pittsburgh Courier reported on the Montgomery bus boycott, which had started two months earlier. The article focused on Rev. Martin Luther King, but in the ninth paragraph the Courier noted, “The protest grew out of the arrest on Dec. 1 and subsequent fining of Mrs. Rosa Parks, who refused a driver’s request that she move to the rear of a bus.” Parks turned forty-three the day this story ran and her pivotal role in the bus boycott made her into a civil rights icon (click to view PDF).  

On Parks’ eightieth birthday, February 4, 1993, the Los Angeles Sentinel encouraged readers to hear the “mother of the civil rights movement” speak at Loveland Church in Rancho Cucamonga. “Mrs. Parks’ inspiring life story and message to young adults to utilize their potential for positive change, is an encouragement to people everywhere she goes,” the paper reported. “Her refusal to surrender her seat to a white male passenger on a Montgomery, Ala. bus on Dec. 1, 1955, triggered a protest that changed the course of American history” (click to view PDF).

I selected these articles to celebrate Rosa Parks’ birthday, but also to highlight two distinct eras: the first is the Montgomery Bus Boycott where where Parks’ first became “newsworthy,” and the second (almost four decades later) when her activism was celebrated but was too often reduced to a single moment.

Reading Jeanne Theoharis’ The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks changed how I viewed Parks’ life and legacy.  As Theoharis shows in her book, Rosa Parks’ political work was broad, and she was involved in many aspects of the black struggle for justice in the twentieth century.  

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