Posted February 24, 2023
The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks is a 2022 documentary that was shown at the Detroit Film Theater on February 4, 2023 to a full house. February 4 is the birthday of Rosa Parks. The film, produced by Soledad O’Brien, is based on book by the same name by historian Jeanne Theoharis.
The film seeks to debunk myths associated with Rosa Parks and correct the erasure of her radical politics. Her life has often been reduced to a singular moment and a misunderstood one at that. It’s less that she was tired from a hard day’s work on December 1, 1955 than that she was sick and tired of segregation. Montgomery anti-segregation organizers had been active for years. Parks worked with E.D. Nixon to make the Montgomery NAACP chapter strong and militant. They understood that a legal challenge to bus segregation would require a plaintiff and that plaintiff turned out to be Rosa Parks.
The film examines the sexism of the civil rights movement and its impact on Parks. She and her husband both lost their jobs after the court case and were in financial dire straits. The movement never offered her a job or provided any assistance. She was forced to move to Detroit, where her brother resided and where she would spend the rest of her life. She was often introduced at civil rights events where she would wave but would not be asked to speak. It was not until Representative John Conyers was elected in 1964 and he immediately hired Parks, that she had her first paid political job.
The feminist movement in the 1970s made sure she received some of the credit she deserved. However, much of her activism remained in obscurity. She worked tirelessly on issues of racial injustice in Detroit, supported the Dearborn Boycott of 1985, and enthusiastically backed Black nationalist campaigns. Contrary to popular belief, she was not a pacifist but believed in armed self-defense.
In 2013, a statue of Parks was unveiled in the Capitol at the very moment the Supreme Court was hearing arguments in Shelby County v. Holder. The Court’s decision would soon strike down many of the voting-rights protections that Parks had fought to obtain. Lest Parks’ radical life continue to be obscured by statues and myths, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks is there to keep Parks’ real legacy alive.
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