“The quiet seamstress.” That’s the misnomer given to Rosa Parks, who famously refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama on 1 December, 1955, saying “all I was doing was trying to get home from work.”

Her act sparked a bus boycott in the city and she served as a key figure in the American Civil Rights movement. But a new exhibit reveals more about the life and achievements of this incomparable activist.

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Commemoration for the renaming of 12th street in Detroit, Michigan to “Rosa Parks Boulevard.” Jason Lovette, photographer. Visual Materials from the Rosa Parks Papers, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words opens 5 December at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. It will be the first exhibition of the Rosa Parks Collection, featuring more than ninety personal items including writings, reflections, photographs, records and memorabilia covering her impactful life, from her early years to her activism, the boycott and the fallout afterwards and her lasting influence.

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Rosa Parks, March 6, 1993. Photographer: Donna Terek. Courtesy the Rosa Parks Papers, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress © The Detroit News, 1993

“This exhibition will be the first time that Rosa Parks’s rarely seen personal papers and visual materials have been presented to the public, [and] will reveal details about her life, demonstrate her tenacity, and chart her steadfast fight for Civil Rights,” says Carroll Johnson-Welsh, senior exhibits director in the Exhibits Office at the Library of Congress. “It is a deeper, richer view of this icon—one that we know will make a lasting impression on visitors.”

Highlights from the upcoming exhibition include the Parks’ account of “keeping vigil” with her grandfather to protect their home from members of the Ku Klux Klan, her personal reflections on her arrest and incarceration for refusing to surrender her bus seat, letters and documentation of the Montgomery bus boycott, a handmade blue dress she wore (on loan from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. It also features her Spingarn Medal citation - the NAACP’s highest honor which was bestowed to Park in 1979, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to her in 1996 by President Bill Clinton and the Congressional Gold Medal, given to her in 1999.

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Rosa Parks at the White House with President Bill Clinton after receiving the 1996 Presidential Medal of Freedom, Washington, D.C. Visual Materials from the Rosa Parks Papers, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Johnson-Welsh hopes visitors will leave with a sense of the profound effect Parks had on equality in the US and around the world. She served as secretary for the Montgomery branch on the NAACP and worked on cases of unfair treatment of African Americans, worked closely with the NAACP Youth Council, attended workshops to learn strategies for non-violent protest and promoted voter registration. “Visitors will discover that Rosa Parks had been standing up to racial injustice for most of her life.”

For more information about Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words and other exhibits at the Library of Congress, visit their website.

“Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.--Rosa Parks

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