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here we go. From the Longhorn Radio Network, the University of Texas at Austin, this is in Black America. She was getting numerous death threats, bomb threats, hate mail, dolls made of her likeness with pinstuck into it.
She was released from her job at the Montgomery Fair Department store for Husband Raymond and loved his job. This is not light stuff. These were people that any moment thought they were going to be killed. And they had good reason to fear for their lives because the white citizens counsel and the clan and just random rogue crazy bigots were all aiming at Rosa Parks. They thought she was a troublemaker, a rabble rouser, the one who incited all of this. The truth is Mrs. Parks is a committed Christian and somebody who just wants fairness and equality yet the white mindset and the south at that time simply solved the 13 Rosa Parks of some flaming radicals. Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History and Director of the Eisenhower Centers at the University of New Orleans and Author of the Book, Rosa Parks, published by Lipper Viking Book. On December 21st, 1965, an African American seamtress in Montgomery, Alabama realized it was her burden
to politely refuse to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. It was the faithful evening when somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery shifted. Overnight, Rosalie's, McCrawley Parks became the pioneer of the Montgomery bus boycotts. Throughout last 13 months and forever links, the names of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. From that moment on, she became a symbol of courage, a darling of the liberal press and one of the most famous black women in history. I'm John L. Hanson, Jr. and welcome to another edition of In Black America. On this week's program, Rosa Parks would author Douglas Brinkley in Black America. It was so bad to death threats and her husband had two nervous breakdowns and they couldn't find employment. And that finally one evening, apparently Raymond received another one of these death threats and he became very unnerved by this particular one. And her cousin in Detroit, Thomas Williamson, it just said, for gosh's sake, Rosa, get out of Montgomery. You can't live in that town. You're a marked woman and you know, and Raymond can't take it.
She decided to come up to Detroit where she moved and resettled it. Rosa Parks never had any children. Right. But her brother Sylvester had 13 children. So she still have to date, 13 nieces and nephews. And so she went up there, her family kind of now was in Detroit. In 1955, Rosa Parks and African American seamtress had no idea she was changing history when work weary. She refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus. Now, she is a motorized for a defiance that centered the jail and triggered a bus boycott and catapulted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into national prominence. Who was Rosa Parks before and after her historic act? Parks was born on February 4th, 1931 in Tuskegee, Alabama to James and Leona McCauley. Historian and author Douglass Brinkley gives us a brilliant examination of an unexpected heroin and the tumultuous times in which she lived. Brinkley explores how Parks and ordinary civic-minded women became a potent human symbol of freedom around the world.
Every year I take a group of students on what I call the magic bus civil rights tours. And I bring about 20 or 25 high school students and their teachers. And we go on civil rights journeys. We visit Selma and Montgomery in Birmingham and Atlanta on and on. And we'll read the autobiography of Miss James Pittman and we'll meet with the novelist Ernest Gaines who wrote it. Or we'll march across the M. and Pettis bridge in Selma with Reverend Hosea Williams. Or we'll go in Atlanta and spend time with Julian Bond talking about SNCC. And it's the real hands-on way of learning about the civil rights movement. And teaching young people that civil rights is not just Dr. King's, I had a dream speech. But it was a people's movement and we don't want to forget that history. And we also try to get historical markers placed on significant sites like the place where mega-everts was shot. And murdered in Jackson, Mississippi or the place where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was founded in New Orleans, which we often get neglected in the history books.
So it was in that course of those road trips with these young people that when we'd go to Montgomery, first I realized there wasn't a memorial for Rosa Parks. There was no statue. There was only, there was a road, Rosa Parks Boulevard, which intersected Jeff Davis Boulevard, which was the former president of the Confederacy, which was, I thought, an appropriate street sign. But we'd go to where Mrs. Parks lived during the Montgomery bus boycott. And there was absolutely nothing for her. And then I looked and saw nobody had written a book on her. And I thought, boy, for a person so well known, the so-called mother of the modern civil rights movement, I was stunned that nobody had written a serious academic kind of narrative study of her whole life. Everybody sees her as sort of a woman of a singular act. In 55 and I end the truth that she is an entire life as a social activist. And was it difficult and ascertaining the information that you included in the book?
Yes, it was. For first off, it was scattered. I mean, I ended up finding a lot of new documents in like the Alabama State Archives. I went into the, looked at the NAACP papers at the Library of Congress. And also Mrs. Parks had deposited a lot of her papers at Wayne State University in downtown Detroit, where she's lived now in Detroit since 1957. But the hardest part was getting to spend time with Mrs. Parks, because so many people want to spend time with her. But eventually, I persevered and I ended up becoming, you know, was able to interview her and spend time with her and become quite close with her. And so it was really very special hours I spent with her in Detroit, in Washington, in Los Angeles, getting to know her, and getting to ask her the specific details of things which I think enrich the book, meaning anything from what her favorite ginger ale was in Alabama to who, what minister influenced her most in the AME. Church to, you know, how did her husband Raymond deal with, you know, the bus boycott, because I had heard during that year when 381 days,
during the boycott, he had two nervous breakdowns. Right. Things that only Mrs. Parks could talk about or answer. And so I think it makes this book a particular special. Tell us about Rosa Park, early days, growing up and outside of Tuskegee, Alabama, Piney Woods. Well, of course Tuskegee is a magical name in African American history due to Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, also the Tuskegee Airmen, novelist like Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray. But that should be the fact that that's the birthplace, the hometown of Rosa Park. And, you know, I found out that Booker T. Washington had a big influence on her life when she was young because living in Alabama at that time, and his book up from slavery, if you were Black and could read, that was the book that really, you know, like Rosa Park's mother, at that time she was Rosa McCauley, used to say, when you grow up, you're going to be able to have dinner with Booker T. Washington.
And then, of course, also the Bible had an intense immense role in her early life. So it's the composition of the Bible and Booker T. Washington and her mother's lessons that had a big influence on her. Of course, she was raised during the Great Depression years and they had no money. She was quite poor. The specter of the Ku Klux Klan always hovered over her as a girl. Rosa Park's grandfather used to sit up at night with a shotgun in his lap and waiting for the Klan to invade their house or burn it down. So she was raised with the terror we associate with the Jim Crow South, meaning lynchings, burning, intimidation, harassment, you know, rape, name calling, any degradation humanly be fathomable. And I'll tell you, as closer I looked at what was going on in Alabama during the 20s and 30s and 40s and 50s, the more shamed I was about the horror of the white supremacy in the South, which unfortunately still lingers, although nothing quite like it used to be.
James or Father left them at a very early age. How did that affect Miss Rosa Park's growing up because she didn't see him again until she was a don in Mary? Well, James was a kind of near-do well carpenter who used to drift around quite a bit and he ended up abandoning Rosa and her little brother Sylvester. So she was never had a father figure in her life. That's why her grandfather became a key figure. But she really raised Rosa her little brother Sylvester. One of the things that traumatized her in later years is that she was so proud of her baby brother that during World War II, like a million other African Americans, he went in uniform to serve for democracy in this country abroad, to defeat Hitler and to defeat the Japanese. And he returned after World War II after serving with honor in the beaches of Normandy and at the Battle of the Bulge in Europe.
And he said Okinawa and the Pacific came home and was stoned, spat on, deemed unemployable and harassed because he was a black man in uniform in Montgomery. And the fact that her brother was treated like this and was forced to flee Montgomery for Detroit had quite a serious effect on Rosa Park. She couldn't understand how a country could treat somebody like her brother who had just served in the battlefields of Europe and Asia. It could treat come home and he was treated like less than a second or third class citizen treated really like a dog. Rosa Parks eventually moved to Montgomery, Alabama because her mother enrolled in school there correctly. That's correct. And she enrolled Rosa in a school called Miss White School for Girl, which was a place for that. A white woman from Melrose, Massachusetts, a Quaker, taught 265 African American girls at a time, cooking and home economics and sewing and really a sense of the need for dignity. She was sort of a missionary in a sense and had a big effect on those women. And when you studied them on Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, most of those women that were walking the leaders, the leading women in that boycott, most of them had graduated from Miss White's Industrial School for Girls.
And how did that particularly shape Rosa, Rosa Psyche, being at the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls? It had a big, it's completely changed here because suddenly she was no longer in these little towns of like pine level Alabama or where she lived for as a girl. She was now in a city in that, Granny Montgomery was not New York, but there was the big state capital and there was a trolley line and there was, you know, a thriving black community there. And so just being in an urban center had some effect on her, but also she really started getting an education of sorts. She learned how to read and write and think for herself there in Montgomery. And, you know, Mrs. Parks is not a, now she has honorary doctorates from all over the world. But one thing I learned about is she's very, very smart and she reads graciously. And in fact, her whole life, she used to clip things out of magazines, particularly the black newspapers and magazines on civil rights and meticulously filed them.
So she was self educating herself through the popular presses and journals like crises of the, at the end of the ACP was bringing out even in the 1920s and 30s. Speaking of the 20s, Jim Crow was the law of the land back then. How did that affect Miss Parks? Well, her whole life was one of revulsion at Jim Crow. I mean, it was the degradation of not being able to get on the trolley of, you know, always being, you know, looked at as less than human. It always bothered her and she became, um, yet Mrs. Parks was personally very quiet and shy woman. This is not a grandstander. This is, she has no Angela Davis here. I mean, she is a very demure Christian woman. And so she would endure many of the indignities of Jim Crow. But she never in her heart thought that she, there was always in her this notion that she was the shame that she was following the system. Yet, she also had a conservative side that she never wanted to really be arrested because she was brought up proper and suddenly if she was fingerprinted or booked or put in jail, she would have felt terrible.
So a lot of her conflict in the 30s and 40s is how do I stand up to Jim Crow, but retain my, um, my social graces and my status as a good Christian woman. And that struggle goes back and forth of being the good Christian woman, yet what is, what is right and what's wrong and that the state is perpetrating a big wrong with Jim Crow. And if he goes back and forth till she finally breaks on behalf of the freedom movement with her active civil disobedience in 1955. Now she had to clean classrooms to pay for a tuition at the industrial school for girl, didn't she? Yes, that's correct. And she later attended Booker T. Washington High School and I guess they're having to take care of mother after she became ill. Rosa Parks took care of her mother, Leona McCauley, her entire life.
It was her best friend and most of the years among gummeries, she got married of course in the 19, um, 1932 or something like that. Leona McCauley and Rosa and they all lived in the smallest, the smallest of quarters. I mean a tiny little shoebox size apartment in a housing project room. And that was Montgomery years then up in Detroit when Rosa Parks moved to Detroit in 1957. Her mother came with her and of course her mother died in Detroit and is buried there in Rosa Parks will be very next to her mother in Detroit whenever she dies. So her mother and Rosa and her mother were almost inseparable and to give Raymond Parks a little bit of credit here, her husband. He also, he was at Barbara Cutter and he used to also take care of her a lot, his mother-in-law. And when Rosa later would have to go for the NAACP to give talks and leave places that we could a time Raymond would take care of her mother through her various illnesses and cook for her and he was quite a good husband.
So she would lay the foundation for Miss Parks to become socially and civilly active. When she married Raymond Parks, as I said was a Barbara haircutter in the 30s. He already was what I would consider a activist or a strong civil rights voice. Not a huge leader but his barbershop was a congregation point and there he would have that Amsterdam news, the Pittsburgh Courier, the Chicago Defender. As I said the NAACP Journal of the races as it was called the crisis. And so Rosa started getting involved with this and in the 30s Raymond and Rosa were really headed the Montgomery and then the Alabama committee to defend the Scottsboro boys. Who were nine African American teenagers arrested in Scottsboro, Alabama and bogusly charged with raping two white women.
He came a landmark case and they were raising money for the defense fund which was a highly political act. And from that point on you could see Rosa Parks getting involved with the NAACP with demanding her voting rights in the 40s, with organizing a group of young students, black students to march to the city library, Montgomery and demand that black students be given equal access to books as white. You start seeing in her a regular steady pattern of grassroots civil rights organizing. And from there she became Secretary for the NAACP. That's correct. And she worked for Mr. Ed Nixon who was of the brotherhood of sleeping car porters, which was the great 8th of a brand of union. And he used to wear uniform and leave Montgomery and go for weeks on end and Mrs. Parks would stay back in Montgomery and run the whole NAACP office. I was stunned to find out how well Rosa Parks was known in the NAACP world nationally in the 1940s.
She was considered the heart and soul of the NAACP among Montgomery and really in Alabama. And in fact here's Rosa Parks the woman on her own leaving Montgomery to take a bus ride to Jacksonville, Florida in 1946 to spend a week with Ella Baker to learn about civil disobedience and things. So Mrs. Parks may have been quiet on the exterior but her interior was burning up with fury over the indignities of Jim Crow. Now we kind of leapfog forward a little bit but during the time after her father left the house her mother was going around the south teaching at some of the schools there. So she was left at home with a grandfather who was a minister of a church. How did her Christianity play into this historic nature that she became? I've come to the conclusion that the single thread, if there's one thread that lasts throughout Rosa Parks's life, it's the role of Christianity in her life. And particularly the role of the African Methodist, Episcopalian Church, the AME Church.
She's straight AME, she's not AME Zion but the AME Church's, her Mrs. Parks has been just a, it gives her her strength forever. Even now she's 87 in Detroit and is a deaconess at St. Matthew's AME and every Sunday she puts a uniform on and is there in her church helping the pastor out. So she's a, the role of, she is a true Christian woman and she's somebody who really lives by the golden rule. And so when they arrested Rosa Parks, everybody in town knew her as almost a saintly Christian woman. And everybody said boy they arrested the wrong woman now because this woman was the epitome of Christian dignity and grace and kindness and generosity. She was not the sort of woman you'd handcuff and fingerprint and take mug shots of. A lot of African Americans living in Alabama had been arrested.
A German had been killed. The weak prior. Rosa Parks had become a seamstress then. Why did, on that day, she decided she was not going to obey the law in Montgomery, Alabama on that Cleveland bus route. Well, first I should mention that in 1943 she got on a bus one day and put her money in and went to the back of the bus like you had to if you were black. And this bus driver named James Blake who Mrs. Parks says is a mean bigoted man. Try to make her give up her seat. She refused to move because she was sitting in the colored section. They had a little altercation and he threw her off the bus and she or she walked off out of her own will and said from 1943 to 1955 she never got on a bus if Blake was driving. On that day of December 155 of her famous arrest, she absolutely wandered on to a bus in which Blake was driving. So a bit of the showdown that occurred was personal. In addition to that, that 55 was a dramatic year in Rosa Parks's life.
And for all African Americans because in 1954 the Brown versus the Peacabord of Education decision was laid down. For the first time, it at least appeared that the federal government was going to side on the side of African Americans. That for finally the courts since the time of the emancipation proclamation who tended to always side with white supremacists seemed to be siding with the African American. And that court verdict, you know, was like a liberation cry in the South. So in 55, Mrs. Parks was part of a movement in Montgomery to ask her lawyer Fred Gray would say we want to desegregate everything. And you can see it as I write in the book about the case of Claudette Colvin, a young teenager who was arrested before Mrs. Parks for not giving up her bus seat. But the NAACP didn't want to use her as a test case because she was unwed and pregnant and underaged to Mrs. Parks going in the summer of 1955 to the Highlander Folk School in Mount Eagle, Tennessee, where she was trained in a little disobedience with Dr. McClark and others and how one can implement Brown.
I mean, her seminar at this progressive civil rights school in Tennessee, the school where the song we shall overcome was popularized to be the movement song. While she was there, her seminar was on where do we go from Brown? How do we desegregate? And then finally in the fall of 55 or late summer, Emmett Till was murdered 14 year old African American boy who went to money, Mississippi and ostensibly wolf whistle that a white woman who owned a country store of that woman came and beat and murdered Emmett Till. The combination of all those in 55 brought Mrs. Parks to early December. She was kind of a pot of boiling water. Something was going to happen. She had come to the point where she she had felt she turned her cheek a thousand times to Jim Crow, but she had decided she wasn't going to turn it anymore. Everyone knows the bus boycock took place beginning on that that December 5, 1955 day, but understanding the the tenacity in which it took for the African American citizens of Montgomery, Alabama to not ride the buses and the organization that took place for these individuals to still have to get back and forth to work and whatever activity they had to do.
Well, that's the Montgomery improvement association and the great drama of the Montgomery bus boycott is the course of the 40 year old Mrs. Rosa Parks at 42 and Dr. King was only 26 years old and that he emerged now as the famous minister due to his extraordinary orations that he gave throughout those 381 days. I in the book say that it was King's orations and leadership and Mrs. Parks's spiritual essence that motivated 50,000 African Americans to walk to work for 381 days and it was tiresome and difficult and it was an incredible feat of a community sticking together. They would find black taxis to ride. They had a form of their own like taxi network. People would walk. People would ride bicycles. You know, sometimes people would have to wait hours and hours just to get back home every day, but they kept at it because of the name of Rosa Parks.
We're not going to abandon Mrs. Parks. If we abandon her, then who are we? If Ed Nixon said to a group of black ministers, are we men? We're not going to stand up for Mrs. Parks. And so it's an extraordinary drama that unfolded there in Montgomery in 55 and 56. Now this is the first book that actually gives us a backstage look at how Mrs. Parks life was during that particular period. There were death threats? Yes, that's right. She was getting numerous death threats, bomb threats, hate mail, dolls made of her likeness with pinstuck into it. She was released from her job at the Montgomery Fair Department store, her husband Raymond lost his job. This is not light stuff. These were people that any moment thought they were going to be killed. And they had good reason to fear for their lives because the White Citizens Council and the clan and just random, rogue, crazy bigots were all aiming at Rosa Parks. They thought she was a troublemaker or a rabble rouser, the one who incited all of this.
And the truth is Mrs. Parks is a committed Christian and somebody who just wants fairness and equality, yet the white mind, the sick white mindset and the South at that time simply saw the 13 Rosa Parks as some flaming radical. When did her cousin in Detroit finally convince Rosa and Raymond that was enough was enough in this time for you all to get out of Montgomery? It got so bad to death threats and her husband had two nervous breakdowns and they couldn't find employment and that finally one evening apparently Raymond received another one of these death threats and he became very unnerved by this particular one and her cousin in Detroit, Thomas Williamson. It just said for God's sake, Rosie, get out of Montgomery. You can't live in that town. You're a marked woman and you know and Raymond can't take it. And so she decided to come up to Detroit where she moved and and resettled it. Rosa Parks never had any children, but her brother Sylvester had 13 children.
So she has still have to date 13 nieces and nephews. And so she went up there. Her family kind of now was in Detroit. And when is she began working for Congressman Connus? Well, in 1964 he ran for Congress as a young young buck and Mrs. Parks liked him and she actually convinced Martin Luther King Jr. to endorse John Connus with something King tried never to do with endorse political candidates. And Connus then employ Mrs. Parks to run his Detroit office. So from 1964 to 1988 Rosa Parks ran John Connus Congressional Office. Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History and Director of the Eisenhower Centers at the University of New Orleans and author of the book Rosa Parks, published by Lipper Viking Book. If you have questions, comments or suggestions asked your future in Black America programs, write us also let us know what radio station you heard us over.
The views and opinions expressed on this program are not necessarily those of this station or of the University of Texas at Austin. Until we have the opportunity again for technical producer David Alvarez, I'm Johnny Ohanson Jr. Thank you for joining us today and please join us again next week. Cassette copies of this program are available and may be purchased by writing in Black America cassettes, Communication Building B, UT Austin, Austin, Texas, 78712. That's in Black America cassettes, Communication Building B, UT Austin, Austin, Texas, 78712. From the University of Texas at Austin, this is the Longhorn Radio Network. I'm Johnny Ohanson Jr. Join us this week on in Black America.
Rosa Parks is an important American story and that one person can make a difference. This woman was a seamstress. She was not so many became a president of a college or ran for Congress. Rosa Parks with author Douglas Brinkley this week on in Black America.
In Black America
Rosa Parks, with author Douglas Brinkley
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Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History, Director of the Eisenhower Centers at the University of New Orleans, and author of the book Rosa Parks, discusses the life of Rosa Parks, highlighting who she was and what her life was like before and after her heroic act.
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Copyright Holder: KUT Radio
Guest: Brinkley, Douglas
Host: Hanson, John L.
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Chicago: “In Black America; Rosa Parks, with author Douglas Brinkley,” 2000-06-28, KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 21, 2024,
MLA: “In Black America; Rosa Parks, with author Douglas Brinkley.” 2000-06-28. KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 21, 2024. <>.
APA: In Black America; Rosa Parks, with author Douglas Brinkley. Boston, MA: KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from