February is Black History Month, and while we all take time to recognize and reflect upon our nation’s history, present, and future, we can also make Black History Month come alive thanks to the Library of Congress. Today (February 4) would have been Rosa Parks’ 102nd birthday, and surely not by coincidence, an exhibit of her letters and photographs opens at the Library of Congress.
Selections from the 10,000 item collection will be available for public viewing on the first floor of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building from March 2 – 30, and then will be included in the current exhibition The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle For Freedom, which is open through September 12, 2015 on the second floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building. Both exhibits are open Monday – Saturday from 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM.
Pictures of some of the items are available here from The Guardian (full article here) and just from these few pictures, the breadth of the collection is astonishing: there are images of poll tax receipts, a Presidential Medal of Honor, a pancake recipe, and even a letter complaining about not being allowed in the library. Rosa Parks’ act of refusing to give up her seat on the bus is well-known throughout our country – it is rightfully regarded as a seminal moment in not only the civil rights movement, but the whole of U.S. history. To be able to see her thoughts and words in her own handwriting provides a stark perspective of what led her to strike one of the first blows against Jim Crow. Looking at and reading these documents allows us to appreciate the immense significance and courage of her actions – not just on that day in December 1955, but in the ensuing decades until her passing in 2005.
If you can’t make it up to D.C. to view the exhibit, fear not – the Library of Congress will be posting some of the collection online later this year. And you can always check out some of the SMCM Library’s materials about Rosa Parks and the larger U.S. civil rights movement.