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Rosa Parks: A National Day of Courage

What Do You Have the Courage to Do? Find out at The Henry Ford.

Date and time

February 4, 2013, from 2:35 to 4:30 p.m.

About this event

Join the Center for the Study of Citizenship as we head to The Henry Ford to sponsor a talk by Danielle L. McGuire, professor of history at Wayne State University entitled, "Rosa Parks: the Madonna of Montgomery."

Danielle will feature on a panel with Jeanne Theoharis and Douglas Brinkley, both Rosa Parks' biographers.

Rosa Parks: the Madonna of Montgomery

Six years after her death in 2005, Rosa Parks made national news when an essay she penned in the 1950s about a "near rape" by a white man in Alabama was released to the public for the first time. The six-page handwritten essay detailed Parks's steely resistance to a white neighbor, "Mr. Charlie," who attempted to assault her in 1931 while she was babysitting. "He offered me a drink of whiskey," Parks wrote, "which I promptly and vehemently refused. He moved nearer to me and put his hand on my waist. I was very frightened by now," she said. "He liked me," Parks continued, "... he didn't want me to be lonely and [asked] would I be sweet to him. He had money to give me for accepting his attentions," she wrote. "I was ready to die but give my consent never. Never, never." Almost immediately, the self-anointed guardians of Parks's legacy argued that the essay was fictional. "This six-page essay, we believe, is a work of fiction," said Steven Cohen, a lawyer for the Raymond and Rosa Parks Institute in Detroit. "We believe that Mrs. Parks meant for the story to be private. It never should have been part of the memorabilia collection."

By immediately casting the essay as fiction and insisting that it was "private," Cohen helped retain the unvarnished popular image of Rosa Parks as the silent and saintly "mother of the civil rights movement" --an icon whose history of civic engagement and political agency has all but been erased. Indeed, in museums, memorials and popular memory, Rosa Parks has been largely frozen in myth, an old woman with tired feet whose singular and spontaneous decision in 1955 sparked the civil rights movement and the walls of segregation came tumbling down.

This paper will explore the ways in which popular memory of Rosa Parks as an older, matronly (and asexual) woman diminishes her struggle for first-class citizenship, renders her political agency virtually invisible and removes Parks's long history of struggle for justice and it's potential continuity with today's world from the realm of what ordinary people can do, limiting similar crusades for citizenship and political change.

A National Day of Courage

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African American woman who worked as a seamstress, inspired a social movement when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., city bus. That singular act of courage helped spark the Civil Rights Movement and a new era in the American quest for freedom and equality. On Feb. 4, 2013, The Henry Ford will acknowledge Rosa Park’s 100th birthday and her inspiring life through a National Day of Courage, encouraging every American to take a stand and commit themselves to do something courageous just as Mrs. Parks did back on that day in 1955.

The day-long celebration taking place inside Henry Ford Museum will feature nationally-recognized speakers, live music, and dramatic presentations. Currently scheduled speakers include American social activist and leader in the Civil Rights Movement Julian Bond, contributing Newsweek editor Eleanor Clift, Rosa Parks biographer Douglas Brinkley, author and Rosa Parks biographer Jeanne Theoharis and author and Wayne State University Assistant Professor Danielle McGuire.

Guests in attendance will also have the opportunity to take a seat on the Rosa Parks bus, which is on permanent display inside the Museum. In honor of the event, admission to Henry Ford Museum is free courtesy of Target and the museum will extend its hours of operation until 9:30 p.m.

For those unable to attend the day’s events in person, Detroit Public Television will be providing a live national broadcast via satellite and across the Internet. Visitors to The Henry Ford’s Facebook page can also participate by sharing what they have the courage to do in honor of Rosa Parks’ birthday on Feb. 4.

Rosa Parks National Day of Courage is sponsored by Target, Xfinity, and the USA Network’s Characters Unite Public Service campaign.


The Henry Ford
20900 Oakwood Blvd.
Dearborn MI 48124


  • Danielle L. McGuire, professor of history
  • Eleanor Clift, contributing Newsweek editor
  • Julian Bond, American social activist and leader in the Civil Rights Movement

Presentations and notes


Watch previous lectures from the Henry Ford Speaker Series.