Rosa Parks wrote a rape essay. Is it truth or fiction?
Discovered among Rosa Parks' estate, which is currently at a New York auction house, is a six-page, handwritten essay in which a white man nearly rapes a black housekeeper. Because the essay is in the first person, some have concluded that Rosa Parks herself faced the rape attempt; others who knew her say that Parks often wrote fiction, and that this is one of her stories.
"This six-page essay we believe is a work of fiction," Steven G. Cohen, a lawyer for the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development in Detroit, told the Associated Press. "We believe that Mrs. Parks meant for the story to be private. It never should have been part of the memorabilia collection."
More than 8,000 items belonging to Rosa Parks are at Guernsey's Auctioneers, including her Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest honor. Parks became one of the most significant figures of the American civil rights movement after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in 1955, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott and the eventual passage of civil rights legislation.
Archivists who reviewed the documents for Guernsey's described the story as including a "near-rape" encounter. The Associated Press was given access to some of the pages, and gave this partial transcription:
"He offered me a drink of whiskey, which I promptly and vehemently refused. ... He moved nearer to me and put his hand on my waist. I was very frightened by now."
"He liked me ... he didn't want me to be lonely and 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."
Many have taken the first-person story to be nonfiction. "Rosa Parks' Archived Writing Reveals Attempted Rape," writes Time Magazine. "Rosa Parks, civil rights heroine's essay reveals rape attempt by white neighbor," says the NY Daily News. "Rosa Parks details attempted rape as teenager," declares an Associated Press video posted at the Washington Post.
As the Associated Press notes, Parks did not recount the incident in either of her autobiographies.
The auction house is charged with finding a home for the items in Parks' estate, which has been in litigation. The estate includes many things written by Parks -- she "wrote on anything she could get her hands on," writes the AP -- but her piece about the "near-rape" has sparked significant interest. If it is fiction, we should probably call it a "story," not an "essay." But we may never know how to read these six pages. Parks died in 2005 at the age of 92.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Rosa Parks in 1999. Credit: Paul Sancya / Associated Press Photos