Julian Bond and Jeanne Theoharis: History is paying for access denied to Parks’ papers

Roundup: Talking About History

Julian Bond is a professor of history at the University of Virginia and a distinguished scholar in residence at American University. Jeanne Theoharis is professor of political science at Brooklyn College. She is writing a biography of Rosa Parks that is to be published next year. They wrote this for the Washington Post.

Rosa Parks gave the first installment of her papers to Wayne State University’s Walter Reuther Library in 1976, explaining, “I do hope that my contribution can be made use of.”

Thirty-five years later, nobody is making use of the rest of her papers.

After her death in 2005, all of her effects and the rights to license her name became the subject of a dispute between Parks’ nieces and nephews and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which she co-founded in 1987 with longtime friend Elaine Steele.

In 2007, a Michigan probate court awarded custody of Parks’ possessions to Guernsey’s Auctioneers and instructed that the collection be sold in its entirety to a single buyer, with the proceeds from the sale divided, in an undisclosed settlement, between the litigating parties.

All of the materials – political documents, letters and photos, along with Parks’ clothes, awards and other personal items – were collected, inventoried and taken to New York for auction....

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