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The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  263 ratings  ·  82 reviews
The definitive political biography of Rosa Parks examines her six decades of activism, challenging perceptions of her as an accidental actor in the civil rights movement

Presenting a corrective to the popular notion of Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress who, with a single act, birthed the modern civil rights movement, Theoharis provides a revealing window into Parks’s polit...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 29th 2013 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Bill  Kerwin

Jeanne Theoharis is a straightforward scholar and committed progressive whose purpose is to reveal Rosa Parks as the lifelong lefty she undoubtedly was, but Theoharis is also too good of a researcher and too dedicated to the truth not to reveal the many biographical ironies in Mrs. Parks' story. I'm a progressive too--one of the quieter, more contemplative sort--and the presence of multiple ironies in this biography is one of its aspects I find most interesting.

The first irony is that the conven...more
Rob Slaven
As is usual, I received this book as part of a GoodReads drawing. Despite the kind consideration of receiving a free book I give my candid assessment below.

The main topical thrust of this book is to set the story of Parks’ life in its proper light from her initial involvement in the Civil Rights movement well before the famous Bus Incident until she finally received the Medal of Honor in 1999. Mythology paints Parks as a frail matronly figure who just happens to do the right thing at the right t...more
Carol
I have to say that this is a great book about the life of Rosa Parks. This book has totally change my idea of who she was and all that this intelligent, persevering woman did. She was truly remarkable. She was not only a dedicated activist but also a strong woman of faith. Rosa's belief in self-defense and collective action stemmed as well as from her Christian faith. "From my upbringing and the Bible I learned people should stand up for the rights just as the children of Israel stood up to the...more
Mikey B.


Statue of Mrs. Rosa Parks on Capitol Hill, Washington DC

Truly an inspiring figure in recent American history. Mrs. Rosa Parks had many obstacles to overcome in her life – foremost the racist and violent environment in Alabama.

The author points out a number of factors that led up to Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on December 1st, 1955. This did not happen in isolation. Mrs. Parks had ridden innumerable times on Montgomery city buses and there had been many incidents similar to hers befor...more
Yasmin
Amazing account of the life of Rosa Parks. The only pity overall is that there are a lot of papers and other written information about her that cannot be accessed as it is up for sale but for about $10 million! However, what has been left for researchers is abundant and is a wonderful read for anyone not very familiar with Rosa Parks as a person and I'm sure a very good read for those that are familiar with her story. In the book we see Rosa Parks before the great moment in 1955 and her active l...more
Kathy
What a wonderful tribute to a Woman who deserved to get her accolades while living. This was the first book that I have read that gave a look into the life of Mrs. Rosa Parks background in the politics of the day. Never would I have known that her Grandfather was a follower of Marcus Garvey. Never would I have known that her husband Mr. Raymond Parks was a supporter of the Scottsboro Boys. There are lots of wonderful things that I learned about her and her family from this book. To know that she...more
Margaret Sankey
I am always disappointed when I see a History Day project that buys into the image of Rosa Parks as a quiet and unassuming every person. Theoharis, like the previous revisionist work, At the Dark End of the Street, takes on the far more uncomfortable truth--that the quiet image was created at the time for very specific reasons, but that Parks had a long history taking on some of the thorniest problems of the Civil Rights movement--researching sexual assaults against women of color (which, agains...more
Brigid Keely
I was lucky enough to win this book as part of a Good Read's First Reads giveaway.

"The Rebellious Life of Mrs Rosa Parks," by Jeanne Theoharris, is a look at the very full and very politically active life of Mrs Rosa Parks. Most people, when they think of Mrs Parks, think only of that defining moment on the bus, her refusal to stand. They remember the easy to digest story that she was a simple seamstress, that she was tired. But there was a lot more to her life, and her political action, than th...more
Margaret
I saw the author on Book TV and decided I had to read this book. Mrs. Parks has been minimized to a bus ride - surely that ride made a huge impact but she was SO much more.

This book showed me who Mrs. Rosa Parks really was - a lifelong activist. Her mother was a teacher and instilled in her a value for education. Mrs. Parks was an educated woman who was always working to better the cause of the Black person in the South. Her involvement started with the infamous Scottsboro boys case, and went fo...more
Amy Taylor
On one hand, I really enjoyed learning more about Rosa Parks. She was an outstanding person who stood up to the wrongs in society and made a difference! Not many people can say they did that. There was much I did not know about Ms. Parks and feel it's a shame that much of her work is generally unknown.

That being said, it is unfortunate that this book gives way too much information! It became very tedious to know about every meeting with every person in every location at every time she ever had....more
Dera
I finished this the other day and am still forming a response to this book. I will post a view at a later day, but for now, there is one point that niggled me throughout the entire book.

Rosa Parks was truly an amazing woman, strong and prideful and was passionate about equal rights for blacks. I was and am still astounded by the classcism that existed in 1950s Montgomery, Alabamba. To think, less than 100 years out of slavery, and in the Jim Crow south class lines were drawn. Class played a larg...more
arieswym
A very good look at the totality of Rosa Parks' life. I learned a lot about Rosa Parks and her continued involvement in the push to achieve civil rights and justice for black people in the US. Parks' story is so much more than the day she remained sitting on the bus in Montgomery AL.

Criticisms of the book: I found Theoharis to be a repetitive writer. Also she relied on/heavily quoted from the papers of the white activists that Parks' interacted with. This is likely due to better preservation of...more
Nataliespeaks
The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks is a very well written book. Starting with Rosa's childhood, and then leading up to the Montgomery Bus Boycott to even after that, Jeanne does a good job detailing her life. Jeanne details Rosa's life like no one has before and no one probably will. Even as hardships and constant death threats took on Rosa and her husband, Raymond, she remained committed to exposing and eradicating racial inequality in jobs, schools, public services, and the criminal justic...more
Sueij
A thorough and corrective biography to the simple cultural story that exists about Rosa Parks and her "one time action" aboard a Montgomery bus. The author argues persuasively that Mrs. Parks was a tireless worker for justice for decades both before and after the bus boycott, and faced terrible personal consequences for her action. Mrs. Parks was a soft-spoken but steely-resolved female leader in the Civil Rights movement, often pushed aside by the male leadership, but making a huge difference i...more
Scott Schneider
I learned a lot about Rosa Parks from this book. She struggled financially for over a decade after her bus incident because no one would hire her, not even the NAACP, until John Conyers won his seat in Congress and hired her. She was a big fan of Malcolm X, despite her close association with King. She was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War. She was a quiet warrior for the poor and blacks. It was a good book, but a bit too scholarly. It did puncture the "fable of Rosa Parks" effectively though.
Dana
I knew very little about Rosa Parks beyond her historic refusal to move to the back of the bus in December 1955 in Montgomery, AL. The author succeeded in showing me that Rosa Parks was much more than just that one defiant act. She was a civil rights activist all along, even before MLK. The book is a bit dry and academic. I would like to see a biography of Parks that examines more of her life on a personal level.
Jean Potuchek
This is a very important book. Most Americans would describe Rosa Parks as a tired seamstress who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955 because her feet hurt and whose single act of defiance made her an accidental activist in catalyzing the civil rights movement. Jeanne Theoharis calls this narrative the "Rosa Parks fable." In this political biography, she sets the record straight by putting Rosa Parks' most famous act in the context of a long history of...more
Kristen
I don't read much non-fiction. This book was educational, and looked at Rosa Parks whole life, not just the one main act that she is so well-known for. I donated this book to my daughter's 6th grade classroom. The teacher was thrilled to have it! It is a great addition to any student library!
Jbondandrews
I thought Jeanne Theoharis's book on Rosa Parks was simply wonderful. Such a marvelous woman! And yet too underwritten in history and by people in general. And the racism still goes on. Rosa had a biography worthy of her.
Frederic
In this very well researched,if somewhat dry,biography,Jeanne Theoharis reclaims Rosa Parks from the popular misconception of her as a "quiet Negro seamstress" who was instrumental in starting the Montgomery,Alabama Bus Boycott and consequently the Freedom Movement in the '50's and '60's(and '70's,'80's,'90's and on into the 21st Century)who then disappeared in plain sight as an anodyne figure whose image could be comfortably co-opted by politicians and pundits in promoting the "Right Kind" of b...more
Edward Sullivan
This insightful and revealing first full-length biography of Rosa Parks shatters all the myths about her that began with her arrest in Montgomery in 1955. Rosa Parks may have been shy, may not have worn her angry militancy on her sleeve, but she was never apolitical. She was never the accidental activist, the mild-mannered seamstress too tired to give up her seat on the bus as depicted in the "national fable" of her life. Rosa's intense resentment of and lifelong resistance to racial injustice w...more
Nell
Feb 27, 2013 Nell marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
"Charisma is not a word often used to describe Rosa Parks yet we have to recognize her star. The Rosa Parks challenge to the political system was deep and lasting even while she never raised her voice. The first female Speaker of the House of Representatives once said, 'You can get a lot done if you don’t need to take credit for it.' She took a page from the book of Parks. Theoharis’ scholarship brings forth a woman whom many followed without ever realizing they were. She was courageous and stro...more
Lisa
There was a lot more to Rosa Parks than the saintly seamstress with the tired feet schoolchildren learn about. This book takes a look at her tireless activism, as well as the price she paid for being the 'heroine' of the Montgomery bus boycott. Part of the reason the Montgomery community coalesced behind the boycott was because Mrs. Parks was already known to many due to her organizing and activism, as well as her demeanor. She has been sold short for years, partly due to the intentional shaping...more
Laura
This review will not do this book justice.

I knew that Rosa Parks was a brave woman from the time I first learned about her. I had learned that she was secretary of her local NAACP chapter, but I did not understand what that meant. I knew nothing about her lifelong commitment and work for civil rights, as a "race woman" who wanted equality for herself -- and for everyone else. In this book, which is a political biography and thus focuses on Mrs. Parks' political life, she traces Mrs. Parks' years...more
Sharon Huether
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rick
I cannot overstate the importance of this book. It has long been true that adults only know the kiddie version of her story: tired seamstress finally just has too much injustice. Grown people need to know that Mrs. Parks fought for justice long before and long after that semi-spontaneous moment on the bus. But this book also teaches about the form that the movement took in the decades before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This is a must-read.
Sharon
I first heard about this book via BookTV and was intrigued by the premise that there had been no substantive biography written about Rosa Parks. Turns out, the author was right. This book moves past the myth of the "tired lady sitting on the bus" to show what a true pioneer and activist Rosa Parks was. Not stopping (as so many historical references do to Mrs. Parks) at her historic role in the Montgomery bus boycott, Ms. Theoharis details the hard toll this action took on Mrs. Parks and her fami...more
Mel
I received this book for free through a Goodreads First Reader Giveaway.

Rosa Parks is best known for not giving up her seat in 1955, an act that most people remember as being spontaneous and done because she was tired. What this book does is dispel the myth of that being Mrs Parks first political act, showing how at the time of the bus boycott, Mrs Parks had been working behind the scenes of racial activism for over twenty years, and continued to work very hard for the next fifty years. Rosa Par...more
Alison
Really good account of Rosa Parks' life, before, during and after the bus boycott. It gives a much more thorough and realistic telling of her life and activism, and doesn't give the usual mythology about her just being a tired lady with sore feet and all that claptrap. You learn about the wide array of other tasks and struggles she took on, which went way beyond the bus tale, and really see her as a full and impressive, strong human being. I think the book could have benefited from a bit tighter...more
Carly
Required reading. Indescribably important, and well-written. Even thinking about how to review this book makes me tear up. The primary lesson of this text is that historical narratives are not rewritten, obfuscated and ignored due to human error - the manipulation of historical memory is pointedly, often maliciously, intentional yet made to look accidental. Never forget that.
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Jeanne Theoharis is professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. She received an AB in Afro-American studies from Harvard College and a PhD in American culture from the University of Michigan. She is the author or coauthor of four books and articles on the black freedom struggle and the contemporary politics of race in the United States.
More about Jeanne Theoharis...
Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Struggles in America Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle Not Working: Latina Immigrants, Low-Wage Jobs, and the Failure of Welfare Reform Our Schools Suck: Students Talk Back to a Segregated Nation on the Failures of Urban Education

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“When asked what gave her the strength and commitment to refuse segregation, (Rosa) Parks credited her mother and grandfather "for giving me the spirit of freedom... that I should not feel because of my race or color, inferior to any person. That I should do my very best to be a respectable person, to respect myself, to expect respect from others.” 3 likes
“Time and time again, she sought to show the roots—the legitimacy—of black rebellion. It galled her that black people were often told to wait, to be patient and not angry. She had long hated the ways black rebels were seen as freaks or demonized for their refusal to submit.” 1 likes
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