Before Montgomery: The Untaught History of Rosa Parks

Most of us went to school learning how activist Rosa Parks sat down to stand up, but her activism didn’t start here and her story is one that fits into a range of subjects — from history and PSHE to journalism, criminology and the social sciences at large.

Rosa Parks, 1955 (Credit: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty)
Vinette Robinson as Rosa Parks (Doctor Who, BBC One)

Her grandfather Sylvester Edwards was a supporter of the Jamaican Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey, teaching Rosa not to accept bullies or mistreatment from anyone, depicted in a childhood encounter she had with a White boy named Franklin who threatened to beat her up.

Mrs. Recy Taylor, 1944, credit: The Rape of Recy Taylor” (Credit: The People’s World/Daily Worker and Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University).

With the support of poet Langston Hughes, historian and cultural theorist W. E. B DuBois and activist Mary Church Terrell, this case rose to an incredibly high profile.

Rosa Parks, Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. (Credit: Underwood Archives/UIG/REX/

In schools’ bid to decolonise curricula, perhaps they should look into what is already being taught and analyse the missing pieces of those stories. ‘Montgomery’ is only part of the Rosa Parks story. There is plenty to discuss before she sat down and after she was released from prison.

Rosa Parks is more than ‘Montgomery; and she was a seasoned activist, not just a contemporary tool of Black Exceptionalism established into a narrative of “good history” that is comfortable — lest we forget the stories of women both as victims and liberators.

Writer-Poet | Muses: Black and Mixed-Race histories, inequality, identity, arts et al| Race and Black History Educator | | E: