Thursday 15 April 2010

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory : The Life of Rosa Parks by Douglas Brinkley

Well, I am still in Alabama and probably will be for a little while longer as I have now found myself caught up in the history of the state. There are some marvellous people who have lived and learnt in Alabama and Rosa Parks stands out as one of the most determined ones at that.

In December 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, a 42 year old black seamstress called Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus to a white passenger. Her arrest led to a 381 day boycott of the city bus system by all black people. The boycott was led by a young Baptist minister called Martin Luther King, and is now considered the beginning of the American civil rights movement.
I really have to apologize for my ignorance here, as up until researching through my guide about Alabama, I had never ever heard of Rosa Parks. My daughters who are just ten knew exactly who she was and told me she was the woman who wouldn't move off her seat on the bus, so I am pleased that the English education system has changed it's ways and given a broader view of world history, which did not occur during my education. I cannot help but feel badly about not knowing who she was, when she was such a strong and important woman during the 20th Century. She is renowned as 'America's first lady of courage', a title she so greatly deserves.
This book was written by Douglas Brinkely, who discovered whilst teaching about the great lady, that no biography had ever actually been written about her life. There were some children's books relating to her story, but nothing else, so Brinkley set out to discover the true story of Rosa Parks and was lucky enough to get to spend time with her during times of her ailing health.
I found the book to be utterly fascinating and I thought I would give you a few points of interest from her life story.
  • As a child, Rosa took a lot of her inspiration and determination from another great lady of Alabama, Helen Keller, the deaf,dumb and blind girl who I talked about recently, who went on to conquer the world and show us anything is possible.
  • James F. Blake was the bus driver who had Rosa arrested, yet this was not the first time she had run into him and it seems that history books tend to overlook their first encounter ten years before. Previously, he had insisted she get off the bus and use the back entrance and had been really nasty to her, leaving Rosa vowing never to get on his bus again. The day she refused to move from her seat, happened as an accident, when she absentmindedly got on Blake's bus again.
  • Parks suffered from a lack of financial stability for most of her life and it wasn't until later years when her health was ailing, that she found life a little more luxurious.
  • The return of the black soldiers after World War 2 brought a change in the respect the black people had for the white Americans. It was discovered that the Nazis were actually treated better than the soldiers of colour and were allowed to eat in local cafes, whereas the people of colour were sent around the back.

There are some memorable lines from the book which I feel I need to share with you too.

'The story of Montgomery is the story of 50,000 Negroes who were willing to substitute tired feet for tired souls and walk the streets of Montgomery until the walls of segregation were finally battered by the forces of justice.' This was a line taken from Martin Luther King's book Strive Toward Freedom.

'Martin Luther King,JR., didn't start the American civil rights movement, but early on his brilliance made him its polestar, and when that guiding light was blotted out in April 1968, those who had looked to it seemed to lose their way in the darkness his death left behind. '

This book not only gives you the life story of Rosa Parks, but it also gives you the historical background and the people involved with the American Civil Rights movement. I had alway presumed that Martin Luther King was the front runner in this race, yet he came into the campaign as an after thought and there were many other fine people who led the way before him.

Rosa Parks was an inspirational woman, yet she came across to everyone who knew her as humble and down to earth. She never revelled in the fame her actions brought her, yet as time passed a lot of people involved in the civil rights movement, began to shun her out of jealousy of her fame. From that point on, she moved away as she could not cope with such ill feeling. She was cast aside for many years and her story was often not included in the accounts of the birth of the American Civil Rights, yet over the past twenty odd years, her story has begun to shine through and she has taken her place next to the other inspirational women of the twentieth century.

Nelson Mandela's visit to America following his release from prison after twenty seven years says it all. Rosa had been missed off the guest list to meet him, yet after pulling a few strings she got the opportunity to be there. When he arrived, Nelson started to chant Rosa's name, tears filling his eyes as he finally met the legend that was Rosa Parks.

I would highly recommend reading this book as it definitely opened my eyes to the history of the American Civil Rights movement. I feel so much better for reading this book, as I realise that in our lifetime there will always be difficulties, there will always be difficulties to overcome, yet with a little bit of faith and a whole lot of positivity, we can achieve the unachievable. Life is there for us to take and grab with both hands and bring about the things our hearts most truly desire.


  1. Rosa sounds like an amazing woman and this sounds like an amazing read. I must confess that whilst I knew the story about the woman on the bus who wouldn't get up, I wouldn't have been able to name her.

  2. Vivienne, what a wonderful review you have written. You've not only paid tribute to the book but to Rosa herself. She must have been an amazing woman to find the strength to stand her ground that day.
    Enjoy your stay in Al.

  3. What a great review. What's next on your list for Alabama?

  4. I have learned about her in school and I found her very brave and amazing and your wonderful review shows it even more. Thanks so much for it!

  5. Great review of what sounds like a fascinating book. I've lived fairly close to Montgomery twice and it is full of history. If you want to read more about it, you should explore books on Martin Luther King, Jr.

  6. Sounds like you found a great book about her. She was such a strong woman

  7. Vivienne, the important thing is that you now know about Rosa Parks. We should all admire her strength and character. Terrific review--the book sounds excellent.

  8. Amazing woman right? I cannot imagine what living like in those times must have been like.

    Oh yes, and I'm with Vasilly, what's next on your Alabama reading stop?

  9. Petty Witter - I really don't think her story was really given the airplay in England that it should have had.

    Kaye - she really was an utterly amazing woman.

    Vasilly and Illiana - Hmm, next stop in Alabama will probably be Scottsboro By Ellen Feldman, which I managed to pick up yesterday. It is a fictional account of historical evidence of the events that took place on March 25, 1931, when nine black youths were riding the Alabama Great Southern freight train andd they got into an altercation with a group of angry white men. When they got off, they were arrested for allegedly raping two white women.

    Andreea - thank you.

    Kathy - I am so glad I started this tour of United States as I didn't realise how much history was seeping out of each state. I still have another five books on Alabama before I can move on to Alaska.

    Blodeuedd - thankyou

    Suko - I just feel bad I had never heard of her.

  10. I'm ashamed to confess I didn't know who she was either - though I'd heard about the incident with the bus seat. Parks sounds like an amazing woman. I think I need this book.

  11. Wow, I am surprised you didn't know Rosa Parks, Vivienne, but I am thrilled that your daughters know her :-)

    She really is a fabulous woman and this book sounds excellent. Now you probably know more about her than most people ;-)

  12. I've heard of the story.. wasn't there one about a black man drinking from a white only fountain as well? I could not name names. This is a fantastic review of what sounds like a fantastic book. You really do it proud.

  13. Fantastic post! Theres a Rosa Parks High School in the town I grew up in.
    Over here in the States they did teach us about her in grade school. At one point, my children have also come home telling me about the lady who wouldn't give up her seat on the bus :)
    the book sounds very interesting!

  14. Hi Viv! This is an informative review. I've heard of Rosa Parks' story and you did a wonderful job on this one.


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