The story of Rosa Parks’ historic arrest on Dec. 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat aboard a Montgomery city bus to a white male passenger, which led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, is well known and widely documented. In “Rosa Parks Beyond the Bus: Life, Lessons and Leadership,” author H.H. Leonards wanted to introduce the world to the Mrs. Parks they didn’t know.
Leonards, founder of the O Museum in The Mansion in Washington, D.C., shared stories and memories of Mrs. Parks during Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum observance of Rosa Parks Day in Alabama on Thursday.
“’Beyond the Bus’ is a collection of memories, anecdotes, incidents, vignettes and observations, many of which I recorded in a daily journal that I kept,” Leonards said. “I wrote ‘Beyond the Bus’ to share the real Mrs. Parks with the world. She was so much more than an icon in history who refused to get up from her bus seat in 1955. She was a survivor and now is the ultimate influencer of future generations.”
Parks, her friends and business associates, lived for a time with Leonards as a part of The Mansion and O Museum’s Heroes-in-Residence Program.
Leonards said she wanted to introduce readers to the heart and soul of Mrs. Parks.
“While this book is about all the things Mrs. Parks accomplished that people don’t know about, it is not a historian’s account,” she said. “My book is about her heart and about her soul and the lessons of leadership I learned while Mother Parks lived with me, when I traveled with her and when she asked me to sit on the founding board of this museum. Mrs. Parks is famous because she is the seminal person in the history of civil, human and women’s rights. She died in 2005, but her time is now. The lessons she taught me are lessons that can change what is happening now.”
In her book, Leonards points to Parks’ lifetime of activism that extended well beyond that day aboard the Montgomery city bus, shining a light on her work in the 1930s, traveling throughout the South to document incidents of rape of black women and men. Parks founded the Committee for Equal Justice that became the catalyst for Black women’s Civil Rights resistance. In the 1950s, she brought people of all races into the NAACP and, in the 1960s, she protested against the Vietnam War.
While Parks experienced much pain throughout her life, she never let it stop her. And while through her faith and belief in love above all else, she was able to forgive others, she never forgot those experiences.
“The underlying foundation of what she taught was having faith in yourself to do the hard work to change the hearts and minds of those you meet through your words and through your exemplary behavior,” Leonards said. “Mrs. Parks was assaulted both physically and emotionally throughout her life, but she never used this as an excuse to stop living nor did she allow it to defeat her spirit. She utilized the pain of her experiences to help others. She believed that there are hidden blessings in everything that God gives, that being a giving person means that you can become more open and that pain and fear are illusions of choice. ‘It’s simple,’ she would say, ‘When you fall down, you get up.’ She used the pain she felt throughout her life as a motivator not as a tool against other people.”
Leonards said Parks believed that love was the foundation for change and equality.
“With every essence of her being and reality, she believed that love is all that matters,” Leonards said. “She continuously said where there is love, equality and understanding follow. And, even as important, forgiveness, hope and reconciliation. Mrs. Parks was a humble, straight-forward person. During her lifetime, she encountered many who persecuted her or took advantage of her or disregarded who she was, yet every day she woke up, she was determined to teach love, forgiveness and compassion.”
Dr. LaDonna Boyd, CEO of publisher R.H. Boyd, joined Leonards for the discussion on Thursday via Zoom, and said the book was important in exploring the complete life of Parks and sharing it will all generations.
“This story is one that is so important. We want to make sure that we continue to tell the legacy and the story of the courage of Mrs. Parks,” Dr. Boyd said. “I think it is important that we are continuing to engage young people to let them know that their actions and their voices do have true power. Mrs. Parks having the courage to refuse to give up her seat and to stand her ground and knowing what was needed to bring about change is something that is so important to telling this story to all generations.”
The annual observance of Dec. 1 as Rosa Parks Day in Alabama came about by a unanimous vote of the Alabama Legislature in 2018. The late Lamar P. Higgins, former member of the Troy University Board of Trustees, played an instrumental role in the establishment of the annual observance, lobbying the Legislature for the bill’s passage.
In addition to the book discussion, the Rosa Parks Museum offered free admission and special displays as a part of this year’s observance.