Saturday, January 24, 2015

Our Auntie Rosa: The Family of Rosa Parks Remembers Her Life and Lessons

Title:  Our Auntie Rosa: The Family of Rosa Parks Remembers Her Life and Lessons
Author:  Sheila McCauley Keys, Eddie B. Allen Jr.
Publication Information:  Tarcher. 2015. 208 pages.
ISBN:  0399173897 / 978-0399173899

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Shelf Awareness.

Opening Sentence:  "Coming from such a simple background in rural Tuskegee, Alabama, Rosa Louise McCauley probably never imagined she would one day be known around the world."

Favorite Quote:  "She was a woman who showed leadership without ever once, in nearly 100 years of living, holding a formally designated title or rank. She would become great simply by acting on what she believed."

Rosa Parks. To the world, she is the "mother of the freedom movement," "the first lady of the civil rights movement," and the woman who refused to give up her seat. To her family, she was simply Auntie Rosa.

Rosa Parks left the South both to be closer to her family and to get away from the increasing racism in the South. The move came in 1957, shortly after the Montgomery bus boycott. She continued her work in civil rights from Detroit, Michigan but in a much less public way.

Detroit was home to her only sibling, Slyvester whom she called "Brother." Rosa Parks and her husband were unable to have children, but they were surrounded by Slyvester's thirteen children. These children all had the privilege of her love, understanding, and guidance.

This book is a collection of their memories of their Auntie Rosa. It is compiled by Sheila McCauley Keys, who is seventh in age amongst her siblings. The book is anecdotal, with each of the thirteen sharing stories either singly or as a group memory. Each anecdote is only a few pages in length and speaks about a particular incident or time and of Auntie Rosa's impact on their life.

The anecdotes are grouped by topic - family, forgiveness, strength, encouragement, and vision. The book gives a peek into the private application of these principles in a life so widely known for the public display of these characteristics. It is somewhat like a highlight reel of positive family memories.

The descriptions of Auntie Rosa as a strong, principled woman are not surprising. The similar tone of most of the anecdotes - the idea that her strength carried through to her love of her family - is not surprising. The book does have two surprises.

One is the fact that most of her nieces and nephews did not know of Rosa Parks's contribution to the civil rights movements until they learned about it through school or some other source. Perhaps, that is a testament to her quiet way of displaying courage - to put it into actions not words. Perhaps, it is a family's concern for their children - an effort to shield them from the hatred and prejudice that existed, and still exists, in the world. Perhaps, upon reflection, it is not surprising at all that they did not know.

The other is the story of a conversation between Rosa Parks and her niece Shirley that addresses the question of what actually happened on the bus on the day in history. We know the reverberations of the event were felt through time and place; they are felt still today. However, do you know what actually happened?

Other than that, does the book add to the knowledge of Rosa Park's contribution to the world? Do family story impact the way we will think of her? Probably not, but perhaps that does not matter. The book is a tribute - a love letter to Auntie Rosa from her family.

Side research note:  Often, upon reading history or historical fiction, I find myself researching the topic and wanting to know more. With this book, very little can be found about the Rosa Parks' nieces and nephews except in context of a bitter court battle over her estate. Her financial assets were not significant, but the value of the memorabilia about her is invaluable historically and significantly valuable even financially. According to a variety of articles, Rosa Parks' will bequeathed her estate to the charitable Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, naming her friend Elaine Steele to oversee.  Her nieces and nephews claimed undue influence and sued. The legal battle continued on for several years. Only, in 2014, was the archive of material finally sold. The buyer is Warren Buffett's son. The proceeds of the sale are split between the foundation and all the nieces and nephews.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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