You probably think you know the story of Rosa Parks, the seamstress who refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Ala., 60 years ago—on Dec. 1, 1955—and thus galvanized the bus boycott that was a defining moment in the American civil rights movement. You also probably think you know what she looks like — from her mugshot most likely, or a picture of her being fingerprinted, or perhaps a later photo of her seated, looking out the window, on an integrated bus.
But those three images are often taken out of context and, more importantly, only tell part of the story, according to historian Jeanne Theoharis, distinguished professor of political science at Brooklyn College and author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
The mugshot and finger-printing images often used to illustrate stories about her stand on the bus were actually taken months afterward, after she presented herself for arrest when Montgomery criminalized the carpools that the city’s black community was using to orchestrate the bus boycott. The bus image meanwhile was staged at a later date; the man sitting in the seat behind her is a reporter.