Rosa Parks’ Archived Writing Reveals Attempted Rape

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Before she was known for her defiant act that catapulted the American civil rights movement into prominence — and placed her at the center of it — Rosa Parks had long been a human rights activist and crusader for social justice.

But the clues to why she was such a passionate activist may come from a handwritten essay, parts of which were released to the Associated Press, detailing her account of an attempted rape at the hands of a white neighbor. The six-page writing is part of a large archive of her personal items sitting in the offices of a New York auctioneer that is expected to be sold off.

“He offered me a drink of whiskey, which I promptly and vehemently refused,” she wrote in her description of the neighbor, who employed her as a domestic in 1931. “He moved nearer to me and put his hand on my waist. I was very frightened by now. He had money to give me for accepting his attentions.

“I was ready to die, but give my consent, never. Never. Never.”

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The archive is currently stored in the Manhattan offices of Guernsey’s Auctioneers, which was charged by a Michigan court to find an institution to buy the materials. “It is wonderful and breathtaking,” said Guerrnsey’s president Arlan Ettinger. “It will be up to the institution that ends up with it to make this material known to the world.”

Parks later went on to investigate for the NAACP the case of Recy Taylor, a 24-year-old Alabama sharecropper who was kidnapped and raped by a group of white men in 1944. She brought widespread attention to that and other cases of rape of black women in the south, but those accused in the Taylor case were never punished. Earlier this year, the Alabama state legislature passed a resolution apologizing for what happened. Now, 91, Taylor has not pursued new charges.

Most people know of Rosa Parks, who died in 2005 at 92, as a lone person who refused to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white passenger in 1955, beginning the historic Montgomery bus boycott and sparking the modern civil rights movement. But Danielle McGuire, a civil rights historian who wrote of Parks involvement in the Taylor case, told the AP she was particularly moved to hear of the account and says it sheds light on Parks’ motivation as an activist.

“I thought it was because of the stories that she had heard,” said McGuire, whose book At the Dark End of the Street, recounted Parks involvment in the Taylor case and in the ‘Scottsboro Boys’ case, in which nine black teenagers were sentenced to death for rape. “But this gives a much more personal context to that.”

Madison Gray is the Homepage Producer at TIME.com. Find him on Twitter at @madisonjgray. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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