Rosa Parks: Interpretation 3

Robin Kelly

Race Rebels

Robin Kelly rejoins a popular image of Rosa parks as a misfit, a rebel, or a troublemaker. Indeed, Parks, while perhaps one of the most well-known examples, was not the first African-American woman to defy segregation.

More importantly, while Parks’s arrest is often credited with sparking the civil rights movement, Kelly shows that the Birmingham, Alabama’s bus system was the battleground for a civil rights struggle over segregation in public space 10 years before Parks was arrested. The Birmingham events were neither as publicized nor as successful as in Birmingham—at least in terms of affecting wholesale change—but they demonstrate an African-American working class that attempted to grasp agency and local power in a segregated South.

Robin Kelly, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York: Free Press, 1996).