Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (ca. 1955)
Ebony Magazine/Public Domain
antecedent / justice

Before the Bus, Rosa Parks Was a Sexual Assault Investigator

The civil rights icon also played a key role in pursuing justice for the victims of sexual assault.
2017 may well become known as the year of #MeToo. But the women standing up today are in fact part of a long history of activists fighting sexual harassment. And one of the activists more commonly associated with another movement was a key figure in early attempts to rectify sexual injustice: Rosa Parks.

Revered as a civil rights icon, Rosa Parks is best known for sparking the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, but her activism in the black community predates that day. She joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1943, 12 years before that fateful commute. In her first years in the organization, she worked specifically on criminal justice and its application in Alabama communities.

One part of this was protecting black men from false accusations and lynchings; the other was ensuring that black people who had been sexually assaulted by white people could get their day in court. This particular issue was close to Parks’ heart as in 1931 a white male neighbor had attempted to assault her.

Parks resisted and later said of the incident, “I was ready to die but give my consent never. Never, never.” That incident was on her mind when she traveled to Abbeville, Alabama, in the autumn of 1944 to deal with a disturbing case chronicled in the new movie The Rape of Recy Taylor.
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