The Rebellious Life of Mrs Rosa Parks is not an easy read. Like Parks herself, Theoharis asks hard questions, and tells it like it is. Only a fool would argue nothing gets better, but two months before Bush laid a wreath at Parks’s casket, his government sat on its hands as the overwhelmingly black neighbourhoods of New Orleans were blasted by seawall. Theoharis’s book is a series of challenges: to people who believe racism a thing of the past, to Northern Americans who cast the civil rights struggles as good Northern liberals versus bad redneck wingnuts. It is also a challenge aimed at British people who look down on Americans for their sordid little race problem, while downplaying or ignoring the vast history, and active presence, of bigotry and small mindedness in this country. Above all, this story of Rosa Parks is a testament to the power of history. As the great Southern novelist William Faulkner said: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’
Max Dunbar reviews Jeanne Theoharis’ The Rebellious Life of Mrs Rosa Parks.