Rosa Parks: The Forgotten Advocate of Sexual Abuse

Alabama, December 1955. A secretary was riding the bus home from work. The bus filled. She was asked to give up her seat so a white man could sit down. She refused.

And history was made.

Rosa Parks is best known as a woman who gave a firm “no” when she was asked to move on a bus. What most people don’t know is that she was not only a civil rights activist but also a childhood sexual abuse survivor. Years before she made history, she was working to get justice for black women who had been sexually assaulted.

When Rosa was 18, a white neighbor assaulted her and attempted to rape her. She said of that incident, “I was ready to die, but give my consent never. Never, never.” Even then she knew that her “no” had power.

Rosa Parks was inspired to join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and part of her job was making sure that black people who had been sexually assaulted were able to have their day in court. She gave black women an ally and a voice.

While everyone has heard of Rosa Parks’ refusal to move on the bus, few know of her amazing work with black women and girls in a time when overt sexual violence against them was commonplace. One can’t help but wonder why. Why do we flit past this remarkable part of her contribution?

One reason may be the discomfort we still have discussing childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape, especially as it affects women of color. We need to make it safe for all survivors of sexual abuse to tell their stories and find hope and healing.

Rosa Parks was a trailblazer in many ways. She overcame obstacles that most of us could never imagine coming across. Her legacy lives on. Let’s credit her life’s work when we talk about this legacy. And let Rosa Parks inspire you with her unwavering ability to say “no” when things happened that she would not stand for.