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National African American History Month: Remembering Rosa Parks’ Work to Address Sexual Assault

Rosa Parks is widely known for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. Her defiant act was a catalyst for the Montgomery bus boycott and Parks became an iconic woman in the civil rights movement.

As we celebrate National African American History Month, I want to share another story about Rosa Parks that helped create the foundation of a movement that we are proud to work on at the Office on Violence Against Women.

More than a decade before Parks took a stand for African Americans by refusing to give up her seat on that bus, she provided legal aid to Recy Taylor, who was raped by white men in Abbeville, Alabama.

Taylor’s assault drew the attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where Rosa Parks worked as a secretary. The NAACP sent Parks to Abbeville to investigate.

Like many of us who work to end sexual and domestic violence, Parks had been impacted personally. She was a victim of attempted rape by a white male neighbor in 1931. She later described thinking while resisting the attack: “I was ready to die but give my consent never. Never, never.”

That attack on Taylor was an act of racial dominance to Parks, who helped establish the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor. As a victim who became a survivor, Taylor dared to speak publicly about her white attackers to publicize the assault. One man who confessed named the others who were involved but none were indicted.

In 2011, the Alabama legislature apologized for the failure of its justice system to prosecute the men.

Taylor didn’t get the justice she sought but her experience as a survivor working with a dedicated advocate continue to inspire us.

During National African American History Month, when we celebrate the achievements of African Americans, I honor the bravery of Taylor and the service of Parks. They inspire us as we do our work here at OVW to promote justice and protect victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Updated January 20, 2021