As an historian I spend considerable time, both in the classroom and out, attempting to set the record straight on a number of matters where myth has replaced reality.
I do this not simply to debunk heroes and heroic events in our history. In many cases, such myths serve a valuable purpose.
But in some cases, myths take away from the historical record, which is actually more valuable in providing the nation with figures worth emulating and events worth recalling.
One such case is that of Rosa Parks, whose 100th birthday we celebrate this year.
As most of us already know, Rosa Parks was the spark that set off the Montgomery, Ala., Bus Boycott.
What is less well known is that contrary to popular accounts, Parks did not refuse to move to a seat in the back of the bus simply because she was too tired. Rather, she was an active member of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and intentionally created the incident to give the organization what it needed to move against segregation in Montgomery.
Parks' activism was the product of her childhood experiences. Following her parents separation, Rosa lived with her mother and her grandparents, both of whom were former slaves. Her grandfather subsequently became a well known opponent of the Ku Klux Klan.
Rosa attended segregated schools in Montgomery, but was forced to leave before graduating from high school to support her family.
On Dec. 1, 1955, she refused to give up her seat in the whites-only section of a Montgomery bus, as the result of which she was arrested and jailed.
The Montgomery NAACP organized the Montgomery Improvement Association to lead a bus boycott in response to Parks' arrest and elected newcomer M. L. King, minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, its leader.
The boycott incurred considerable violence, but it also brought the bus company to its knees, financially, and to its capitulation to the protesters' demand for bus desegregation on Dec. 20, 1956.
Parks and her husband paid a dear price for their actions. Both lost their jobs and were forced to move to Detroit, where she was employed as a secretary and receptionist in U.S. Rep. John Conyer's congressional office.
In 1987, Parks cofounded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. In 1992 she published her autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Parks the Presidential Medal of Freedom, followed a year later by Congress awarding her its Gold Medal.
Following her death in 2005, Parks' body lay in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.
On Feb. 27, 2013, 14 days after the date marking the 100th anniversary of her birth, President Barack Obama unveiled a statue honoring Parks in the Nation's Capitol building.
Page 2 of 2 - There is no need to embellish the story of "The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement." Rosa Parks earned her place in our history on her own.
Bryan Le Beau is an historian and vice president for Academic Affairs at the University of Saint Mary.