Rosa Parks Was Not ‘An Accidental Revolutionary’

February 23, 2023
Dean Matthews & O'Brien
Rosa Parks Was Not ‘An Accidental Revolutionary’

The award winning journalist Soledad O’Brien discussed the documentary “The Rebellious Life of Rosa Parks”

Awarding-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien inspired an enthusiastic Lee Hall Auditorium audience Thursday, February 9, as she discussed the documentary, “The Rebellious Life of Rosa Parks.”

Speaking in conversation with Valencia Matthews, Ph.D., dean of the Florida A&M University College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, O’Brien explained how her role as executive producer of the one-hour-and-36-minute film allowed her to see the mother of the civil rights movement in new and fascinating ways.

Soledad O'BrienSoledad O’Brien speaks in FAMU’s Lee Hall Auditorium during the FAMU Black History Month Conversation. (Credit: Glenn Beil)

She learned that much of Parks’ story has been sanitized and watered down.

“There was not a thing accidental about Rosa Parks. The story that her feet hurt and she just sat down – that’s just not true. She was not an accidental revolutionary. She would say, ‘when I said I was tired, I was tired of being pushed around.’ Why do we love the idea of the accidental activist rather than the civil rights strategy that was hardcore and well-planned? Those were the things I was interested in,” O’Brien told the rapt audience.

A speaker, author, and philanthropist, O’Brien anchors and produces the Hearst Television political magazine program “Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien.”

O’Brien is the founder and CEO of Soledad O’Brien Productions, reports for HBO Real Sports, the PBS NewsHour, and WebMD, and has authored two books. She has appeared on Fox and Oxygen networks and anchored and reported for NBC, MSNBC, and CNN. O’Brien has won numerous awards, including three Emmys, the George Peabody award, an Alfred I DuPont prize, and the Gracie. Her documentary production company is dedicated to uncovering and producing empowering, untold stories that take a challenging look at often divisive issues of race, class, wealth, opportunity, poverty, and personal stories.

Soledad O'Brien eventAn appreciative audience filled FAMU’s Lee Hall Auditorium to hear Soledad O’Brien discuss the documentary on civil rights activist Rosa Parks. (Credit: Glenn Beil)

Along with her husband, O’Brien founded the PowHerFul Foundation, which “gets girls to, and through, college.” The Black History Month Conversation was held as part of the philanthropy’s efforts. “This conversation deserves to be in the category of the great things that happen at FAMU every day,” said President Larry Robinson, Ph.D.,  in welcoming O’Brien.

O’Brien said that one largely untold part of Parks’ story was the personal cost of her activism. “She lost her job. She was prideful and would never say she was owed anything. The first time Rosa Parks had insurance was when she worked for Congressman John Conyers (from Detroit),” O’Brien said. “She believed in moving this forward. She was a remarkable woman. It was great to be able to tell her story fully.”

O’Brien said she wanted those who viewed the documentary to realize that there are many unheralded heroes of African Americans’ struggle for civil and equal rights.

“So many people were written out of the history of the Civil Rights Movement because they were women. People get left behind. Accurate history is very important. People who get left out should be put back in,” O’Brien said to loud applause from the gathering.

Parks was distinctive in her brand of activism, O’Brien said.

“The documentary makes clear that Rosa Parks believed ‘I am here to make things better for Black people,’” O’Brien said. If Parks were around in 2023, she would support Black Lives Matter, O’Brien said. “Rosa Parks embraced movements aggressively and openly. She supported any movement that supported opportunities and fairness and justice for Black people.”