While Rosa Parks is known for her pivotal role in history in refusing to give up her seat on the bus, her cousin Dr. Angela Sadler Williamson unpacks Parks’ tireless activism before and after that moment in her documentary “My Life with Rosie.”
The filmmaker was celebrated as Iowa Wesleyan University’s 2019 Belle Babb Mansfield Award winner this past week during the two-day Belle Babb Mansfield Symposium.
This is the fifth Belle Babb Mansfield Award and Symposium at IW.
The Symposium began on Wednesday, March 20, with a showing of “My Life with Rosie.” The conversation continued with students at IW on Thursday, March 21, with a student-led discussion on topics from navigating the world of broadcast journalism and higher education.
That evening, Williamson delivered a keynote address at a formal dinner, speaking about “150 Years of Women Changing America’s Story.”
The Belle Babb Mansfield Award honors Mansfield’s accomplishment as the first woman to take the bar exam in 1869 in Mt. Pleasant, and recognizes a woman who “exercises leadership in the spirit of Belle Babb Mansfield,” said Sara Titus, member of the leadership team for the Mansfield Symposium.
Williamson is also a member of the P.E.O. Sisterhood and is currently serving as the publicity chairperson for the Inland Empire.
‘My Life with Rosie’
The 64-minute documentary tells the story of Rosa Parks from the perspective of her cousin Carolyn Williamson Green. While history books give us a glimpse into Parks’ activism, Williamson’s documentary goes further and tells the story of a woman who was an activist for Civil Rights long before and long after she was frozen in time as the woman who sparked the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955.
“A story doesn’t change in one moment, it changes in many moments one step at a time,” Williamson said.
Williamson said that Green has been keeping the memory of Parks alive all these years.
“I never studied Rosa Parks extensively,” Williamson said. “She was one piece of a puzzle of a movement. There’s so much people don’t know. There’s a reason my aunt (Green) takes this memory to heart. She was a lot more than not giving up her bus seat.”
One scene depicts Green sitting on the same bus Parks sat on when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat. The bus now resides at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.
Williamson said when she stepped on that bus during filming, she got the same feeling she had when she met Parks.
“Goosebumps because you realize in a way you are rubbing elbows with history,” Williamson said.
One of the most famous images of Parks is one where she is sitting on the bus defiantly looking out. But Williamson said in that photo she is actually sitting in a different bus seat than the one she was arrested from.
“How simple it is for us to get it wrong and not mean to but continue to tell other generations the wrong part of history,” Williamson said.
Through creating “My Life with Rosie,” Williamson said she learned that anyone, no matter what obstacles they fear in life, can make a change to better humanity. She has “extra zeal” to learn more stories of how a person got to that moment where they changed history.
“I think we all have a little activism in us,” Williamson said. “It’s important to me to share the back story. It’s not one moment, it’s all those tiny moments.”
‘150 Years of Women Changing America’s Story’
During the event Thursday, IW President Steve Titus said Williamson wasn’t being recognized for her accomplishments, but for who she is as a person, describing her as someone who “speaks with a sense of purpose.”
Williamson said she simply sees herself as a vessel to continue to tell stories that changed America’s story.
“As a child studying the Civil Rights, I always knew Rosa depicted as a person who was tired,” Williamson said. “I set out to tell not only the story of the Montgomery bus boycott, but my aunt’s (Green) tireless efforts to continue Rosa Parks legacy.”
Williamson said Parks isn’t the only woman whose story has been narrowed to one sentence in the history books.
“Women have spent years before heroic acts laying a path to change,” Williamson said. “Rosa’s ... early efforts set the path to change America’s story.”
“My Life with Rosie” can be viewed on Amazon Prime.