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‘Our Auntie Rosa’ looks at familial side of Rosa Parks

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
On March 30, 2015
Rosa Parks

The book tells a warm persperctive from family members of Rosa Parks.
Credit: Elvert Barnes/Creative Commons

Once, many years ago, your grandmother chased your grandpa out of the house. Nobody remembers why or what happened afterward; the particulars are lost, and they aren’t important anymore, really. The laugh-til-you-cry telling, the knee-slapping, each embellishment as years go by – that’s what truly matters. Family stories are the glue that holds you all together.  In the new book, “Our Auntie Rosa” by Sheila McCauley Keys (with Eddie B. Allen, Jr.), you’ll read one family’s recollections of an icon.

For much of their early lives, Sylvester McCauley’s children didn’t know who their favorite aunt really was. Sure, they’d read about the woman who launched the civil rights movement. They’d heard her name said with pride. But for most of them, it took awhile to make the connection: the woman on the bus that day in Montgomery was their Auntie Rosa Parks.

Even after she moved north, after she and her husband and mother came to live with the 11-member McCauley family in Detroit, their Auntie Rosa didn’t much speak of her actions. The nieces and nephews asked her sometimes, but she usually waved questions away. The past wasn’t important to her then. Family was.

The Parks never had any children themselves, so the McCauley kids were happy to absorb any extra love. Their Auntie Rosa was a good cook who loved to entertain. She was steady, supportive, and resourceful but she encouraged independence. An elegant, sharp dresser, Parks was never showy in manner or accomplishment – although she did save all her hate mail.

To the children of her beloved brother and to those she enfolded in her circle, Parks embodied strength and fearlessness. She made sure there was food on tables more than once, and clothes on young backs. Through her mistakes, she taught the power of apology. She counseled them not to judge as they’d been judged, but she showed them that there’s a limit to forgiveness. In her latter years, they say, she was the same calm, determined person she’d always been. And even well into her eighties, she vowed to keep doing what needed done.

With the approaching 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ famous act of defiance, you’re likely to hear a lot about her in the next year. But when was the last time you thought about Mr. Parks?

Yeah, same here. That’s why “Our Auntie Rosa” is so important.

Filled with memories of the Parks’ lives within the raucous, loving McCauley family, this book offers things history doesn’t tell you. Author Keys and Allen weaves her siblings’ memories into a treasury of life, not politics or action. We meet people important to Rosa Parks and, through them, we’re warmed by tales of a real person – tales that, if you never met Parks, will make you mourn for it.

I absolutely loved this memory-filled delight, I loved its balance and I think you will, too. If you’ve ever wondered about the quiet, tiny giant behind the act, “Our Auntie Rosa” is a book to chase down.

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