Students in the museum

Rosa Parks (1913–2005)

Rosa Parks 1913–2005  |  Born Tuskegee, Alabama  |  by Marshall D. Rumbaugh (born 1948)  |  Painted limewood, 1983

With a courageous act of civil disobedience, Rosa Parks sparked a challenge to segregation that culminated in one of the seminal victories of the modern civil rights movement. On December 1, 1955, while traveling on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the seamstress was arrested for refusing the driver's demand that she surrender her seat to a white male passenger. When Parks was convicted of violating local segregation laws, Montgomery's African American community launched a massive one-day boycott of the city's bus system. The boycott expanded with the help of Martin Luther King Jr. to last 382 days, ending only after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled bus segregation unconstitutional.

Marshall Rumbaugh is a self-taught sculptor who uses the visual language of folk art. The simple figures, bright colors, and three dimensionality of this work convey his message. Although he never met Rosa Parks, Rumbaugh was struck by her quiet dignity in the face of racism and discrimination. The two men holding Parks in the portrait are obscured by their dark glasses and function as types or caricatures, whereas Parks is depicted as an individual. Although Rumbaugh depict Parks at the most undignified moment of the ordeal, she appears as a strong figure, carrying her handbag and her blue hat is still perched on her head. She is dressed in the patriotic colors of red, white and blue. In contrast, the two men, whose eyes are obscured by their sunglasses, are wearing drab colors and are much larger than Parks, but are two-dimensional; Parks is smaller, but is more substantial as a three-dimensional figure.

While Parks is seen resisting a specific instance of injustice, she certainly also symbolizes struggle within an entire movement. As Jesse Jackson said on the occasion of her death, “She sat down in order that we might stand up.”

  • Compare the representation of the two men to the representation of Rosa Parks. Consider perspective and proportion. Why might Rumbaugh have made these decisions?
  • Consider color in this portrait. How does color help tell the story?
  • What moment of Rosa Parks’ story is depicted? How do you know?
  • If this portrait came to life, what will happen next? Be sure to consider the pose of the figures.