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Forgotten Rosa Parks and MLK Arrest Records Found by Court Clerk

Newly uncovered court records reveal what happened after the Civil Rights icons were arrested in Montgomery, Alabama.

When Rosa Parks refused to give her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man in 1955, she was put in handcuffs and arrested. But what happened next? The answer to that question just became more clear thanks to a new discovery: disintegrating court records that detail the legal response to Parks’ arrest.

Court records relating to Parks’ act of defiance and other Civil Rights protests, including those of Martin Luther King, Jr., are finally being made public,according to the Associated Press. While thepolice report relating to Parks’ arrest has long been public, the newly unearthed documents relate to the court proceedings that followed.

Alabama State University Civil Rights Records

A court document filed after Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man on a bus at the archive of Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama. (Image obtained from Alabama State University)

Hundreds of Civil Rights-era records were discovered in a box in the Montgomery County Courthouse by Tiffany McCord, a circuit clerk at the court. They include court pleadings from Parks’ original trial and appeal and information about the arrests of others who boycotted the Montgomery bus system in response. Also included is a bail document signed by King after he was arrested during the Montgomery Bus Boycott he organized in response to the arrest.

Decades of improper storage took a toll on the documents, McCord tells the AP. “They were all bent and folded with rubber bands on them probably dating back to the 1950s. The bands were sort of disintegrating into them,” says McCord.

Now, the documents are on a 10-year loan to Alabama State University, a historically black college. There, archivists will properly preserve the documents and digitize them.

Alabama State Records

Archivist Dr. Howard Robinson looking at court document dating from the early civil rights era at Alabama State University. The university is preserving court documents linked to Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and others that were found in a box at the county courthouse. (Credit: Jay Reeves/AP Photo)

Parks isn’t the only person of interest in the documents: Scholars tell the AP they’ll shed light on bit players in the early days of the Civil Rights movement and help give even more detail and depth to the story. Parks has been called the mother of the Civil Rights Movement for her defiance of Montgomery’s strict segregation laws. The boycott she sparked lasted for more than a year and ended with a Supreme Court case that struck down the discriminatory laws.

It’s not the first time new information about a prominent Civil Rights figure’s arrest has come to light in recent years. In 2016, Nashville officialsrecovered the arrest records of U.S. Representative John Lewis. The records, which included previously unseen mug shots of Lewis in his early twenties, had been buried in the city’s archives and were only uncovered at the behest of a persistent historian.

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