What you need to know

WASHINGTON — You may think you know Rosa Parks. But a new exhibit aims to educate further about the late activist and civil rights icon.

Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words,” a new exhibition opening at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, reveals Rosa Parks was more than the acts of heroism that made her famous. Yes, Parks famously declined to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus in 1955, but she was also an activist before and after. She fought against inequality and injustice for decades and wasn’t even to the halfway point of her life upon her arrest. 

“We wanted to get beyond the legend,” Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, tells USA TODAY. “Beyond the tired woman on the bus.”

And beyond the exhibition does go. Here’s a look at what we saw during a preview. .

What the Rosa Parks exhibit looks like

Visitors to the nation’s capital will already be awestruck by the Library of Congress’s striking exterior, featuring tall columns and statues of mermaids. Head inside and you’ll be treated to intricate artwork along the walls and hike up the stairs or take the elevator to get to the exhibit itself. You’ll walk through the Library of Congress’ ongoing exhibition about women’s suffrage: “Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote.”

Whether you’re looking around or closing your eyes and listening, you’ll be immersed in everything Rosa Parks, from her early activism to supporting Jesse Jackson for president with pictures to videos to quotes to handwritten letters.

“It is better to teach or live equality and love … than to have hatred and prejudice,” one quote on a screen reads.

The Rosa Parks collection includes 140 years of family history and approximately 10,000 items, according to Adrienne Cannon, curator.

The handwritten letters stand out as the most compelling. Papers featuring her impeccable cursive handwriting weave throughout the exhibit, housed in traditional museum glass cases but also blown up as posters. David Mandel, the director of the Center for Exhibits and Interpretation at the Library of Congress, points out how she would write things on the fronts and backs of documents, including an envelope and even a pharmacy bag.

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