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  International Women’s Day, dedicated to the achievements of women today and throughout history

By Laydell Wood Harper
Tell Us USA

DETROIT - On Sunday, March 8th was International Women’s Day. The day dedicated to celebrate the achievements of women today and throughout history. We must keep in mind the Amy Klobuchar’s and the Elizabeth Warren’s of the world would have never been able to seriously compete in the 2020 election without the strong women of the past paving the way for them.

Women like Rosa Parks, known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott. The United States congress named her “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement.” Her strength and perseverance remain an integral part of the American history landscape.

On March 5, 2020 Time Magazine listed Mother Parks as one of the 100 Women of the year in Time’s list of the most influential women of the past century.

And, on December 5, 2019 a new Library of Congress exhibition, “Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words opened to the public. But not without an opening reception and to my surprise the program cover shot of Ms. Parks was taken by a former Detroit News photographer, Donna Terek . For many years Donna was the only woman photographer at The Detroit News, leading the way for other women photographers. Her work is highly respected. Donna is an important part of Women’s History. I spoke with her recently to hear the story behind this now celebrated photo. To have one of her photos appear on display in the Library of Congress is significant. Here is her story;

“Mother Parks was named a Michiganian of the Year in 1993 by The Detroit News, where I was a staff photographer. When it was time to photograph the twelve or so award recipients, Ms. Parks was in and out of town.

Her companion and personal assistant Elaine Steele and I spoke a couple of times as I tried to get an appointment for a portrait sitting.

I really wanted to get that portrait. I called Ms. Steele one more time. She and Ms. Parks were already in California. (As I recall, on that trip an elementary school was named for her, and Mesa College was named the San Diego-Mexico branch of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Human Rights and Self Development).

During our brief conversation, Ms. Steele mentioned the name of the hotel chain where they were staying. I figured they would be staying at the one nearest the schools they were visiting. I told my director of photography Tom Hardin I thought I knew where they were staying; could I go to San Diego? "Go," he said.

So I hopped a flight with all my lighting equipment and a backdrop that would tie her portrait in with the other Michiganians who had come to The News photo studio for their sittings. I checked into their hotel and set up a photo studio in my room.

Then I called Ms. Parks' room.

Elaine Steele answered and said something like, "Did I not tell you we would be in San Diego?" I hesitated, then said, "Well, so am I (pause) in fact, I'm right upstairs from you. All Mother Parks would have to do is come up to my room and sit in a chair for 20-30 minutes."

She left the phone for a tense few minutes. When she returned she said Mother Parks agreed to sit for me if I came to an event that evening where San Diego Mesa College was named the San Diego-Mexico branch of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Human Rights and Self Development. She wanted me to see the good things her institute was doing.

I was ecstatic. Of course I would attend.

When she came to my door I was struck by how tiny she was and worried I'd picked the wrong chair for the set. We had a quiet hour together during which she was serene, friendly and very dignified. I was pretty star-struck. I wish I could remember more details but, honestly, what I remember most is how nervous but determined I was. I really wanted to make the best photograph of her I could, one that captured her spirit.

When the Library of Congress contacted me about using the photo in their exhibition of Rosa Parks’ personal papers I was taken by surprise. When the library acquired the collection, among the personal letters and photographs they found the framed black and white print I'd made and signed for Ms. Parks and decided to make it the "face" of the exhibit and the cover of the companion book "Rosa Parks in Her Own Words.

When I walked into the Library of Congress for the opening of the exhibit I saw the photograph projected on a giant screen above the stage where U.S. Rep. John Lewis would give an address about Ms. Parks’ role in the Civil rights movement. I was overwhelmed. People were snapping pictures of it with their phones and posting it online – the photograph had a new life.

Donna’s story is why we celebrate Women’s History month. There are so many stories of women’s accomplishments that still need to be told.


 

 

 

   
 
 

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