By Julia Zorthian
February 25, 2016

More than 10,000 items, including photographs, hand-written correspondence and personal reflections, comprise the Rosa Parks Collection at the Library of Congress–and now virtually all of it has been digitized and made available to the public.

That means anyone can explore the 7,500 manuscripts and 2,500 photographs in the collection, which spans the years 1866 to 2006, and offer a distinct window into both the professional and personal aspects of the civil rights hero’s life.

There were a few bumps on the archive’s road to this public accessibility. When Parks passed away in 2005, her heirs and friends disagreed over who should inherit these possessions. The ensusing legal battle lasted for years and ensured that no one had access to the thousands of documents in the meantime.

As a result, the documents went up for sale to the highest bidder in 2014 and a charitable foundation run by Howard Buffett, son of Warren Buffett, bought the entire archive for $4.5 million. Buffett said he purchased the collection in order to preserve it for the public. He loaned it to the Library of Congress for 10 years at the end of 2014, and the Library opened the archive to researchers in February of last year.

The vast majority of the collection — including letters from presidents and the hat that Parks may have worn when she first declined to give up her bus seat — is searchable through the Library of Congress website. The items that could not be digitized are still available for viewing in person at the Library.

Write to Julia Zorthian at julia.zorthian@time.com.

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