Imagine working at a laborious job all day long, often standing on your feet to cook or clean, sweating in the hot sun from outside work, bending over to wash clothes or shine shoes. Then, having to travel home on the bus if walking wasn't the most practical option or if you were unfortunate enough not to be able to afford a car at all, you had to sit or stand in the back after you paid your fare in the main entrance. If you were fortunate enough to get a seat, if someone considered "white" wanted your seat, they'd ask you to move. That is what life was like for many Black people living in the United States during institutionalized segregation over 60 years ago., and Rosa Parks, a seamstress working in Montgomery, Alabama, was no exception. Preceded by Claudette Colvin, another woman arrested nine months before Parks for refusing to give up her seat on the bus, Parks' action got the nation's attention. The NAACP seized this as an opportunity to begin the end of legalized segregation in public places, and after a year-long boycott that nearly crippled the busing industry in Montgomery and a ruling by the Supreme Court declaring this practice unconstitutional. Many non-violent boycott methods were inspired by the over one year of boycotting this injustice, to their success.Some lesson seed ideas are:
- Read stories about Rosa Parks. Big Universe has two books you may use; one is titled Rosa Parks by Cynthia Amoroso and Robert Nayed and the other is Rosa Parks: A Life of Courage by Tonya Leslie. Make a visual timeline where each student or pair of students chronicle the events of Rosa's life. Find pictures or quotes from Rosa through your research, and be sure to cite the sources.
- Have students research about the people involved with the boycott and create a Who's Who board with biographies, their roles in the boycott and associated court case Browder v. Gayle, and how their lives were changed because of the boycott or a court case.
- Have students write what life could be like without the success of the Montgomery Boycott. They can write poems or essays discussing their feelings. An alternative to writing could be illustrating how life could be like without this particular event happening.
- Recreate the scene of Parks being arrested by making a simple background of the bus and using props for the bus seats, bus driver attire, police, etc. Write the script in kid-friendly language and perform it for younger students in the school.
- Get students to debate about whether the boycott was necessary. Perfect for older students, help students research the various viewpoints and divide them into teams.
- Have students think about situations that may need to change in their schools or communities. After discussing them, help students to organize ways to express their feelings. They can write to their elected officials, create a public service announcement, or have a rally where they talk about the issues from their points of view.
For some of these ideas, it would be best practice to get the support of the administration in your district prior to implementing. However, promoting students' voices not only allows them to apply their learning in a real-world context, but it also prepares them to actively participate in the civic duties of our nation as well. Rosa Parks stood for equity and for making sure that every person is treated with respect and dignity.