This is part three of a series on lesser-known heroines of the Civil Rights Era for Black History Month.
Let's talk about a flier that changed the world.
When we talk about the momentum of Rosa Parks, we are talking about Jo Ann Robinson’s dedication and the flier that she used to ignite the bus boycott.
When we talk about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are talking about the movement he lead and the influence he had- partially because of the national prominence he achieved after the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott.
And neither would have been as successful, or as noteworthy without our heroine of the week, Jo Ann Robinson.
Here are 5 facts about Jo Ann Robinson to pique your interest, your students’ interest, and get you started:
- She was valedictorian of her high school, the first of her family to earn a college degree, and later earned a Master’s Degree, taught in college, and wrote a book.
How does this connect to your students? Remind them that whatever they are good at-- they can use. Jo Ann Robinson didn’t grow up around people that were well-educated and it probably wasn’t expected that she would pursue further education. But she wanted to. She was good at it! So, she did. And the world is better for it!
- She was yelled at and chased off a bus for sitting in the “whites only” section (though it was empty) and so she took action. She worked within her community, met with the mayor, was advised by a lawyer, and eventually helped to organize the bus boycott.
How does this connect to your students? Ask them what they would do if they knew something was wrong about the way they had been treated. Robinson neither reacted with violence nor ignored the incident. She was smart, organized, and she didn’t quit.
- She joined the Women’s Political Council, an organization devoted to inspiring African-American women to take political action. She eventually was in charge of the group.
How does this connect to your students? Have them write about ways to make an impact in the world. What organizations stand up for their values? How could they connect with these organizations?
- She wrote and distributed 50,000 fliers overnight after Rosa Parks was arrested. Without her dedication, the momentum of the boycott would likely have been lost.
How does this connect to your students? A flier may not seem very important. Or a single email, or text to someone, or kind word. Have students write about and discuss ways that they can make an impact using materials and resources that they have around them. Discuss how Robinson’s power was in decisive action, and in relying on the help of supporters that night to help distribute the fliers. She didn’t work alone, but she didn’t hesitate, either. She did what she could and she changed the world.
- She wrote a book about the women who organized and led the boycott.
How does this connect to your students? Recall that Robinson’s actions propelled a historical movement forward. And yet, when she wrote about it, she wrote about her collaborators, her sisters-in-arms. Have your students write about the importance of collaboration.
Better yet, have them collaborate on their activity for this investigation!
Here are some ideas for an activity:
- Split students into groups and have them design and create fliers about issues specific to racism today: police brutality, poverty, health issues, education inequality.
- Have student groups make a flier about Jo Ann Robinson herself. Distribute to other classes!
- Give students group writing time to recreate a moment from Jo Ann Robinson’s life. How did she use her education, her collaboration, her values to help others? Students may even want to act out their scene.
When teaching about a new historical figure, make sure to root the person firmly into the historical context. How is Robinson’s connection to Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. significant? In what ways did she contribute to the Civil Rights movement besides her connection with those well-known figures?
Dive into these questions with your students! Even one class period on Ms. Robinson is well worth the time!
Next Week: “Nina Simone and How Art can Change History - Pt 4 of the Lesser-Known Women of the Civil Rights Movement”