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Last week, the calendar advanced from February—African American History Month—to March—Women’s History Month. Who better to lead us from one historic month to the next than Rosa Parks, Mother of the Civil Rights Movement?
This past week was an historic one for Rosa Parks. On Tuesday, February 27, Rosa Parks became the first African American and woman to be memorialized in the Capitol building’s National Statuary Hall with a full-size statue. Hers is the first full-size statue commissioned by Congress since 1973. The statue of Parks captures the moment in 1965 when she refused to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery bus. (Scroll down and read the brief biography.)
At the dedication ceremony, President Obama commented, “In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world… And today, she takes her rightful place among those who shaped this nation’s course. We do well by placing a statue of her here, but we can do no greater honor than to remember and to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction.” The dedication ceremony took place in the Capitol Rotunda, where Parks’ statue will stay before moving to its permanent home in the nearby National Statuary Hall. It was a coming home of sorts for Parks; upon her death in 2005, Parks became the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.
Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott—
Rosa Parks’ “simple gesture,” as President Obama called it, was her refusal to follow the bus driver’s directions. Watch segments of an interview with Rosa Parks and hear first-hand her memories of the day she was arrested. Discover who inspired her, and her thoughts on family, and the American Dream. You will want to watch and read all three pages in the interview section; be sure to use the page numbers at the bottom so as not to miss any. Read a biography of Parks’ life. As you watch and read Parks’ story, what resonates with you? Consider: what is happiness and how is it achieved? What are Parks’ thoughts on happiness? Why is Rosa Parks considered an American hero? View a photo gallery of images from Parks’ life. Select one image and write a response to it: a letter, a diary entry, a poem.
Riding the bus today is very different than it was in 1955. Rosa Parks’ refusal to move highlighted the discrimination against African American riders and the segregationist requirement that they relinquish their seats to white riders. What other rules governed bus passengers? What were the legal foundations for these rules? Take a virtual bus ride in 1955 to give you an idea of what the experience was like. Read about the eight categories on page 6 before you board the bus. This will help you tune your historical context to 1955. Follow the bus ride through to the very end, page 39. Spend time answering and discussing the questions posed on page 39.
Visit The Story Behind the Bus to read how Parks’ arrest led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. View the three timelines to see how Parks fits into the national fight for civil rights in America. We know what happened to Rosa Parks…whatever happened to the bus?
PBS’ American Experience series also sets the historical context for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Read excerpts from newspaper articles that covered the Boycott. When buses were desegregated, the stakes were high. Many Montgomery whites were not pleased with desegregation and any provocation would be an opportunity to fight it. Desegregation may have been the new legal; however, history had shown legal and actual were two different realities. To protect riders and a fragile new reality, the Montgomery Improvement Association shared a flyer for riders to guide their behavior on the newly desegregated buses. How would these guidelines help protect riders and the Civil Rights Movement? In the video section, find and watch an excerpt of Eyes on the Prize about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. (It is also available on YouTube.)
Rosa Parks was not the first female to stand up for justice by sitting down on a Montgomery public bus. Rivers of Change introduces five Montgomery women who also refused to relinquish their seats in 1955. Meet the women who paved the way for Rosa Parks: Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith, Aurelia Browder, Sue McDonald, and Jo Ann Robinson. Scroll down to watch a news story that shares their story.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott spawned an organized fight for civil rights. While Rosa Parks may be the most famous woman to fight for civil rights, she is not America’s only African American Civil Rights heroine. Meet other women who worked to improve life for scores of Americans. Discover who was Ella Baker? Hear Duke University professor William Chafe explain the significant role Baker played in the Civil Rights Movement.
Meet Septima Clark. Hear an excerpt from a 1976 interview with her in which she reflects on her role in the Civil Rights Movement. What challenges did she and other women involved in the Civil Rights Movement face? What skills did she bring to the Movement? How did socio-economic factors influence the work she did? There is no timer on the audio; line the blue play bar up with the “C” in “Christian” and listen to Clark’s discuss other women involvement in the Movement.