Teaching the Montgomery Bus Boycott


Lessons | Books | Photos & Primary Documents | Websites | Film

Students learn from pre-school through high school that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in Montgomery, the buses were desegregated, and the Civil Rights Movement was launched. The disconnect between Rosa Parks’ arrest and the 381-day boycott creates the illusion that it was a spontaneous response to Rosa Parks’ civil disobedience. This, however, discounts the strategic brilliance and courage of the African American community in Montgomery.

It is critical for students to learn that 50,000 citizens had to sacrifice everyday for over a year to sustain the boycott and change the course of our history. Recognizing the citizens of Montgomery does not diminish the actions of the politically astute Rosa Parks, but rather puts her in context of a greater social struggle for justice.

As Herbert Kohl explains in his article The Politics of Children’s Literature, “When the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott is told merely as a tale of a single heroic person, it leaves children hanging. The idea that only special people can create change is useful if you want to prevent mass movements and keep change from happening.”

Here are resources for teaching the more complete story.


Mythbusters Quiz on the Montgomery Bus Boycott (PDF) and Quiz Answers
This quiz with educational answers, created by Teaching for Change, is designed for grades 6-12 and for professional development

Role Play: Montgomery Bus Boycott Organizing Strategies and Challenges (PDF) and Handouts (PDF)
A five part lesson for grades 7-12 helps students understand the challenges faced by the Montgomery Improvement Association as they worked to organize and sustain the boycott for 381 days. From Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching.

Dramatization of the Bus Boycott for First and Second Grade (PDF)
How to introduce the story of the boycott to young children. From Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching.


Rosa by Nikki Giovanni

Beautifully illustrated, this is one of the only children’s books that firmly places Rosa Parks within the context of the Movement, including the murder of Emmett Till and the organizing of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, the Women’s Political Council, E.D. Nixon, etc.

Rosa Parks by Eloise Greenfield

A children’s book written by Eloise Greenfield and illustrated by Gil Ashby on the life of Rosa Parks.


Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

The story of Claudette Colvin, a teenager who refused to give up her seat in the year leading up to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Based on extensive interviews with Claudette Colvin and many others, Phillip Hoose presents the first in-depth account of an important yet largely unknown civil rights figure, skillfully weaving her dramatic story into the fabric of the historic Montgomery bus boycott and court case. [Description from Powells.com]


Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman

This book for upper elementary and middle school tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Russell Freedman presents all the key personalities and events that contributed to the yearlong struggle, a major victory in the Civil Rights Movement.


She Would Not Be Moved by Herb Kohl

An updated and expanded publication on his original discussion on how this historical event is distorted and stripped down in classrooms. With an introduction by Marian Wright Edelman, this book also includes a contribution by Cynthia Brown on Septima Clark, Virginia Durr, and Rosa Parks. She Would Not Be Moved features a teacher’s guide explaining how to evaluate textbooks written for young people, a resource guide to educational materials about Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement, and a dozen photographs.


Daybreak of Freedom: The Montgomery Bus Boycott

Reverberates with the voices of those closest to the bus boycott, ranging from King and his inner circle, to Jo Ann Robinson and other women leaders who started the protest, to the maids, cooks, and other “foot soldiers” who carries out the struggle.

Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950′s through the 1980′s.

In this monumental volume, Henry Hampton, creator and executive producer of Eyes on the Prize, and Steve Fayer, series writer, draw upon nearly one thousand interviews with civil rights activists, politicians, reporters, Justice Department officials, and hundreds of ordinary people who took part in the struggle, weaving narratives of the Civil Rights Movement told by the people who lived it.


The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson.

Coretta Scott King writes of this book: “This invaluable first hand account of the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott, written by an important behind the scenes organizer, evokes the emotional intensity of the Civil Rights Struggle.”

Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching

Goes beyond the trivial pursuit of names and dates and has several lessons and readings that promote critical thinking and learning on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Rosa Parks, and the citizens whose sacrifice and courage helped change the course of our history.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis

The definitive political biography of Rosa Parks examines her six decades of activism, challenging perceptions of her as an accidental actor in the civil rights movement.

Photos & Primary Documents

Smithsonian Institutions Traveling Exhibit: 381 Days.
An exhibit on the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

National Archives and Records Administration offers “Teaching With Documents: An Act of Courage, The Arrest Records of Rosa Parks.”

The Alabama Department of Archives & History offers online:


Montgomery Bus Boycott: They Changed the World
See video clips of civil rights pioneers as they explain the events surroundings the boycott, voices of the boycott, news articles, and more.

Teaching Tolerance, Freedom’s Main Line
Learn how activists in Louisville, Kentucky successfully campaigned against segregated streetcars in this excerpt from the Teaching Tolerance curriculum kit “A Place at the Table.”

Voices of Civil Rights: Ordinary People. Extraordinary Stories
Contains first-hand accounts, historical timelines, and photos. Joint project of AARP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), and the Library of Congress, 2004.

Film and Audio-Visual

Teaching About the Montgomery Bus Boycott
First grade teacher Maggie Donovan (SNCC veteran) introduces her students to the fight to desegregate the buses, placing Rosa Parks in the context of the larger community efforts. Film by Teaching for Change. 2006. 15 min.

Women and the Civil Rights Movement (PDF)
A copy of a power point presentation by Professor Elsa Barkley Brown, University of Maryland-College Park, on women in the Civil Rights Movement with a focus on transportation boycotts.


Please email us if you have corrections and/or any resources we can add for teaching about the Montgomery Bus Boycott.