Teaching the Montgomery Bus Boycott
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.
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.
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:
- Code of the City of Montgomery
- Montgomery Advertiser article 12/6/55
- Montgomery Advertiser article 12/9/55
- “Negroes’ Most Urgent Needs”
- “Western Union Telegram: Diamond Brothers”
- Montgomery Advertiser article 4/26/56
- “Integrated Bus Suggestions”
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.
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.