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Classful

Learning history in school is one of the most important aspects of education.

It’s a subject that enriches the education system greatly and provides an insightful look into the shaping of America, the world, and the way we live our lives today.

Not only can history teach us about why society is the way it is today, the cultures of the world, and our ancestors, but it can also teach us about tomorrow. Understanding history gives us the full picture of any societal concept, and this clear understanding allows us to think of ways things can improve in the future. So, not only is it giving us a look into the past, but it’s also giving us a look into our future as we can learn from it and not let history repeat itself.

This is why history is such an important subject throughout education. Young people deserve to learn a wide range of history about their country and the world. That’s why we will discuss Rosa Parks’s importance throughout this article and explain why it’s so important to tell her groundbreaking story in our history classes.

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Who is Rosa Parks?

Rosa Parks was an African American woman who lived from 1913 to 2005 and is notoriously recognized as one of the leading faces of the civil rights movement in the United States. She is deemed a trailblazer of equality and is recognized more widely for her involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott that kickstarted the momentum of the civil rights movement. This happened because, in 1955, she refused to give up her seat for a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her actions inspired leaders of the Black community, manifested in the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott led by a young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This boycott lasted over a year. They ended once the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that bus segregation was unconstitutional. This sparked a much larger conversation that was needed, thus marking the start of a necessary and alarmingly delayed change.

Parks became a nationally recognized beacon of hope and prosperity, and her attitude symbolized strength and dignity when faced with the adverse challenge of ending entrenched racism and segregation. Still today, her legacy lives on as she is praised for what she did for the Black people of America and, ultimately, the world. We tell her story today in our schools as an integral part of the inheritance and a symbol of equality, acceptance, and compassion. Her strength has dressed the classrooms of the world, and her audacity should be celebrated in whatever way we can.

A timeline of her life

To tell Rosa Parks’ story to complete justice means you must look at the timeline of her achievements and the events that made them happen. Below we will take you on an insightful journey of Rosa Parks’ life. Take a step into history and discover more about the mother of the modern-day civil rights movement than before.

Rosa Parks’ Early Life

To understand the strength and courage that came from the depths of this revolutionary woman, you need to understand how it got there. What events occurred, which people shaped her in her formative years that gave her the ability to understand and utilize the power of saying ‘no’. That’s why we begin her timeline in her early years.

In 1913, Rosa Louise McCauley was born to her parents, James and Leona McCauley, on February 4th. She was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, before they all moved when Rosa was two years old to Pine Level, Alabama, to be with Leona’s parents. Her brother, Sylvester, was born in 1915 before her parents separated.

Her family greatly valued and understood the importance of education, arguably because her mother was a teacher. At age 11, Rosa moved to Montgomery, Alabama, and attended a laboratory school at the Alabama State Teacher’s College for Negroes. She left school early during the 11th grade to care for her sick grandmother and, shortly after, her chronically ill mother, just 16.

Rosa married a self-educated man ten years her senior named Raymond Parks, in 1932. He worked as a barber but was proudest of his long-standing membership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He supported Rosa in getting her high-school diploma, which she succeeded in doing the following year.

Education was clearly at the forefront of her life, and because of this, we can assume her drive and motivation were inspired by her understanding of the power of knowledge.

Rosa Parks: Roots of Activism

While working as a seamstress, Rosa and her husband were respected members of Montgomery’s African American community. The city was an accumulation of black people co-existing with white people in a place governed by “Jim Crow” segregation laws. It was known to be a struggle with daily frustrations that demonstrated the sheer discrimination and ignorance towards black people.

There were limitations to what black people could do, where they could go, and whom they could speak to. There was an apparent societal hierarchy that shaped the lives of everyone and was based on a fundamentally flawed belief system that fuelled injustice and prejudice. Black people couldn’t go to a certain schools. They were only allowed to attend inferior ones. They could drink only from specific water fountains, could only borrow books from the “black” library, and only use the “colored” toilets as well as other restrictions.

Despite Raymond’s previous discouragement due to the threat to her safety, Rosa joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP as a chapter secretary in December 1943. Working closely with the chapter president, Edgar Daniel Nixon, a railroad porter. He was known in the city as an advocate for the right to vote awarded to Black people. He was also president of the local branch of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union.

Rosa Parks Is Arrested

Arguably, one of the most important days of Rosa Parks’ timeline events was the day of her arrest. The event took place on December 1st, 1955. It began when the now 42-year-old Rosa Parks was on her daily commute home from work at the Montgomery Fair department store.

She was traveling by bus – a municipal bus. These buses enforced a Negroes-in-back policy which was part of the segregation law that insisted that the seats towards the front of the bus were reserved for white people only, and towards the back were the seats designated for black citizens. Due to their demeaning nature, a black resident of Montgomery often avoided municipal busses; however, 70% or more of its riders were typically made up of black people – and on this day, Rosa Parks was one of them.

Although segregation was written into law, it was only custom that bus drivers had the option and authority to request that a black person give up their seat. However, many of the Montgomery laws on books were a contradiction: one says that segregation is to be enforced literally. At the same time, another suggests that no person could be asked to give up their seat. However, the latter is largely ignored.

At some point in this journey, a white man got on the bus. Upon seeing that no more “white” seats were available, the driver insisted that the riders in the first row of the designated “black” section were to move back a row. This was to create an entirely new, additional row of seats for white people and remove a row for black people. The three others obeyed, whereas Parks refused. She took a stand by remaining in her seat.

Eventually, two police officers arrived at the scene as the bus had stopped and placed Parks in custody.

Later in her life, she clarified: “people always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically… no, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

The news of her arrest spread quickly, and when Parks was released on bail that night, Nixon was also there. It had been years of hoping for Nixon to meet a black person with the will of unwavering honesty and integrity with the courage to use it as a plaintiff in a test designed to test the legitimacy of the segregation laws. He convinced Parks, alongside her husband and mother, that she was that plaintiff. Alongside this, the black population of Montgomery was to boycott the buses on the day of her trial, December 5th. Thirty-five thousand flyers were mimeographed to be sent to the homes of black families in the area.

On the day of her trial, Parks was found guilty of violating segregation laws and was given a suspended sentence and fined $10 alongside $4 court costs. Black participation in the boycott was even more significant than optimists had expected. This encouraged Nixon, as well as other ministers, to take advantage of the gained momentum and led to the forming of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). This was to manage the boycott and saw the election of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, who was both new to Montgomery and only 26 years old, as its president.

The boycott saw appeals and related lawsuits wandering their way through courts up to the Supreme Court, as well as anger and violence shown by the white population of Montgomery. Not stopping the boycott, the disruption gained national and international attention in the press.

November 13th, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that the bus segregation law was unconstitutional, seeing the end of the boycott on December 20th, a day after the written order arrived in Montgomery. Parks received harassment all year and lost her job due to her involvement; however, she was now awarded the title of “the mother of the civil rights movement.”

Life after the boycott

After the boycott was no easy ride for Parks and her family:

  • Continued harassment
  • Moved to Detroit
  • Became an administrative aid in the Detroit office of Congressman John Conyes Jr. – 1965
  • Her husband, brother, and mother lost their battles with cancer
  • Co-founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development to serve Detroit’s youth
  • Lent support the civil-rights events in her retirement, even by traveling
  • Awarded the Congressional Gold Medal
  • Died at 92, October 24th, 2005 – became the first woman to lie in honor at the U.S Capitol

How to teach your students

Educating your students on the courage of Rosa Parks is essential, and numerous teaching ideas are available to help you. Some of these are:

  • Educational videos
  • A visual timeline
  • Make fact files
  • Write a newspaper report on the incident

And many more fun ways to teach the importance of Rosa Parks’ bravery.