In her 2002 book The Partly Cloudy Patriot, author and NPR contributor Sarah Vowell tackles the popular history of Rosa Parks. She notes an interesting phenomenon--an increase in the number of people comparing themselves and others to Parks when they confront something difficult. A Secretary of State and a character on TV working for a sports news show both consider themselves like Rosa Parks. How did this happen? When did her historic act of defiance in the name of equal rights become a new public memory of just doing the unpopular?  

Part of the answer lies in how we have taught Rosa Parks to students over the years. The standard story goes something like this: Mrs. Parks had worked a long day as a seamstress and was on a bus home when she was told to move to the back to make room for a white passenger. Because she was so tired, she couldn't muster the strength to get up. In that way, she became an involuntary mover in the struggle for civil rights in Alabama and across the South during the 1950s. Today we know that story to be far from the true history of the incident on the Montgomery bus and even farther from Rosa Parks' heroic life. 


Rosa Parks was a seasoned activist who planned her action on a Montgomery bus.

Rosa Parks Rides the Bus | Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum
Grades: 1-2

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an American activist in the civil rights movement best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott. The United States Congress has called her "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement."

Rosa Parks | Civil Rights Activist
Grades: 3-7

In this lesson, students will get beyond the myths of Rosa Parks’ arrest on a Montgomery bus in December of 1955 in order to understand that she was a person of strong convictions about civil rights and fair treatment. 

Civil Rights Movement Virtual Learning Journey
Grades: 5-10 

Brimming with comprehensive, cross-curricular content, including 14 videos, primary source images and documents, compelling photo galleries, interactive maps, artwork, music, and more, this virtual collection invites students into an engaging exploration of some of the most significant events of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott
Grades: 7-12 

Student reporters lead viewers on a journey through Montgomery, visiting the Rosa Parks Museum and other historic sites pivotal to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Montgomery Bus Boycott - Bus Interview
Grades: 7-12

In this segment, student reporters interview Stephen Stetson of Alabama Arise about the significance of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the political power of bus riders today.

Before Rosa Parks, A Teenager Defied Segregation On An Alabama Bus | NPR's Code Switch
Grades: 6-12

Rosa Parks is well-known for her refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a public bus in Montgomery, Ala., in December 1955. But Parks' civil rights protest did have a precedent: Fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin, a student from a black high school in Montgomery, had refused to move from her bus seat nine months earlier. 

Freedom Riders: Before Rosa Parks, There Was Irene Morgan
Grades: 6-12

In 1944, Irene Morgan was arrested for refusing to sit in the back of an interstate bus. She fought her arrest, all the way to the Supreme Court.Excerpted from, American Experience: “Freedom Riders.”

Is the Rosa Parks Story True?
Grades: 6-12

We all know Rosa Parks as the tired old lady on a bus who unknowingly sparked a civil rights firestorm by refusing to give up her seat in Montgomery, Alabama. But is that true? Not entirely. Rosa Parks was a radical, civil right activist who spent years fighting for justice and she knew exactly what she was doing. In fact, she wasn’t even the first black woman to refuse to give up her seat.

The Story We Did Not Know About Rosa Parks
Grades: 9-12

Later in her life, Rosa Parks developed friendships and political allies with heavy hitters in civil rights movements around the world, from Malcolm X to Nelson Mandela. Gwen Ifill talks to Jeanne Theoharis, author of the biography, "The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks," about Parks' influence globally, as well as her financial struggles post-boycott in the 1950s.

It Takes Courage to be Weak | The African Americans
Grades: 9-12

In this lesson, students begin by analyzing quotations about activism and social change, and rewriting them in their own words. Students view video segments from The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross to learn about the philosophy of non-violence and about the role of nonviolent protest in the Civil Rights Movement. They conclude by writing first-person accounts from the point of view of a civil rights protester in 1950s and 1960s America.

Children's Books About Amazing Women
Grades: K-5

Have you ever thought that one person can change an entire country and save hundreds of lives? Celebrate some of the amazing women, including Rosa Parks, who have affected more lives than they could have imagined, all on the pages of these books.

A Tale of Two Ladies
Grades: 6-12

An example of prejudices in the South is portrayed by two parallel cases -- that of Catherine Brown of Alexandria, Virginia in 1868 and that of Rosa Parks of Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Both woman attempted to sit in the "white only" section of a passenger vehicle and were forced to leave. These two "Jim Crow" cases reached the Supreme Court and the decisions reached in both cases, although many years apart, were strikingly similar. Dr. Pettigrew outlines attitudes in American history that he feels have contributed to racial prejudice.

Sign Post to Freedom: The 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott
Grades: 6-12

Signpost to Freedom: The 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott is a one hour documentary that recounts the circumstances and events that led to the nation’s first large-scale boycott protesting segregation and then examines its impact on the evolution of grassroots civil rights activism across the country during the early years of America's Civil Rights Movement.

Celebrate the Life and Legacy of Rosa Parks
Grades: 6-12

While Parks may not be the first African American to challenge the status quo of segregation laws in the south, her quiet yet courageous act of protest in 1955 earned her the nickname "Mother of the Freedom Movement." This collection features web-exclusive features from trusted public media partners. Get started now. Be inspired by the legacy of Rosa Parks.

Interview with Rosa Parks
Grades: 6-12

This video contains an interview with Rosa Parks conducted for Eyes on the Prize. Discussion centers on life in Montgomery, her decision to refuse to comply with segregation on the bus line, and the bus boycott.

Rosa Parks Immortalized with a Statue
Grades: 6-12

A statue of civil rights icon Rosa Parks was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall. Parks was the first woman and only the second African-American to lie in state in the rotunda after she died in 2005. Gwen Ifill reports on the ceremony.


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