Using Primary Sources in the Classroom
Civil Rights Movement Unit
Lesson 1: Riding the Bus - Taking a Stand
1. Background information for teachers:
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a black seamstress, was arrested for refusing to obey a Montgomery bus driver's order to give her seat up for a boarding white passenger as required by city ordinance. Such municipal and state laws designed to separate the races were common in the South at the time. These segregation codes were increasingly onerous to African Americans, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka struck down legal barriers to school integration in 1954. Outrage in Montgomery's black community over the arrest of Rosa Parks sparked a boycott against the city's bus line -- the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Working closely with a long-active African-American leadership extant in Montgomery, Atlanta-born Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged as the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) which organized the boycott. As the MIA's demands expanded beyond more flexibility in bus seating to include more equal access to other municipal services, racial tensions increased during the standoff. Preaching a course of non-violence, Dr. King was convinced that the cause could be won through a combination of dignified behavior and economic pressure on the part of the protesters.
The Boycott ended in December 1956, over a year after it began, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of buses in Montgomery.
NOTE: For additional information regarding the Montgomery Bus Boycott, see Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson; edited, with a foreword by David J. Garrow. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, c. 1987.
2. Learning objectives:
1. Identify the policy of segregation which existed in
3. Suggested Actvities:
2. Read Document 1, Sec. 10 - 11 aloud. Have the class discuss city laws and Mrs. Parks' arrest on December 1, 1955.
(According to police reports from the time period, Rosa Parks was charged with violating Sec. 11.)
3. Allow the students to read Document 3.
4. As a class, list the requests for changes as reported in Document 3.
5. Allow the students to read Document 4. After having read Document 4, tell the students that these items were presented to the Montgomery City Council in 1955 prior to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
What similarities and differences can be found between the requests presented in Document
3 and those presented in Document 4?
7. Show the students an overhead transparency of Document 5. Ask the students why they believe Mr. Diamond took this position. What kinds of conclusions can be drawn about other businesses and economic investments in Alabama during this time period?
8. Allow the students to read Document 6.
What is the stand of the editor? Is the issue being discussed desegregation of buses or is the issue the dismissal of the "separate but equal" policy for every situation?
10. Allow the students to read Document 7. After reading the document, discuss with students their opinions concerning the suggestions. Point out the pattern of nonviolence that Dr. King used as a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Why was nonviolence an important issue to Dr. King?
11. Ask each student to make a list of rules for riding a school bus or for working together in a classroom.
12. With the students' assistance, make a class list of rules for riding a school bus or for working together in a classroom.
13. Give each student a copy of Document 7.
14. Ask the students to mark those suggestions which match the class list for riding a school bus or for working together in a classroom.
1. Code of the City of Montgomery, Alabama.
Charlottesville: Michie City Publishing Co., 1952. Alabama
Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.