Famous Person: Rosa Louis Parks

Related Topics: Civil Rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., NAACP, Courage

Grade Level: 3rd/4th

Author: Amber L. Robson




Who is the woman many call, "The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement?" Her name is Rosa Parks. She was also awarded the NAACP's Spingarn Medal and the Martin Luther King, Jr. nonviolent-peace prize. In 1984, Rosa Parks was given the Eleanor Roosevelt Woman of Courage award. Where did this legacy begin?

February 4, 1913, Rosa Louis McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. When she was a young two years of age, her father moved out on Rosa, her mother, and her little brother Sylvester. At this time the small, split, family of three moved into Rosa's grandparents were ill, Rosa took over the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and sewing. This proved to be only one of the many trials that Rosa Park would face in her life.

Rosa's early experiences were not different than those that many African-Americans experienced at this time. Noted on more than one occasion was the idea that Rosa would walk past nice, modern white schools on the way to an old building, the school for blacks. It was a one-room building with no windows, desks, or books.

After hard work as a hairdresser and seamstress her mother earned enough money to send her daughter away to school. The result was such that at the tender age of eleven, Rosa moved to Montgomery to live with her aunt. While there, she enrolled in the Montgomery Industrial School for girls. Due to a lack of funds, Rosa cleaned classrooms after school to pay her tuition. Before her graduation at this institution Rosa's mother became ill and begged her to return home. Rosa was unable to complete high school until after her marriage.

At the time that Rosa was arrested on December 1, 1955, she was acting secretary for the NAACP. She had been active in several other cases prior to the Montgomery bus boycott There had been several previous arrests due to bus seating, however, they had not protested their cases like Rosa did. Rosa knew that the NAACP needed a plaintiff to use in protest to higher courts about the buses in Montgomery. Her intentions this Thursday were not preplanned. In the book, Rosa Parks: My Story (Haskins and Parks, 1992) Rosa Parks states, "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, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

On this day Rosa was arrested due to failure to give her seat up to a white man. When the NAACP heard of her arrest they put their plans into motion. They used a minister, somewhat new to the area, to help them. This minister was Martin Luther King, Jr.. Today, and since this incident Martin Luther King, Jr. has been a well known Civil Right's Leader. After a meeting, the NAACP contacted local church leaders to spread the word about a boycott of the bussing system. Support was overwhelming. On one occasion during the boycott over one hundred people were peacefully arrested. At the beginning of the boycott taxi drivers offered reduced fairs, but this was soon ruled against the law. Times became harder for those who normally rode the busses.

After a long year of threats and misfortune, the segregation of busses was ruled unlawful. This ruling came from the Supreme Court on December 20, 1956. Television camera's followed Mrs. Parks on December 21, 1956 as she posed in the front seat of a Montgomery bus.

The threats toward Mrs. Parks didn't end after this ruling was handed down. She moved out of Alabama to Detroit in 1957. By this time, the harassment had died down, however, she still felt that a move would be in her best interest. In he years since, Rosa has been the recipient of several awards and opened her own Institute for Self-Development. This is a community-center environment that offers programs for youth to help them continue their education and have a strong hope for the future.


1. Beckner, Chisanne. (1995). 100 African-Americans Who Shaped American History. San Mateo, CA: Bluewood Books.

2. Altman, Susan. (1989). Extraordinary Black Americans. Chicago, IL: Children's Press, Chicago.

3. Conta, Marcia Maher. (1979). Women For Human Rights. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Raintree.

4. Haskins, Jim and Parks, Rosa. (1992). Rosa Parks: My Story. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.

5. McKissack, Patricia and Fedrick. (1987). The Civil Rights Movement in America. Chicago, IL: Regensteiner Publishing Enterprises.


  1. Students will be able to describe Rosa Parks' contributions and how they affect us today through the presentation of the mini-unit.
  2. Students will be able to identify important events occurring at this time in history by participation in the KWL and historical perspective activities.
  3. Students will be able to use tools of persuasive writing by participating in a writing activity.
  4. Students will understand what motivates ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary tasks.
  5. Students will be able to express their thoughts about Rosa Parks by paying tribute to her in writing.
  6. Students will understand feelings of African-Americans at this time in history by participation in the simulation and The Story of Ruby Bridges.



Time Allotment: Approximately one week, 5-7 class periods.

Resources Needed:

Handouts from Appendix (Note from webmaster - I'm not sure what handouts Amber Robson is speaking of here. She has not provided any additional material on our website other than this page. I'm trying to contact her about this, and will update this page again when I hear back from her.)

Posterboard Rulers and/or sticks

Book, The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles.


A. Introduction:

Teacher read, The Story of Ruby Bridges, to the class. This is a story about a little girl named Ruby. She was the first African-American to go to the all-white school in her neighborhood. People called her names and the other kids stopped going to the school! The teacher will then lead a discussion. He/She will do so by asking the children if they have ever stood up for something that they felt was right. Talk about how they felt, and how they think that they would have reacted if they were in Ruby's place. Rosa suffered the same kind of persecution that Ruby did.


This is a way of assessing what the children know, want to know, and learned. To begin the unit, ask students what they know about Civil Rights and Rosa Parks. Record their responses on a posterboard under the heading "K". Then ask the students what they want to learn, and write their comments under the "W." When the mini-unit is completed, return to the charts with the students and on another posterboard record responses of what they have learned. This is a great closure activity for the unit. It also allows the students to direct and be involved in their learning, hopefully giving a sense of ownership. Other activities prepared for the unit can be extended to meet the needs of what the students want to know.

C. Mini-Lecture/Time Line:

Discuss important events of Rosa Parks' life with the students. This will provide them with the background necessary to optimize learning throughout the remainder of the unit. Use a time line to show how the Civil Rights movement came about, and the components of it. Focus on the concept that Rosa Parks was later often called, "The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement." Discuss the various changes in laws that came about during this time. Review with verbal questioning if necessary.

D. Historical Perspective:

Teacher will have a variety of resources available to the students at this point. These may include: World Wide Web access, encyclopedia's, various history books, old magazine articles, newspaper clippings form this period of time. (These are all available at most public libraries.) The students will each be required to discover one item that was going on at this period of time. For example, Elvis was singing at this time. These will be shared orally with the class and written on paper to be turned in.

E. Simulation:

This is an activity designed to limit the students' choices. The students will be instructed that they must make a picture of their home or neighborhood to be displayed in the hall for all of the school to see. Tell them that they must do their best work, and it will effect their grade. Then pass out the crayons to the children. Boys can only use yellow and blue, and girls can only use the red and orange. Instruct them that they can't share, and that they can't complain because nothing will be done about their complaints. After the art is turned in discuss the children's feeling. Be sure to probe the question, "How did you feel when your choices were being limited and you had no say in it? and, Did it make you feel worse that you knew there were other colors possible, but weren't allowed to?" Discuss the structural and funding differences between the white and black schools at that time of history. Assure students that this assignment gets full credit simply for being done.

F. Writing Integration- Persuasive Writing:

Read the boycott address given by Martin Luther King, Jr. Talk to the students about what kinds of things you can add to a story to make it persuasive. Remind them that all of the black people followed the boycott after this speech was given. Have the students write a paper about something they feel strongly about. Be sure to address the ideas of a good persuasive paper, including: supporting your idea with facts, testimonials, list the other point of view and work from it, give reasons for what you are doing and why it's important, etc.

G. Tribute to Rosa Parks:

Teacher will explain to the students that we have discussed some very important historical events. We have focused our class discussions on Rosa Parks and her contributions to our society. Give each student a piece of paper with the words, "A Tribute to Rosa Parks" on the top of it. The student will then use their creativity in writing a tribute to Rosa Parks, as if they were writing a speech in her behalf. Students will be allowed to do additional research if they wish to do so. When the students have finished the letters and/or tributes to Rosa Parks compile them into a classroom book entitled, "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement." Teacher may also decide to have the students enter the tributes and/or letters onto the World Wide Web. (This may depend on the classes previous technology training and abilities.)



  1. Contributions to class discussions relate to the mini-lecture and K-W-L will be assessed informally through observation.
  2. Persuasive papers written by the students to demonstrate keys of persuasive writing assessed formally.
  3. Students notes on one relevant item in this period of history will be assessed informally through observation of the children's participation.
  4. Students will be assessed informally through observation and class discussions in response to "The Story of Ruby Bridges."
  5. Students independent research will be assessed formally. These must be relevant to the time period and shared orally.
  6. Students will be assessed orally on the simulation activity. They will be observed in class discussions. Teacher will listen for emotions, and relevancy.

Boycott Address Given By: Martin Luther King, Jr.

There comes a time that people get tired. We are here this evening to say to those who have mistreated us so long that we are tired--tired of being segregated and humiliated; tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression.. . For many years we have shown amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we like the way we are being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice. One of the great glories of democracy is the right to protest for right. . . If you will protest courageously and yet with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written in future generation the historians will pause and say, "There lived a great people a black people who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization." That is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility. (Eyes on the Prize, page 76)

Persuasive Writing Guidelines:

Stephen Toulmin divided a typical argument into three parts:

1. The Data: the evidence to prove something

2. The Claim: what you are proving with the data

3. The Warrant: the assumption or principle that connects the data to the claim

The ideal triangle model of persuasive writing includes:

1. Appeal to Logic

2. Appeal to emotions

3. World View and Credibility

An emotional appeal was given by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech, "I Have a Dream." Dr. King's speech did not tell its audience anything new to them, for the listeners were mostly African-Americans disappointed in the American dream. The speaker appeals not primarily to reason, but to feelings and to the willingness of his listeners to be inspired.