American Portraits

Rosa Parks, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Purpose

In this lesson, students will learn about Rosa Parks’ purpose leading to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and how they can act with purpose in their own lives through discussion and analysis.

Founding Principles

Civic Virtue image

Civic Virtue

A set of actions and habits necessary for the safe, effective, and mutually beneficial participation in a society.

Equal Protection image

Equal Protection

The principle of equal justice under law means that every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law. There are no individuals or groups who are born with the right to rule over others.

Equality image

Equality

Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Narrative

On that winter day in Montgomery, Parks, a seamstress, clocked out of her job at a department store. She boarded a bus and sat behind the “colored” section of the segregated vehicle. The bus stopped a couple of times to pick up passengers, many of whom were white and thus filled the front section. The white bus driver walked back to where she was seated, saying, “Move, y’all, I want those two seats [for a white patron].”…

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How might you live a purposeful life?

Virtue Defined

Purpose is my answer to the question “why do I exist?”

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about Rosa Parks’ purpose leading to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and how they can act with purpose in their own lives through discussion and analysis.

Objectives

  • Students will interpret Rosa Parks’ reasons for not giving up her seat on the bus.
  • Students will evaluate the purpose of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Students will understand and apply knowledge about purpose to students’ own lives.

Background

The Civil Rights Movement was gathering strength in the decade after World War II. African Americans had fought tyranny abroad but still struggled against segregation at home, especially in the South. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Supreme Court ruled that racially restrictive Jim Crow laws were legal. The Fifteenth Amendment had guaranteed black males the right to vote, but many were still denied the ability to through restrictions like literacy tests and poll taxes. However, whites who couldn’t read or pay the tax were still allowed to vote if their grandfathers could have before the Civil War. Some African Americans, having little to no protection from law enforcement, were lynched by angry white mobs.

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in the Brown v. Board of Education case that segregation in schools was “inherently unequal” and illegal. African Americans began to chip away at other areas of segregation. For example, in 1953, a Baton Rouge bus boycott in Louisiana was moderately successful at bringing about equality on public transportation in the city.

Rosa Parks challenged segregation on Montgomery, Alabama., buses on Dec. 1, 1955. She wasn’t the first; in two previous incidents in March and October of that year, young women were arrested for not giving up their seat to white people. However, Parks’ refusal to give up her seat spawned a year-long boycott that eventually led to the desegregation of city buses and also focused national attention on civil rights. The boycott also led to increased prominence for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who would help create and lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which would inspire civil rights demonstrations in the next decade.

Vocabulary

  • Tyranny
  • Segregation
  • Jim Crow laws
  • Literacy test
  • Poll tax
  • Lynch
  • Inherently
  • Boycott
  • Oppression
  • Desegregation
  • Indignities
  • Boundless

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was Rosa Parks’ identity in the Montgomery Bus Boycott?
  • What was Rosa Parks’ purpose?
  • Why did Rosa Parks’ refuse to give up her seat on the bus? How did her actions alter history?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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