This investigation of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott focuses on the stories we tell about the past.

Rosa Parks is one of the best known figures in American history and students most likely enter your class knowing a particular story about Rosa and the Montgomery bus boycott. That story emphasizes the bravery of a “tired” seamstress and casts her refusal to give up her bus seat as an unprecedented act of defiance. Similarly, the subsequent Montgomery boycott of a segregated bus system is portrayed as spontaneous.

To challenge this simplified and inaccurate story, the warm-up activity focuses on a concrete question that students often answer with confidence--where did Rosa Parks sit? The answer is not immediately clear given the two documents. By carefully reviewing the evidence, students discover that the affidavit, given its signatories, is the more reliable source.

The main inquiry further complicates and challenges students’ narratives about Rosa Parks. They read primary sources that document the leadership and extensive planning behind the boycott and the ugliness of the opposition--all of these directly challenge the familiar story or narrative.

Use this module to teach students that historical narrative is grounded in evidence, and that the tremendous mobilization of the Montgomery Bus Boycott was more than a one-woman show.

On this teacher page, you will find lessons, worksheets, alternative source versions, samples of student work, and an annotated webography to help you teach this unit.