About the Book
In Rosa Parks: From the Back of the Bus to the Front of a Movement, Camilla Wilson tells the story of Rosa Parks, a truly remarkable woman, also known as the mother of the civil rights movement. Rosa McCauley grew up in Pine Level, Alabama, where she experienced segregation and the fear of the Ku Klux Klan. After she met Raymond Parks, their interest in advancing the rights of African Americans drew them together and they married. While she earned her living as an assistant tailor in a department store, Rosa Parks used her secretarial and organizational skills to do important work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She eventually became the advisor to the NAACP's Youth Council.
Rosa Parks felt that the segregation on buses in Montgomery, Alabama, was unfair. Many African Americans were treated badly on the buses, and there was nothing they could do without putting themselves in danger. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks showed that she had had enough. When she was asked to get out of her bus seat so that a white person could sit, she simply refused. The bus driver called two police officers, who arrested Rosa Parks for violating the Alabama segregation law. This gave the African American community the opportunity they needed to test segregation itself in court. In the meantime, the community quickly organized a bus boycott that lasted roughly 380 days, until the Supreme Court finally outlawed segregation on buses. After her great victory, Rosa Parks could no longer get a job from white people in Montgomery. She moved to Detroit with her husband. Her first job was as a seamstress, but eventually she got a job as a Congressional aide for John Conyers Jr. While the civil rights movement grew, she was invited to attend major events, but as time went on, fewer of the young people even knew who she was. However, by the 1980s, she began to get the recognition she deserved, earning honorary degrees from colleges and universities. In 1996, President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award. In 1999, the U. S. Congress gave her the Congressional Medal of Freedom. She still works today for the institute she founded, the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development.
Discuss with students what life was like for African Americans living in the United States before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. You might want to encourage students to research various aspects of life for African Americans, such as voting, sports, transportation, and education. Encourage students to talk to older members of their extended families about changes they have seen in the country in terms of civil rights.
- Why was it dangerous for young Rosa to defend herself against a white boy who threatened her?
- Why were the buses so important for African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama? Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that on the first day of the boycott "a miracle had taken place." What did he mean?
- Rosa Parks did not always get the recognition she deserved from young people in the civil rights movement, and women in general had less important jobs than men in the movement. Do you think that her experiences make a case for the importance of women's rights as well as the rights of African Americans?
- Rosa Parks experienced injustice many times because of her race — from her experiences having to go to a poor school for African American children to her treatment on the buses in Montgomery. Do you think a young African American girl today would experience the same kinds of injustice?
- How did the actions of Rosa Parks help to give Martin Luther King Jr. his start as a leader in the civil rights movement?
- Do you think that we still need leaders like Rosa Parks to help right injustices today? Can you think of examples of leaders like her?