Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about Rosa Parks The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Rosa Parks. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist and leader, most known for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus. Her act of defiance helped spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a successful nonviolent protest that eventually led to the desegregation of Montgomery’s bus system. Parks’ fight for equal rights and fair treatment for people of all races is inspirational, and her story helps children understand a difficult time in history. By learning about Parks’ achievements, children can learn how determined individuals can join together to make social change. BrainPOP Jr. suggests screening the movie about Harriet Tubman to learn about another remarkable woman who helped shape history. BrainPOP Jr. also plans to produce more movies on civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her parents separated when she was two years old, and she moved with her mother to a farm near Montgomery, Alabama. Her mother was a teacher, and Rosa was home-schooled until she was eleven years old. She attended the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, which was a private school that focused on providing opportunities for African-American girls. Help your children understand that schools at the time were segregated, which means that whites and people from other races attended different schools. Help them understand that many people – not just African-Americans, but also those from other countries and cultures – were treated unfairly.

Rosa went on to high school, which was run by the Alabama State Teacher’s College for Negroes, but dropped out to care for her sick grandmother and mother. In 1932, she married a barber named Raymond Parks who was also a member of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an organization that advocates equal rights for all people. With her husband’s encouragement and support, Rosa Parks went back to high school and graduated at twenty years old. This is a notable achievement and a prime example of Parks’ determination. At the time, less than 7% of African Americans had high school diplomas. Parks also joined the NAACP and was elected to the volunteer position as secretary for the Montgomery chapter. She became a leader for their youth outreach programs.

Help your children understand what life in the 1950s was like. This is a difficult and sensitive time in history and we recommend having plenty of discussions to help young learners understand and share their thoughts. At the time, whites and people of other races were still segregated in many ways. Jim Crow laws instituted a policy of “separate but equal,” mandating segregation in all public facilities. Schools, buses, restaurants, theaters, bathrooms, and even water fountains were segregated. While many white schools provided bus transportation for their students, “colored” schools were often underfunded and undeserved. Many black students had to walk to school, sometimes several miles. Although it was legal for non-white citizens to vote, it was very difficult to register. Parks had to register three times before she succeeded. Non-whites were often treated unfairly, and found it difficult to gain employment.

In the 1950s, buses in Montgomery were segregated. Whites often rode in the front of the bus, and the “colored” section was in the back. When a bus became crowded, non-whites often had to give up their seats to white passengers. Though this was not a law, it was a general practice in Montgomery’s bus system. Those who did not follow the rule were forced to leave the bus or arrested. Before Rosa Parks took her stand, other African Americans had refused to give up their seats on segregated buses, including Jackie Robinson, Irene Morgan, and Claudette Colvin. However, Rosa Parks’ story stands out because her refusal helped spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

On December 1, 1955, Parks sat down in the “colored” section of a bus. As more white passengers got on the bus, the bus driver asked African American passengers to move. Several did, but Parks refused to move. The driver threatened to call the police and have her arrested. Parks replied calmly, “You may do that.” She was arrested and was released the next day.

Parks’ refusal sparked a discussion in the African American community and people called for action. The Montgomery Improvement Association was formed and the president was a minister named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King helped organize a boycott of Montgomery’s bus system. Remind your children that a boycott is a group of people who join together and refuse to do business with someone or something. Thousands of people refused to ride the bus, opting instead to walk. Some people had to walk many miles to get to work. People walked, biked, rode horses or buggies, and organized carpools. About 75% of Montgomery’s bus ridership was African American, and their efforts had a major impact on the bus company’s finances. Lawyers and activists began working to change the bus segregation laws, and the Supreme Court upheld that segregation on buses was unconstitutional. Finally, the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended. It had lasted over a year, 382 days. The boycott is considered one of the catalysts for the Civil Rights Movement of the following years.

In her later years, Parks founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development which runs tours for young people to see important civil rights sites around the country. She also helped start the Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation to help pay for college for high school students. She wrote several books, including an autobiography for children. She was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, the highest honor given by the president, and the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 1997. Rosa Parks died on October 24, 2005. She was 92 years old. She was laid in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda; she was the first woman and the second African American to be viewed there.

Help your children understand that Rosa Parks’ action led to great changes. People joined together to take a stand and fight for their beliefs. Her story inspired others to fight for change and be a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Use Rosa Parks’ story to encourage your children to seek ways to change and improve their communities and stand up for their beliefs.

Filed as:  K-3, Rosa Parks, Social Studies