Using the Rosa Parks Collection to Foster Student Inquiry of Parks’ Depictions in Civil Rights Narratives, Part 2

This post is courtesy of Katherine A. Perrotta, Part-Time Assistant Professor of History, Kennesaw State University, as an extension of an earlier article, Constructing a Narrative with Students about Civil Rights Icon Rosa Parks from Her Notes. An earlier post laid the groundwork for these teaching ideas.

Rosa Parks endures as an iconic historical figure in social studies textbooks, trade books, and literature. Comparing the narratives in those secondary sources to primary sources from the Rosa Parks Papers can foster student inquiry to develop a more complex understanding of her role in the Civil Rights Movement as a life-long activist.

General reflections on race relations in the South, 1956-circa 1958, undated; Folder 2

The process of historical inquiry involves answering questions and asking new ones based on evidence that is available to historians from sources. Facilitate student discussions about how historians determine what information is included in historical narratives by asking:

  • What kind of sources do historians use to learn about the past?
  • Where can historians find these sources?
  • What kind of information can these sources contain that tell historians about the past?
  • What kind of questions do you think historians can ask about the past from analyzing these sources?

Students can deepen their understanding of the toll racial oppression might have had on Parks’ personal and professional life by examining her recollections and documents she kept after her arrest. Parks reflected on living in the Jim Crow south:

There is just so much hurt, disappointment, and oppression one can take…Time begins the healing process of wounds cut deeply by oppression… Let us look at Jim Crow for the criminal he is and what he had done to one life multiplied millions of times over.

The collection houses a poll tax receipt in which Parks paid $1.50 in Montgomery County. This document highlights how Parks and other African Americans continued to experience racial discrimination.  If time allows, facilitate discussion and additional research with students on why poll taxes were initiated, and how issues of voter disenfranchisement connected to Parks’ activism.

Rosa Parks Papers: Miscellany, 1934-2005; Receipts; Poll tax, 1957

To help students synthesize their ideas, pose the following questions as an individual reflection or small group discussion:

  • What major similarities and differences did you observe about the depictions of Rosa Parks in your secondary sources and the primary sources from the collection?
  • Why do you think there was information that you found in Rosa Parks’ documents that are not included in other items you read about the Civil Rights Movement?
  • What other questions do you have about Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement from this investigation? What other sources do you think you would need to find the answers to these questions?

Students might write an essay, citing examples from primary and secondary source evidence, to evaluate how documents from the collection support or refute popular narrative depictions of Parks.

There are many insights to be found in a close study of the Rosa Park Papers. Please share your students’ discoveries with us in the comments!













Was Hammurabi Pro-Temperance? The Importance of Critical Reading and Historical Context

According to an article in the August 28, 1912, edition of The Presbyterian of the South, “The attempts at regulation [of alcohol] failed and the civilization of Babylon was snuffed out in an orgy of drink.” An article like this presents an opportunity to teach students how to read content critically and to place it in historical context.

Learning Beyond the Original Purpose with Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

In the November/December 2017 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article features a 1910 map of South San Francisco, San Mateo County, California. The map was created for the unique purpose of documenting estimated fire hazards, and resides in the Sanborn Map Collection, part of an ongoing digitization project at the Library of Congress.

Three New Civics Interactives Explore Congress and Civic Participation through Primary Sources

Step behind the camera with the photographers who fought against child labor. Build a timeline that traces African Americans’ journey toward freedom. Discover how Congress has been involved in the expansion of voting rights throughout U.S. history.

Beginning on Friday, November 17, students are able to do all these things and more using a set of three new free educational interactives, all of which make extensive use of the online collections of the Library of Congress.

These interactives were developed by three organizations selected by the Library to create web- and mobile-based applications related to Congress and civic participation, for use in K-12 classrooms. The three organizations are the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia; Indiana University’s Center on Representative Government, in Bloomington, Indiana; and Muzzy Lane Software, of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Each project takes a different approach to the subjects, and each is based on the rich historical primary source items that the Library makes freely available at

The three civics interactives are:

  • Eagle Eye Citizen, developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Eagle Eye Citizen engages middle and high school students in solving and creating interactive challenges about Congress, American history, civics, and government with Library of Congress primary sources in order to develop students’ civic understanding and historical thinking skills.

Read more »

Join Us at NCSS in San Francisco

Education specialists from the Library of Congress and members of the Library’s Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Consortium are looking forward to meeting with you and sharing ideas on using primary sources in the classroom during the NCSS conference in San Francisco from November 16-18.