Students find life lessons in Rosa Parks’ story
by Jessie Gable, special to Tuscaloosa News
On a cool afternoon on Dec. 1, 1955, a minister, nurse, nun and other passengers boarded a bus in Montgomery. The white passengers paid the toll and took their seats in the front, while the black passengers paid the same toll and took their seats in the back. One black woman sat in the middle. A white passenger got on and demanded her seat. The black woman refused.
Sound familiar? It was 53 years ago Monday when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, triggering the Montgomery bus boycott that lasted 365 days and the end of Jim Crow laws in Alabama.
The 2008 version of the story didn’t take place on a real bus. It was re-enacted in a sixth-grade classroom at Lloyd Wood Middle School and the passengers and policemen were 11- and 12-year-olds in Althenia Tate’s social studies class.
‘This story shows that we can make changes without violence or bad language,’ Tate said.
Tate chose to present ‘The Rosa Parks Story: The Bus Scene’ as part of the civil rights movement section of the Alabama course of study. She said the incident also illustrates to students that they can break away from their peers and do the right thing.
‘Too often you see students put values and convictions to the side,’ she said.
The students have been studying Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement for six weeks. In that time, they read the book Parks wrote and watched films about her life.
The students performed twice to a packed classroom of parents, teachers and fellow students Monday.
‘If you put your mind to something, you can do anything,’ said Angelic Wilson, 12, who played Parks in one of the performances. ‘She just wanted to go home and she ended up changing history.’
This is the third year Tate has presented the Rosa Parks story as a play at Lloyd Wood Middle School, although she’s been teaching the history lesson for more than 15 years at Holt Elementary School, where she previously taught.
At the end of the play, one student read a list of all the achievements that Parks earned in her lifetime.
‘Rosa Parks was a very dignified woman,’ said Ty Johnson, 12, who played the white passenger who wanted Parks to move. ‘People need to be like that.’
While learning about the civil rights era as part of Alabama history, the students also learned a little about themselves and what they might have done in her situation.
Nicholas DaSilvavurgo, 12, who played a black minister on the bus, said he wouldn’t have risked as much as Parks did.
‘I would have done the same thing,’ DaSilvavurgo said. ‘But, I probably would have stopped before I got arrested.’
The series of history plays continues Thursday, when Tate’s classes will present ‘The Sacco and Vanzetti Trial.’