The Montgomery bus boycott: a model for historical thinking in education

The Women’s Political Council fought bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, prior to the 1955 bus boycott but these women are often neglected in teaching about the civil rights movement. Women such as Jo Ann Robinson, who led the Women’s Political Council in Montgomery in the 1950s, as well as the women involved in Browder v. Gayle, that ultimately declared bus segregation to be unconstitutional, are important to understanding the bus boycott in its complexity. These women were tireless innovators who blazed the trail for the boycott to be successful. Their often forgotten achievements are important in understanding the role of women in the boycott and the boycott itself. Highlighting the complex and underlying causes of the boycott and women’s role in the boycott teaches students that the boycott did not “just happen.” It was the result of gendered, racial and economic tensions gradually brought to light by people willing to bravely challenge the status quo. Emphasizing primary source investigation, this project proposes 11th grade history curriculum on the bus boycott and the Women’s Political Council that serves as a model for incorporating historical thinking in history educators’ classrooms. Primary source material used in this project to demonstrate the origins and strategies of the WPC, include memoirs and oral histories of women “trailblazers” such as Jo Ann Robinson, Mary Fair Burks and Rosa Parks; voting records, bus passenger population, and voting and census records; legal documents such as laws specific to bus segregation and the Browder v. Gayle Supreme Court. Finally, history pedagogy references include educational studies produced by Sam Wineburg. The Women’s Political Council was the catalyst for the Montgomery bus boycott. The black female professors and professionals in Montgomery were the original trailblazers of the civil rights movement. The Montgomery bus boycott and the WPC provide an excellent model for teaching a complex civil rights event, encouraging critical thinking, and historical thinking skills