One of my munchkins is all about dates and calendars and birthdates (I mean, as am I, but he can memorize them waaaaaay better). The class calendar is always the first thing he looks at in the morning, and I’m pretty sure he’s the only one who updates it daily. When I fixed the calendar for February, he was of course inspecting it immediately upon arrival, and called across the room to tell me that I forgot to put Rosa Parks’ birthday.
“Oh, I did! When is it?”
“February 4th. Sunday.”
“Cool! You can add it to the calendar,” I said.
“I did,” he answered, matter-of-fact. Of course he did!
So then when we went over the calendar all together later, it was already there. And the kids kind of just assumed it was a holiday.
“Since Rosa Parks’ birthday is on a Sunday, can we celebrate it on Friday or Monday?”
Why not? Isn’t she worthy of celebration? So I asked them how we should celebrate.
“Read lots of books about her.” First answer, boom!
“And we could put her picture on the SMART board and sing to her.” Cutest idea ever, I’m sold.
“And we could make a drawing of the bus, and her in it.”
And so that’s what we did. I also picked up treats, because I figured we might as well do it up right. And it was the loveliest possible thing.
I put out all the books I could find (including some I raided from the school library before school). That’s the sweet picture we sang to. And I have to say, the energy was different than when we usually sing for birthdays. It was happy, but gentler.
Maybe they’re supposed to be for Valentine’s Day, but I felt like rose-colored donuts were most appropriate.
After the treats we read Rosa, written by Nikki Giovanni and illustrated by Bryan Collier (who also illustrated Martin’s Big Words, which I didn’t realize but one of my kids did, they’re really something else). The artwork is gorgeous and powerful. There’s a lot of text, making it just right for older readers like mine, and the language is rich (as you’d expect from a poet like Nikki Giovanni) and also accessible
This book adds some depth to Rosa’s story that a lot of the other children’s books don’t touch on. For one thing, Emmett Till. His name is on the front of a newspaper being read by another passenger when Rosa first gets on the bus. The detail caught the attention of one of my kids, so I told them the outline of his story. I described him as a young man, but that must still sound grown up to 9 and 10 year olds, because when I explained that there was so much sadness and anger at his murder, especially since he was only 14 years old, my kiddos gasped. Fourteen?!? Yes. The text goes on to tell a bit of Emmett’s story as well, adding a layer of emotional context to Rosa’s stand and the bus boycott.
I also loved a detail about the Women’s Political Council. The text describes women in the grocery store hearing about Rosa’s arrest, one of whom is Mrs. Jo Ann Robinson. “Mrs. Robinson was also Dr. Robinson,” the book adds, an English professor at Alabama State College and president of the Women’s Political Council...an organization that I had never heard of! Dr. Robinson put out the word for the women of Montgomery to meet that night in her office, where they would put the wheels of the boycott in motion (so to speak) and secretly use the college’s printing press to create flyers to spread the word. Rad!! It was only after their meeting that a larger meeting was held with the local NAACP and church leaders, and the decision was made to ask Dr. King to join them. (My kids let out a small cheer when he appeared.) I looked up the WPC, and found that it was created in 1946!! By another academic!! By Professor Mary Fair Burks, to “fight the institutionalized racism of Montgomery, Alabama, and provide leadership opportunities for women” (www.blackpast.org/aah/women-s-political-council-montgomery). So rad!! By the time Dr. Robinson became president in 1950, the WPC had 300 members, all of whom were registered to vote. She had led the group to focus on bus reform, and had already been considering a boycott for years when Rosa was arrested in 1955. I LOVE that Nikki Giovanni included these usually-hidden figures in her story.
(Also, one of my boys would like to know if there’s a place we can visit to honor and learn about Rosa Parks, “Like, did they save her house and make it a museum?” (Text can’t capture the sweet quirky way he scrunches up his face when he’s thinking hard and explaining his ideas.)
Answer, yes and no: There is a historical marker at her childhood home, but it doesn’t seem to be a museum. We could also go see the marker at the site of the bus stop. While we’re at it, we should probably do the whole Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail and the Mississippi Freedom Trail. Also, The Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University in Montgomery, the only museum dedicated to Rosa Parks, looks wonderful. (www.troy.edu/rosaparks/)
We could also visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and sit next to Rosa on the bus. Oh my goodness, they would loooooooove this. Especially once they see the photo of President Obama doing the same thing. If only it were a tiny bit closer to New Jersey... (www.civilrightsmuseum.org/)
At the end of the day, one of the kids asked, “So is Rosa Parks’ birthday a holiday, like Martin Luther King’s?” Well, darlins, I think you made it one.
Writing about practicing literacy and freedom with my small humans.