Any attempt to distill a life — whether in a biography, encyclopedia entry, or biopic — is necessarily partial. This activity is one way educators can have students engage with the different choices historians and others make about what to include and exclude when attempting to sum up Rosa Parks’ life. The lesson draws upon the 2022 film, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks (based on the book of the same name by Jeanne Theoharis) to build students’ critical reading skills of timelines, a mainstay of K–12 history curricula and textbooks. Too often, timelines are presented as “simply the facts ma’am,” rather than as human curated collections of information that can shape our understanding of “the facts” through choices about what is and is not included.
The activity begins with students reviewing the Library of Congress’s Timeline covering the life of Rosa Parks, 1913–2005, which has only about 20 entries, and offers minimal context for the events it includes. Next students watch the film, keeping track of important moments in Mrs. Parks’s life that are not included or adequately contextualized on the Library of Congress timeline, as well as the choices the filmmakers make about how to tell Parks’ story. Finally, students collaborate and talk with each other to build a case for which events from Mrs. Parks’ life should be included on an “Rosa Parks timeline” worth its salt.
This lesson is from the The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks Teaching Guide for classroom use. It is part of a collection of lessons to accompany the book and film of the same name.