Grade level: 5

Lesson Plan: Overview

"Who is Sarah Mae Fleming?"

Grade Level: 5th

Rosa Parks in 1956

Academic Standards

Standard 5-5: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the social, economic, and political events that influenced the United States during the Cold War era.

Indicator 5-5.3 Explain the advancement of the civil rights movement in the United States, including key events and people: desegregation of the armed forces, Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X.
Social Studies Literacy Elements
E.Explain change and continuity over time.
H. Construct maps, graphs, tables, and diagrams to display social studies information.
K. Use texts, photographs, and documents to observe and interpret social studies trends and relationships.
L. Interpret calendars, time lines, maps, charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, diagrams, photographs, paintings, cartoons, architectural drawings, documents, letters, censuses, and other artifacts.
O. Consider multiple perspectives of documents and stories.
P. Locate, gather, and process information from a variety of primary and secondary resources
R. Use statistics and other quantitative techniques to interpret and evaluate social studies informative.
U. Select and design appropriate forms of graphs, diagrams, tables, and charts to organize social studies information.

Historical Background Notes

The fight for equal rights on public transportation did not begin with Rosa Parks in Birmingham, Alabama as many people believe. In South Carolina it began with a twenty-year-old African American young lady named Sarah Mae Fleming in Columbia, South Carolina. Sarah Mae did not reach the fame of Mrs. Parks, but she did find success in her fight for equality for African Americans and all citizens of the United States.

In June of 1954, Sarah was on her way home from her job as a maid and was ordered by Warren Christmus, the bus driver, to give up her seat in the front of the bus. Sarah apparently did not know that blacks were to always stand, even if whites did not need the seat (“Riding with Rosa”, A9). She refused and the bus driver called the police. Sarah was arrested and subsequently sued South Carolina Electric and Gas, the owners and operators of the bus system in Columbia (“Courtroom Victories”, A14). She also claimed that she was hit by the driver as she exited the bus. Another African American woman witnessed the attack and reported it to the bus company. (“Riding with Rosa”, A9) Sadie Brevard, another maid in Columbia, faced similar charges four months later. Sadie’s case was never taken to court because she worked for an influential family in Columbia (Moore 1993, 421).

Sarah Fleming claimed her rights under the fourteenth amendment of the United States constitution had been violated by the driver’s actions (“Fleming v. South Carolina Electric and Gas”, 2006). The 14th Amendment states that any person born in the United States is automatically a citizen of this country. This amendment states all citizens have the right to due process under the law and gives all citizens equal protection. It goes on to state that no citizen should be deprived of their life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness (“14th Amendment to the Constitution”, 2007).

Phillip Whittenburg, a young white lawyer, originally took the case (“Riding with Rosa”, A9). Later he was joined by Thurgood Marshall and Matthew Perry. The NAACP sponsored the suit on behalf of Mrs. Fleming. Although the US Supreme Court had already ruled that segregation on city buses was against the law, the South Carolina Public Service Commission decided to uphold the South Carolina state law which supported segregation (Moore 1993, 421). The Fleming case was brought before Justice Timmerman, the judge for the eastern district of South Carolina, on February 16, 1955. Although the suit was based on the same principles as that of Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that separate was not inherently equal, the judgment declared that Fleming’s claim failed to meet the requirements for relief and the case was dismissed. Justice Timmerman put forth that the Plessy v. Ferguson decision held that separation on public transportation was legal. The fight for equality on South Carolina buses did not end there.

Mrs. Fleming, the NAACP, and her lawyers appealed the ruling and the decision was reversed. The State Court of Appeals stated in their December 14, 1955 decision that Brown vs. Board did indeed cross all levels of society, including public transportation (‘Fleming v. South Carolina Electric and Gas”, 2006). The justices stated that "separate but equal" could not be fair and equal treatment of citizens in the United States (“Appeals Court Reverses Bus Segregation Ruling”, p1). This outcome was not the end of the road however, as South Carolina Electric and Gas appealed the State Court’s decision. The US Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal on April 23, 1956 and the US Supreme Court upheld the Appeals Court decisions on November 29, 1956 (“Fleming v. South Carolina Electric and Gas”, 2006).

Based on Sarah Mae Fleming and Rosa Parks’ struggle many people began to fight social injustice across the country. There was even a bus boycott in the upstate of South Carolina. Ruth Beatty, an African American woman from Spartanburg, was inspired by the work she saw and refused to ride the buses; others joined her in her stand however it was not successful in ending the racial segregation found in South Carolina. Jackie Booker, an associate professor at Claflin University states in her article “Riding with Rosa” that the Fleming case “laid the foundation for the end of segregation on public transportation and figured in to the Rosa Parks case.” (“Riding with Rosa”, A9)

Rosa Parks, a seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her seat on a bus and was arrested.. The buses in Montgomery had clearly stated rules, the first four rows were reserved for whites, and the rear was for blacks. Middle rows could be used by blacks if no white person wanted the seats. Rosa got on the bus December 1, 1955 full of plans for her coming weekend and work she needed to accomplish for the NAACP. When bus driver James Blake ordered four black people to give up their seats in the middle rows so one white man could sit, three of the riders agreed, but Rosa refused and was ejected from the bus. Her arrest was the catalyst that many in Montgomery’s African American community were waiting for (“Rosa Parks, 92, Founding Symbol of Civil Rights Movement, Dies”, 2005). Rosa’s refusal and arrest led to a boycott of the bus system in Montgomery. The boycott turned out to be the greatest movement against racial segregation in history, both because of its size and success. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took up the cause of racial equality and led marches and meetings throughout Montgomery, and eventually the nation. The actions of Mrs. Parks, though simple in deed, turned out to be a giant step in our nations’ history. She made the cruelty and injustice heaped upon African Americans a front page story (“Rosa Parks, 92, Founding Symbol of Civil Rights Movement, Dies”, 2005). Sarah Mae Fleming and her bravery led to Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King waging an ever bigger fight for equality, this time in the national spotlight.


  Primary Sources
   “Appeals Court Reverses Bus Segregation Ruling.” The State (Columbia, South Carolina). 15 July 1955, p. 1. South Carolina Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

“Racial Issues Spotlighted on Several Fronts.” The State (Columbia, South Carolina). 15 July 1955, p. 1. South Carolina Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.


Sarah Mae Flemming, Appellant, v. South Carolina Electric and Gas Company, a Corporation, Appellee. 239 F.2d 277 (4th Cir. 1956) Federal Circuits, Fourth Circuit (November 29, 1956) Docket number: 7276 Id. vLex: VLEX-36660347

  The House Joint Resolution proposing the 14th amendment to the Constitution, June 16, 1866; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789-1999; General Records of the United States Government; Record Group 11; National Archives.
Secondary Sources

"COURTROOM VICTORIES" State, The (Columbia, SC) 18 Apr. 2004, FINAL, FRONT: A14. NewsBank. Web. 17 Nov. 2009.


RIDING WITH ROSA PARKS. State, The (Columbia, SC) 10 Feb. 2006, FINAL, EDITORIAL: A9. NewsBank. Web. 17 Nov. 2009.


“Rosa Parks: Her simple act of protest galvanized America's Civil Rights Revolution". Available online via Accessed February 1, 2007.


Rosa Parks, 92, Founding Symbol of Civil Rights Movement, Dies”. Available online via Accessed January 25, 2007.


Moore, John Hammond. Columbia and Richland County: A South Carolina Community, 1740-1990. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

Other Materials
  • Question tally sheet, bar graph paper, article “Riding With Rosa Parks”, article from about Rosa Parks, Venn Diagram for comparing, letter writing paper, poster on how to write a business letter, envelopes, assessment sheet for letters

    Lesson Plans

    1. Previous nights homework: Ask 10 people if they know who the following people are: Sarah Fleming and Rosa Parks. Notate responses on question tally sheet.
    2. Give students at tables one and four copies of "RIDING WITH ROSA PARKS" from The State Newspaper.
    3. Give students at tables two and three Rosa Parks article from
    4. Have students read articles and locate important information about each woman’s experience on their bus trip.
    5. Have each group teach the rest of the class about their person.
    6. As a whole class create a Venn Diagram comparing the two women.
    7. In groups total tally marks for Rosa and Sarah homework question.
    8. Make a bar graph showing results for whole class.
    9. Ask students to list the ways Rosa Parks has been honored for her stand.
    10. Ask the students to brainstorm what honor they could try to get for Sarah Fleming.
    11. Write a letter asking for an honor for Sarah Fleming.

    Teacher Reflections

    For the second summer I have thoroughly enjoyed Teaching American History In South Carolina. I have been able to increase my knowledge of key content areas, and gather ideas for use in my classroom. I have also been privileged to meet other educators who are full of outstanding ideas for everything from classroom management to increasing literacy in the classroom.

    Each location we visited gave me more ideas, not a blessing when you can’t decide what to settle on! I had decided before the Institute to do one lesson on Mill League Baseball and Shoeless Joe Jackson, then before the Institute was over I had changed my topic about 5 times. After meeting at the Archives I decided to change to Sarah Mae Fleming. Her story needs to be told, and I felt I could help others find out more about her. My students have enjoyed getting to know her and telling others about her. I even had a grandmother come in to find out who this Sarah person was. The grandmother used to teach and had never heard of Ms. Fleming. She wanted copies of my research because she felt Sarah’s story should be shared, too.

    Student Assessments

    Writing will be graded using the PACT Writing Rubric.

    Examples of Students Work

    Venn Diagram
    Letter 1
    Letter 2


    Nancy L. Stone
    Marion Intermediate School. Marion, South Carolina