Illustration of a woman in a red coat next to a black and white photo of people protesting
Illustrations © Laura Freeman/ From the book Pies From Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott; Bettmann/Getty Images (March)

Hungry for Change

The amazing story of Georgia Gilmore, the woman who helped feed the civil rights movement

By Allison Friedman
From the October/November 2021 Issue

Learning Objective: As students read the story of a boy who gets to know the real-life cook and activist Georgia Gilmore, they will learn how the individual actions of numerous people helped ensure the success of the Montgomery bus boycott.

Guided Reading Level: T
DRA Level: 50
UP CLOSE: Main Idea

As you read this play, think about how each person’s actions helped achieve an important goal.

Friday, December 2, 1955
Montgomery, Alabama

N1: Ritchie and his mom sit at the back of a crowded bus at the end of a long day.

Ritchie: What are you making the Miller family for dinner tomorrow?

Mrs. Ellis (smoothing her maid’s uniform): Baked ham.

Ritchie (brightening): Hey, maybe I can come to work with you and help!

Mrs. Ellis: You’ll do no such thing. You’ve got that history test to study for.

N2: The bus stops, and two White teenagers get on.

Bus Driver (to Ritchie and his mom): I need those seats.

N3: Racist laws in Montgomery—and across the South—say that Black passengers must sit in the back of the bus.

N1: And if the front gets too full, they have to give up their seats to White passengers.

Ritchie: You need a seat more than those kids do, Mama.

N2: Mrs. Ellis gets up, pulling Ritchie with her.

Mrs. Ellis: Hush now. It’s just the way things are.

N3: As Ritchie and his mom get off the bus, a group of women hand them a flyer.

Woman 1: Bus boycott on Monday!

Woman 2: A woman named Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat, so we’re staying off the buses in protest.

Woman 3: More than two-thirds of this city’s bus passengers are Black—we deserve respect!

Ritchie (reading the flyer): There’s a meeting Monday night at the Holt Street Baptist Church.

Mrs. Ellis: Ritchie, your father and I can’t be going to any meetings. We could lose our jobs.

Ritchie: But—

Mrs. Ellis: And you have homework. You have to stay at the top of your class.

Ritchie: Yes, ma’am.

N1: But as Ritchie speaks, he feels frustrated.

N2: He looks down at the flyer, and a plan forms in his mind.

Monday, December 5, 1955
Holt Street Baptist Church

N3: All day Monday, empty buses roll through Montgomery.

N1: Black people walk, carpool, and take taxis to work.

N2: That evening, Ritchie tells his parents he’s going to get a soda—at the store that happens to be near the Holt Street Baptist Church.

N3: Hundreds of people spill out of the doors onto the street.

N1: A deep, booming voice pours out of loudspeakers.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: We are here this evening to say to those who have mistreated us so long that we are tired . . .

Ritchie (to a group of women nearby): Who’s that speaking?

Georgia Gilmore: That’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Mrs. Clark: The new preacher.

Mrs. Williams: They’ve chosen him to lead the boycott.

Dr. King: And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water!

Crowd (cheering and clapping): Yes! Amen!

Georgia (to Ritchie, holding up a picnic basket): Young man, are you hungry? If you help us sell these sandwiches, you can have one.

Ritchie: Happy to help, Mrs. . . . ?

Georgia: Gilmore. And this is Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Williams.

N2: Ritchie pulls out a sandwich and takes a bite.

Georgia: Tell me that isn’t the best fried chicken you’ve tasted. I cook at the National Lunch Company, and this is my most popular dish.

Ritchie: Well, it could use a little more pepper.

Georgia: More pepper says Mr. Chef! (She takes a bite.) Hmm, you’re not wrong.

Ritchie: My mom cooks and cleans for a White family. She taught me a few things. Why are you selling sandwiches anyway?

Georgia (writing her address on a slip of paper): Come by my house this week, and I’ll tell you. We’re cooking up an idea.

Bettmann/Getty Images

Shameful Rules 

From the late 1800s to the 1960s, a system of racist laws and ideas kept Black people separate from White people across the South. This is called segregation. Black Americans were forced to eat separately at restaurants, attend different schools, and sit apart from White people on buses.

A few days later | Georgia’s House

N3: Ritchie knocks on the door.

Georgia (opening the door): Mr. Chef! Come in.

N1: Ritchie steps into the kitchen, where Mrs. Clark is peeling sweet potatoes and Mrs. Williams is frying something on the stove.

Georgia: We’ve got sweet potato pie, spareribs, and turnip greens going. Here, stir.

N2: She hands Ritchie a bowl and a big spoon.

Ritchie: So what’s all this for?

Mrs. Williams: The boycott.

Mrs. Clark: We’re making and selling meals to raise money to keep the carpool going. We’ll help pay for more cars, gas, and repairs.

Georgia: You in?

Ritchie (excitedly): Yes!

Georgia: Good. But you have to keep this quiet. We could lose our jobs if people find out. Your mama knows you’re here?

Ritchie (looking down): No, ma’am. She thinks I’m at study group. But I. . .I can’t watch her give up her seat on the bus again. I won’t.

Georgia: Well, Chef, you’d better tell her. But for now, I’ll keep your secret if you keep ours.

Ritchie (smiling): Yes, ma’am.

Don Cravens/Getty Images

Walking for Miles 

During the 381-day-long bus boycott, more than 300 cars helped carry thousands of boycotters to pick-up and drop-off points across the city. Thousands of other people walked miles to and from work each day.

March 1956 | Georgia’s House

N3: For the past few months, Ritchie, Georgia, and the others have been selling their food at laundromats, beauty shops, and churches.

N1: Every week, Georgia donates the money at the boycott meetings.

N2: But whenever someone asks where the money came from, she just says . . .

Georgia (winking): It came from nowhere.

N3: And so their secret group becomes known as the Club From Nowhere.

N1: The club’s efforts help power the carpool.

N2: Soon, the bus company has lost so much money that it’s about to go bankrupt.

N3: City leaders, who have decided the boycotters must be stopped, arrest Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others.

N1: Not long afterward, Ritchie arrives at Georgia’s house to find her looking worried.

Ritchie: Mrs. Gilmore, what’s wrong?

Georgia: You know Dr. King’s trial was this week? I spoke in his defense. My bosses at the National Lunch Company found out, and I got fired.

Ritchie: For telling the truth?

Georgia: That’s right. I said there’s nothing wrong with the bus boycott—it’s the way we’ve been mistreated that’s wrong.

Ritchie: Weren’t you scared, speaking out like that?

Georgia: You can’t be afraid if you want to accomplish anything, Chef. Speaking of, you tell your mama yet?

N2: Ritchie shakes his head.

Georgia: Time to come clean. Just be sure to tell her why you’re doing what you’re doing.

That night
The Ellises’ House

The Montgomery Advisor/Alabama Department of Archives and History

Georgia Gilmore remained a determined civil rights activist and a beloved cook in Montgomery until she died in 1990.

N3: When Ritchie walks in the door, his parents are there, arms crossed.

Mrs. Ellis: I ran into Mrs. Stevens today. She said you’ve barely been at study group these past few months!

Mr. Ellis: What have you been doing instead, son?

Ritchie: I’ve . . . (He takes a breath.) I’ve been helping Mrs. Gilmore cook. To raise money for the boycott.

Mr. Ellis: Mrs. Gilmore? The woman who spoke at Dr. King’s trial?

Mrs. Ellis (angrily): Ritchie, I told you to stay away from all that!

Ritchie: You did, but—

Mrs. Ellis: Your father and I want you to have a different life than we’ve had!

Ritchie: That’s why I’m doing it! To change things. Not just for me, Mama, but for you too.

Mrs. Ellis (worried): You could get in trouble.

Ritchie: Don’t you deserve a seat on the bus, Mama? Don’t we all? Isn’t it time?

N1: Tears come to Mrs. Ellis’s eyes.

Mr. Ellis (proudly): Well, look at you. You’re becoming a man right before our eyes.

N2: Ritchie wraps his arms around both his parents and holds on tight.

Tuesday, November 13, 1956
Georgia’s House

N3: Months later, Georgia’s house is full of people digging into plates of pork chops, corn muffins, and apple pie.

N1: Georgia and Ritchie bring a platter of fried chicken to Ritchie’s parents.

Mrs. Ellis: Georgia, look how busy this place is! Your very own restaurant.

Georgia: I couldn’t do it without Chef here.

Mr. Ellis: This fried chicken is the finest I’ve ever tasted!

Georgia (winking at Ritchie)The secret is extra pepper.

N2: Suddenly, a news alert interrupts the music on the radio.

Newscaster: The Supreme Court’s decision is in—segregation on public buses is illegal. Buses in Montgomery and across the country must let Black and White passengers sit together . . .

Crowd: Yes! Amen to that!

Ritchie: Mrs. Gilmore, we did it!

Georgia: This victory is just the beginning, Chef. There’s more to be done.

Ritchie (smiling): I guess we’d better start cooking then. We can’t change the world on an empty stomach.

Write to Win

Choose two characters from the play and write a paragraph for each, describing how he or she helped end segregation on buses. Send your work to “Change Contest” by Dec. 1, 2021. Five winners will receive a copy of Pies From Nowhere by Dee Romito. Visit the Storyworks Contests page for more information.

This play was originally published in the October/November 2021 issue.  

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Activities (8)
Quizzes (1)
Answer Key (2)
Answer Key (2)
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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Table of Contents

1. Preparing to Read

2. Reading and Discussing

SEL Focus, Close Reading, Critical Thinking

3. Skill Building and Writing

4. Digital Spotlight

5. Differentiate and Customize

Struggling Readers, Advanced Readers, Multilingual Learners

6. Can’t-Miss Teaching Extras

1. Preparing to Read

Introduce the Story (5 minutes)  

Engage Students, Build Knowledge, and Preview Vocabulary

  • Ask students whether they’ve ever participated in or attended a bake sale. Then have a few students share for which cause(s) the bake sales they are familiar with helped raise money. Tell students that they’re going to read a play that’s based on the true story of a brave woman who sold homemade food to help raise money for an important cause.

  • To give students context for the time period in which the play takes place, show our Background Builder: The civil rights movement.

  • Introduce domain-specific words related to the civil rights movement with the Vocabulary Skill Builder. Highlighted terms: racist, boycott, protest, justice, segregation, bankrupt, defense, Supreme Court, illegal

  • Call on a volunteer to read aloud the Up Close box on page 22 for the class.

2. Reading the Play

  • Assign parts and read the play aloud as a class or in groups. You can also listen to an Editor Read-Aloud of the play!
  • After reading, discuss the close-reading and critical-thinking questions.

SEL Focus

Making a Difference

In the play, several characters’ individual contributions to a cause end up helping create a big change. Explain that even small acts can help make a change, especially when you have other people working with you. To show students how this works in the play, after reading, create cause and effect chains that show how Ritchie’s and Georgia’s actions in the play helped end bus segregation in Montgomery. Ask: How did Ritchie’s and Georgia’s individual actions help end bus segregation in Montgomery? They can do the same for other characters as well. Then encourage your students to brainstorm a small thing they each can do that can help make a big change.

Close-Reading Questions

  • What clues in Scene 1 tell you that Ritchie will probably attend the bus boycott meeting Monday night? (text evidence) One clue is that Ritchie is upset that his tired mother has to give up her seat to the White teenagers. He seems motivated to do something about this injustice. Also, the narrator says that a plan is forming in Ritchie’s mind when he gets the flyer.

  • In Scene 2, why does Ritchie lie to his parents about where he’s going? Do you think he was right to lie? (character) Ritchie lies to his parents about where he’s going because he knows his parents don’t want him to attend the meeting, since he has homework and needs to stay at the top of his class. However, Ritchie believes he needs to go because he is angered by the segregation on the buses and wants to help change things. Answers to the second question will vary.

  • In your own words, explain why Mrs. Gilmore, Mrs. Williams, and Mrs. Clark are making and selling meals. What are they planning to do with the money? (plot) The women are making meals that they will sell around town to raise cash. The cash they raise will help people who are boycotting the segregated buses in Montgomery. The boycotters need money to pay for the cars, gas, and repairs so that they can get to where they need to go without taking the bus.

  • Look at the photos on pages 24 and 25 and reread the captions. How do they relate to what happens in the play? (text features) The photo on the left shows how buses looked when they were segregated. Maybe the photo shows what the bus Ritchie and his mother were on in Scene 1 might have looked like. The picture on the right shows the people walking during the Montgomery bus boycott, which is the protest that Mrs. Gilmore and Ritchie are working to raise money for.
  • Why is Georgia fired from her job at the National Lunch Company? How do you know she thinks she did the right thing? (plot) Georgia is fired from her job because she spoke in support of Dr. King at the trial; her bosses found out and fired her. You can tell she thinks she did the right thing because she says to Ritchie that she wasn’t scared. She says you have to speak out if you want to accomplish something.

  • How does Mrs. Ellis change from the beginning of the play to the end? What event causes her to change? (how a character changes) At the beginning of the play, Mrs. Ellis doesn’t want Ritchie to get involved in the bus boycott. She is worried that it will distract Ritchie from his schoolwork and that he could get in trouble. By the end of the play, she is spending time with Ritchie at Mrs. Gilmore’s restaurant. The event that leads to her changing is Ritchie expressing how he thinks the bus segregation is unjust—for his mother and other Black people. 

  • What are two problems or conflicts that seem to be resolved in the final scene of the play? (problem and solution) Answers should include one of the following: Mrs. Gilmore has started running a restaurant out of her house after she was fired from her job; Mrs. Ellis is supportive of the cause her son is fighting for even though she was initially reluctant to join in; and the Supreme Court declares segregation on public buses illegal.

Critical-Thinking Question

  • At the end of Scene 4, Georgia says, “You can’t be afraid if you want to accomplish anything.” Do you agree? How does what happens in the play support this idea? (evaluating ideas) Answers to the first question will vary. In the play, Mrs. Gilmore overcomes her fear of being targeted for supporting the bus boycott and testifies at Dr. King’s trial. Her brave act helped the eventual success of the bus boycott.
  • In the play, how do the actions of individual characters end up making a big difference? What does this tell you about the power of working together? (main idea) In the play, Mrs. Gilmore, Ritchie, and others cook to raise money for the bus boycott. Individually, they may not have been able to raise enough money to make a difference, but when they worked together they were able to raise the money to help make the bus boycott a success. This tells you that working together can be especially powerful. If many people each do one small thing, when taken together, those actions add up to something important.

3. Skill Building and Writing

Featured Skill: Main Idea

  • Assign the Main Idea Skill Builder and have students complete it independently or together with a partner. This Skill Builder will get students ready to respond to the writing prompt on page 26.

4. Digital Spotlight

  • Help make the play come to life in your classroom by playing the Editor Read-Aloud as a first read. Prompt students to listen to the expression they hear in the read-aloud and how it adds to the meaning of the lines. Then have the class do its own read-aloud, inspired by what they heard.

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

The play includes some idiomatic language, or language with double meanings, that has to do with cooking that may be challenging for some students (“Hungry for Change,” “We’re cooking up an idea,” “We can’t change the world on an empty stomach”). As these phrases come up in the play, discuss their meaning with students. At the end of the play, you can brainstorm other idioms that have to do with cooking (e.g.: to be cooking with gas, too many cooks in the kitchen, what’s cooking?, etc.).

For Advanced Readers

Many activists working today have been inspired by Georgia Gilmore’s work. Have students work in groups to write and perform another scene of the play that takes place in the future, in which Ritchie uses what he’s learned from his work with Mrs. Gilmore to lead another bake sale. This one raises funds for a modern-day cause that works to change the world in some way.

For Multilingual Learners

Students who are new to the country may not be familiar with the civil rights era. Before reading the play, review the Background Builder Slideshow together. Then take a look at the photos on the bottom of pages 24-25 together. Ask: What events that you learned about in the Background Builder do these images show? Then, as familiar terms (like Montgomery bus boycott) or people (like Martin Luther King Jr.) come up in the play, have students remind each other what or who they are and their significance.

Can't-Miss Teaching Extras
Read a Book

Share the picture book that inspired this play, Pies From Nowhere by Dee Romito.

Explore Another Hero

Introduce your students to Claudette Colvin, another civil rights hero who helped desegregate buses in Montgomery, by sharing the Storyworks play This Is What Courage Looks Like.

Meet Inspiring Women

Georgia Gilmore is one of many important women who were pivotal to the success of the civil rights movement. This page from the National Museum of African American History and Culture  will introduce your students to more inspiring women who fought for civil rights.

Plan a Bake Sale

If some of your students are inspired by Georgia Gilmore’s Club From Nowhere, you can share this WikiHow that has tips and tricks on how to plan a successful bake sale.