I had never heard of Claudette Colvin before today, but thanks to a new book she is finally having her story told.
Before Rosa Parks made history and helped start the Montgomery Bus Boycott this young girl did a similar act…
On March 2, 1955, the 15-year-old schoolgirl from Montgomery, Ala., was dragged off the bus by police, handcuffed and jailed. But her bold act drew little support from classmates — many of whom shunned her — or from the city’s black leadership.
Claudette said she was inspired by others she had learned about at school during “Negro History Month.”
“It was Sojourner Truth pushing me back down on the seat, saying ‘Girl, you can’t get up,’ and Harriet Tubman, too. All of those people were in the back of my mind.”
Civil rights leaders waited for someone to come along who had “unimpeachable integrity” to galvanize the movement, and they decided that this feisty girl was not that person. Nine months later, Rosa Parks became that person.
Claudette Colvin never got the national recognition that Rosa Parks did, but she was an important part of history.
But Colvin was not yet forgotten by members of the civil rights movement. In early 1956, Colvin’s lawyer enlisted the teenager as one of four black female plaintiffs in the lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of segregated public transportation.
The U.S. District Court ruled 2-1 in their favor, a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court.
The long-forgotten case, Browder v. Gayle, led to integration on buses, doing for public transportation what the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education did for education in 1954.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
“When it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’” – Claudette Colvin
On March 2, 1955, an impassioned teenager, fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be just nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin found herself shunned by her classmates and dismissed by community leaders. Undaunted, a year later she dared to challenge segregation again as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South.
Based on extensive interviews with Claudette Colvin and many others, Phillip Hoose presents the first in-depth account of an important yet largely unknown civil rights figure, skillfully weaving her dramatic story into the fabric of the historic Montgomery bus boycott and court case that would change the course of American history.
This is a good lesson that for every hero we hear about in school, there are a hundred others who were just as brave and just as important who took a stand to change the world. I’ve added the book to our reading list.