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A Name You Should Know: Claudette Colvin

Claudette Colvin Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Most everyone knows Rosa Parks whose courageous action of not giving up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus to a white passenger on December 1, 1955, helped launch the civil rights movement.  Most people do not know Claudette Colvin who also refused to give up her seat on the bus — nine months before Rosa Parks.

On March 2, 1955, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin remained seated when a white passenger boarded the bus and waited for her to move.  She believed it her constitutional right to sit wherever she chose even though Jim Crow laws of the day dictated otherwise.  She was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.  Claudette would later say, “I couldn’t get up that day.  History kept me stuck to my seat.  I felt the hand of Harriet Tubman pushing down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth pushing down on the other.”

Claudette Colvin’s arrest provided the spark needed to make a stand and provide a test case to end segregation on city buses.  However, local African-American leadership thought otherwise.  They believed Claudette would be perceived as too militant.  Her image was not the one the movement wanted to cast.  When she became pregnant a few months later, their belief was reinforced.  Instead, Rosa Parks’ similar act of defiance would hasten the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott and lay the foundation for the modern civil rights movement.

Not until many years later would Claudette Colvin become more than just a footnote in history.  Her role is not celebrated, but it is nonetheless pivotal.  In a recent honor, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange called her “an early foot soldier in our civil rights.”  Claudette Colvin stands alongside Rosa Parks — two women, two generations — taking a stand and helping to change history.

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