Have you ever heard of Claudette Colvin? Just nine months after the civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus for a White person, the 15-year-old Claudette Colvin did the same. What many people don’t know is that she was the first person to do so! It all happened back in 1955, when Colvin was a student at the segregated Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery, Alabama. As she was returning home from shool on March 2, all the ‘White seats’ in the front of the bus were filled up. Back then, African Americans were expected to stand and give up their seat in the ‘colored’ section of the bus – something that Colvin refused to do!
She was told by the bus driver that she and three other black girls had to stand up for a White girl who couldn’t find a seat on the bus, and while the three other women moved, Colvin didn’t. The bus driver asked Colvin and another pregnant woman who sat next to her to get up, but the pregnant woman, Ruth Hamilton, said that she wasn’t going to get up because she had paid her fare and she didn’t feel like standing. It was then when Colvin told him that she wasn’t going to get up either, so the driver called the police. When the police came, they convinced another Black man sitting behind to stand, but Colvin still refused to do so. She was then removed from the bus and arrested.
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As Colvin said herself, she was advised by her mom to let Parks be the one to inspire the move, and for Colvin to be quiet about it.
“My mother told me to be quiet about what I did. She told me to let Rosa be the one: white people aren’t going to bother Rosa, they like her.” – she said in a recent interview.
However, what the world doesn’t know is that Colvin was marginalized by the group that ought to protect her. They chose Parks because she didn’t have ‘good hair’, she wasn’t fair-skinned, and she was a teenager that got pregnant. The leaders of the civil rights movement attempted to ‘keep up appearances’, and Parks was the perfect candidate.
Colvin also fought the law that called for segregated buses in the famous court case of Browder v. Gayle, and she described her arrest during the case. The case made its way through the courts, and the court ruled that the state of Alabama and Montgomery’s laws mandating public bus segregation were unconstitutional.
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Colvin rarely discussed her experiences outside the court case, but she was one of the main contributors that paved the way for the successful Montgomery bus boycott movement that gained national attention.
In a 2005 interview, she said that she feels very proud of what she did, and she feels like what she did was a spark and it caught on.