Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ahead of Her Time: Claudette Colvin

Most people have been taught that Rosa Parks was the first African-American to give up her seat in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Although there a teenage girl that preceded her in this revolutionary effort by nine months and her name is Claudette Colvin.

Claudette Colvin was a fifteen year old high school student riding the bus as usual because her family had a car although she relied on public transportation to get to and from school.

What Happened on that Fateful Day? On March 2, 1955; Claudette sat in the section where, if a white person was standing, the blacks would have to get up and move to the back. When a white woman got on the bus and was standing, the bus driver, Robert W. Cleere, ordered Colvin and two other black passengers to get up and change seats. When Colvin refused, she was removed from the bus and arrested by two police officers.

"The bus was getting crowded and I remember the bus driver looking through the rear view mirror asking her to get up out of her seat, which she didn't," said a classmate at the time, Annie Larkins Price. "She had been yelling it's my constitutional right. She decided on that day that she wasn't going to move."Colvin was handcuffed, arrested and forcibly removed from the bus. She shouted that her constitutional rights were being violated. "Price testified on Colvin's behalf in the juvenile court case, where Colvin was convicted of violating the segregation law and assault.""There was no assault," Price said.

Why Wasn't She Recognized for Her Efforts? Montgomery's black leaders did not publicize Colvin's pioneering effort for long because she was a teenager and became pregnant while unmarried. The NAACP leaders worried about using her to represent their movement, given the social norms of the time.

How Does She Feel About Rosa Parks? Colvin told the Montgomery Advertiser that she would not have changed her decision to remain seated. "I feel very, very proud of what I did, I do feel like what I did was a spark and it caught on"I'm not disappointed," Colvin said. "Let the people know Rosa Parks was the right person for the boycott. But also let them know that the attorneys took four other women to the Supreme Court to challenge the law that led to the end of segregation."

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