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Black History Month Spotlight: Claudette Colvin

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Most Americans have grown up familiar with the name and story of Rosa Parks, but she was not the first African American woman to refuse to give up her seat on a bus. 15 year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 2, 1955.

Colvin was a hardworking student in one of Montgomery’s poorer neighborhoods, earning mostly A’s, and one day as she was riding home from school on a city bus  she refused to give up her seat, saying, “It is my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fair, it’s my constitutional right.”[1] Colvin later told Newsweek, “I felt like Sojourner Truth was pushing me down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other- saying, ‘Sit down girl!’ I was glued to my seat.”

If Colvin stood up for her rights in the same way as Rosa Parks, and nine months before, then why haven’t we heard about her? At the time, the NAACP and other organizations, felt Rosa Parks, who was the secretary of the NAACP, made a better icon for the movement than a teenager. As she was known and respected, they felt middle class America would be more attracted to supporting her and the cause.

After arrested, Colvin pled not guilty but was convicted and given probation. Colvin later became one of four plaintiffs in Browder v. Gale, the case which successfully overturned bus segregation laws in Alabama.

Claudette Colvin’s story has recently been told in Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose, being honored as the 2009 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and a 2010 Newberry Honor Book.



[1] Claudette Colvin Biography, http://www.biography.com/people/claudette-colvin-11378#background-forerunner-to-rosa-parks