Did you know that there was a black woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus before Rosa Parks did? That woman is called Claudette Colvin. Nine months before Rosa Parks defied the segregation laws, Claudette Colvin did the same thing. She was 15 years old at the time and her act of protest still remains unrecognized. Therefore, I am writing this article to give her the recognition she deserves.
Claudette Colvin and her friends were leaving school on the evening of March 2nd 1955. They entered a bus right across the road from Dr Martin Luther King’s church. The bus was quickly filled and the driver asked Colvin and her friends to move to the back in order for a white woman to sit. Colvin explained that she “would have done it for an elderly person but this was a young white woman. Three of the students had got up reluctantly and (she) remained sitting next to the window.”
Colvin went to a segregated school and one of the advantages of it was that the teachers taught students a lot about black history. So when Colvin was asked to move to the back of the bus, she remembered all the women they had taught her about in school and felt inspired to defy the segregation laws. The women who inspired her the most were Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth.
She refused to move to the back of the bus because she knew she was sitting in the right seat. Two police officers got up the bus and violently took her off it and into the squad car. They handcuffed her and instead of taking Colvin to a juvenile detention centre, she was taken to an adult prison where she was placed in a small cell. She waited three hours for her mom to arrive. Her mother knew that Claudette had many disagreements with the segregation system, hence she had expected an act of defiance from her. After Claudette Colvin was released from prison she was very frightened that her house could be attacked by Ku Klux Klan members.
She was the first person to ever get arrested for refusing to give up her seat, thus her story was published by a few local newspapers. However, nine months later Rosa Parks did the same thing and her story was published internationally.
You may be wondering why Colvin didn’t get as much recognition as Rosa Parks did. This was because she was a more dark-skinned woman and because she was a pregnant teenager. “They said they didn’t want to use a pregnant teenager because it would be controversial and the people would talk about the pregnancy more than the boycott,” she explained. The Civil Rights movement wanted to keep a certain appearance for their protestors. Even though they were acting against segregation there were still colorism issues in their own community. Additionally, the press didn’t want to put a more dark skinned woman on their newspapers. I think that it is important to honour and recognize the impact that Claudette Colvin had on the Civil Rights movement. Without her, Rosa Parks might have not been inspired to refuse to give up her seat and then the bus system boycott would have never happened.
Claudette Colvin then moved from Alabama to New York and became a nurse. She is now 81 years old and has two children. She is recognized as a pioneer for the Civil Rights movement.