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Claudette Colvin

We all know Rosa Park‘s story. But, did you know, there was a girl before Rosa Parks? Her name was Claudette Colvin and this is her story.

On March 2, 1955, the bus Claudette Colvin was on in Montgomery, Alabama had filled up quickly. The larger “whites only” section was full when one more white woman stepped on the bus.

According to the rules of the time, the bus driver could act as a police officer and order people in the “colored” section to move further back. Because it was illegal for whites and blacks to sit in the same row, the whole row of black passengers would have to move.

Three of the black passengers comply with the request. Only one refused to give up her seat. This is 15-year-old Claudette Colvin.

Again the bus driver demanded her to move. She did not. Instead, she says “It’s my constitutional right!”

Perhaps she was inspired by learning about Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, and Jackie Robinson during Black History Month (then called Negro History Week, see this post to learn why). Perhaps learning about the supreme court’s decision in Brown v Board of Education that separate but equal was unconstitutionally inspired her to be firm in her rights. Or maybe she was just fed up with being treated so unfairly by society.

“History had me glued to the seat. It felt as though Harriet Tubman’s hand was pushing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth was pushing me down on the other.”

Claudette Colvin, 2020

To hear Claudette Colvin tell her story in her own words, check out this video from the Tory Burch Foundation. This is a great video for AP US History classes. I would not recommend this for younger students because of the topics discussed. You could also just show clips or portions of this video. 4:17- 7:35 she talks about the bus incidence.

Claudette Colvin was arrested and convicted of assault and battery, disorderly conduct, and violating a city ordinance. She would later be vindicated when she and three other Black women joined together in Browder v Gayle. This ruling decided the segregated busses in Alabama were unconstitutional. This was the case that ended the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.

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