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Claudette Colvin: She Sat on Bus and Was Arrested, 9 Months Before Rosa Parks

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 by Chris Landers

 For closed caption click “cc”                                                                                                                  For 8th Grade version Click Here

Everyone who hears her story may be amazed, but to hear Claudette Colvin tell it, she really didn’t have much of a choice.

In 1955, Colvin was a 15-year old girl living in Montgomery, Alabama, when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white woman — nine months before Rosa Parks did the same.

Most everyone has heard of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a defining moment in the early Civil Rights Movement. Far less known is the story of Colvin, a high school girl who simply refused to stand up or back down.

During February—Negro History Month—her segregated high school had taught her about black activists like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. She was taking the bus home from school when the bus driver told her to get up for a white woman who wanted her seat. But standing up was never an option for Colvin, who could feel the ghosts of Tubman and Truth commanding her to take a stand. She refused, and was promptly arrested and thrown in jail for the night.

After posting bail, the NAACP considered defending her in court but decided not to when she became pregnant later that year. Unlike Parks, an NAACP secretary, Colvin wasn’t the one the Civil Rights organizations wanted as the face of the Civil Rights Movement.  She didn’t have Parks’ fair skin, charisma or experience. She was only a teenager, after all.

Click below for an excerpt from Colvin and Philip Hoose—author of Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice and We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History, which features a section on Colvin—at the 2010 National Book Festival held by the Library of Congress:

But Colvin rejected the idea that she was too young, too small to fight. She became one of the first to truly challenge Montgomery’s bus laws, declaring herself not guilty in court. She was sentenced to probation.  As a result she struggled to find work with a criminal record, shunned by a community reluctant to be associated with someone who had challenged the white establishment. But despite these obstacles, she was determined to fight segregation. She became one of only four citizens willing to sue the bus company.  That 1956 suit, known as Browder v. Gayle, went to the U.S. Supreme court.  On December 17, 1956, the court ruled that Montgomery’s bus laws were unconstitutional.  In fact, it was that decision that brought the famous Montgomery bus boycott to a victorious conclusion.

History usually remembers the elder statesmen—Martin Luther King and others who served as the face of the Civil Rights Movement. Their gigantic reputations are more than justified. But there is another tale to tell, the tale of Claudette Colvin and so many like her. She is emblematic of countless young people who simply refused to tolerate discrimination and hatred. She didn’t wait her turn or sit idly by while others fought. She took a stand and took on the giant.

More on Claudette Colvin:

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Copyright Taking On The Giant. All rights reserved.

Click below for an excerpt from Colvin and Philip Hoose—author of Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice and We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History, which features a section on Colvin—at the 2010 National Book Festival held by the Library of Congress:

But Colvin rejected the idea that she was too young, too small to fight. She became one of the first to truly challenge Montgomery’s bus laws, declaring herself not guilty in court. She was sentenced to probation.  As a result she struggled to find work with a criminal record, shunned by a community reluctant to be associated with someone who had challenged the white establishment. But despite these obstacles, she was determined to fight segregation. She became one of only four citizens willing to sue the bus company.  That 1956 suit, known as Browder v. Gayle, went to the U.S. Supreme court.  On December 17, 1956, the court ruled that Montgomery’s bus laws were unconstitutional.  In fact, it was that decision that brought the famous Montgomery bus boycott to a victorious conclusion.

History usually remembers the elder statesmen—Martin Luther King and others who served as the face of the Civil Rights Movement. Their gigantic reputations are more than justified. But there is another tale to tell, the tale of Claudette Colvin and so many like her. She is emblematic of countless young people who simply refused to tolerate discrimination and hatred. She didn’t wait her turn or sit idly by while others fought. She took a stand and took on the giant.

More on Claudette Colvin:

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