February 8th, 2018 by Goshen Public Library Leave a reply »

Before there was Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin.  Most people think of Rosa Parks as the first person to refuse to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  There were actually several women who came before her; one of whom was Claudette Colvin.

It was March 2, 1955 when the 15-year-old schoolgirl refused to move to the back of the bus, 9 months before Rosa Parks’ refusal that launched the Montgomery bus boycott.  Claudette  had been studying Black leaders like Harriet Tubman in her segregated school—those conversations had led to discussions around the current day Jim Crow laws they were all experiencing.  When the bus driver ordered Claudette to get up, she refused.  “It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, & Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down.  I couldn’t get up.”

Claudette Colvin was arrested & thrown in jail.  She was one of the 4 women who challenged the segregation law in court.  If Browder v. Gayle became the court case that successfully overturned bus segregation laws in both Montgomery & all of Alabama, why has Claudette’s story been largely forgotten?  At the time, the NAACP & other Black organizations felt Rosa Parks made a better icon for the movement than the teenager.  As an adult with the right look, Rosa Parks was also the secretary of the NAACP, & was both well-known & respected—people would associate her with the middle class & that would attract support for the cause.  But, the struggle to end segregstion was often fought by young people—more than half of which were women.

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