Written by Freya Bennett
Have you heard of Claudette Colvin?
Born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, she was an incredible leader in the civil rights movement in 1955. Before Rosa Parks stood up to segregation on buses, Claudette Colvin did! And we want her recognized!
On March the 2nd 1955, Claudette (who was 15 at the time) was coming home from school on her usual bus. She was already seated in the “coloured” section at the back of the bus, but rule stated that if the bus became overcrowded and there were white people standing at the front of the bus, “coloured” people had to move out of their designated seats and stand at the back of the bus to make way for white passengers. So, on this March afternoon, the bus became crowded, and when a young white woman got on the bus and was standing, the bus driver asked Claudette and her friends to move. Claudette refused. She was removed from the bus, and was arrested by two police officers.
This was 9 months before Rosa Parks made her stance against bus segregation.
When Claudette refused to get up, she was thinking about a school paper she had been writing that day which was about local custom that prevented coloured people from trying on clothes in dressing rooms in department stores. She was quoted saying, “We couldn’t try on clothes, you had to take a paper bag and draw a diagram of your foot and take it to the store.”
From the simple act of refusing to move from her seat and stating that it was her constitutional right to remain in her seat, Claudette was convicted of disturbing the peace, violating the segregation law, and assault.
In December 1955, Claudette gave birth to a son named Raymond. She left Montgomery for New York in 1958, because after her arrest, she was branded a trouble-maker by her community.
There are a few rumours as to why Claudette wasn’t recognised as the first African American woman to boycott bus segregation in Montgomery. Some say it was because she became an unwed mother in her teens, others say it was because her skin was too dark and she didn’t have the right “look.” Whatever the reason is, we salute you Claudette. You are a brave and fighting soul who only in recent years is getting the recognition you deserve.
Claudette Colvin is 75 this year, and lives in the Bronx, New York City. You can read more about her here