Claudette Colvin is an organizer who helped launch the civil rights movement in Alabama in the 1950s. Months before Rosa Parks’ more well-known protest, she declined to give up her seat on a bus.
Claudette Colvin: Who Is She?
Civil rights activist Claudette Colvin was the first person, before Rosa Parks, to decline to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. She was taken into custody and later became one of the four claimants in Browder v. Gayle, the case in which it was decided that Montgomery’s segregated bus system violated the constitution and should be abolished. Later, Colvin made her way to New York City, where she found employment as a nurse’s aide. In 2004, she decided to resign.
In the Beginning
Colvin was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on September 5, 1939. Colvin worked diligently in school despite being raised in a less affluent area of Montgomery. She tended to get As in her courses and hoped to run for president someday.
Colvin was taking a city bus home from school on March 2, 1955, when the bus driver asked her to give up her spot to a white passenger. She declined, stating, “As much as that woman, I have the constitutional right to rest here. It is legally obligated to me because I paid my ticket.” Colvin felt she had to defend herself. “I had the impression that Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth were pressing down on each other’s shoulders and yelling, “Sit down, daughter!” I was firmly fixed in place, “She later disclosed to Newsweek.
Arrested for Breaking the Laws Regarding Segregation
Colvin was detained after she refused to vacate her seat and was charged with breaking the city’s segregation rules among other things. She sat in jail for several hours, utterly frightened. Colvin later recalled, “You just didn’t know what white folks might do at that time. I was really afraid. She returned home after her minister had paid her bail and, out of concern for potential retaliation, she and her family remained up all night.
Colvin’s age prevented the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from using her case to challenge the segregation laws, which they had briefly contemplated doing. Additionally, she had gotten pregnant, and they believed that an unmarried mother would draw too much negative notice in a public legal dispute. In March 1956, she gave birth to Raymond, her firstborn.
Colvin testified in court that she was innocent in an effort to challenge the segregation legislation. But the judge disqualified her and sentenced her to probation. Despite receiving a light sentence, Colvin was still held accountable in the eyes of the people. The formerly silent student was labeled a troublemaker by some, forcing her to leave college. Additionally, she was unable to get a work due to her reputation.
Colvin joined Mary Louise Smith, Susie McDonald, Aurelia S. Browder, and Mary Louise Browder as one of the four plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle lawsuit despite facing personal obstacles (Jeanatta Reese, who was initially named a plaintiff in the case, withdrew early on due to outside pressure). The 1956 case, which had been brought on behalf of the aforementioned African American ladies by Fred Gray and Charles D. Langford, found that Montgomery’s segregated bus system was unconstitutional.
Colvin left for New York City two years later, where she gave birth to her second child, Randy, and worked as a nurse’s assistant in a Manhattan nursing facility. She left her job in 2004.
Colvin Goes to Work and Legacy
The arrest of Parks, another woman who declined to give up her seat on the bus nine months after Colvin, has received a lot of attention in writing about the civil rights movement in Montgomery. Colvin’s story has gotten little attention, in contrast to Parks, who has been hailed as a civil rights hero. Some people have made changes to that. The poem “Claudette Colvin Goes to Work” by Rita Dove was subsequently turned into a song. In the young adult biography Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, Phillip Hoose also wrote about her.
Colvin assisted in advancing civil rights initiatives in Montgomery, despite the fact that her contribution to the struggle to end segregation there may not be generally acknowledged. “We all received spiritual courage from Claudette. I doubt we would have been able to build Mrs. Parks’ support if she had not done what she did “Fred Gray, her former lawyer, told Newsweek.
- Name: Claudette Colvin
- Birth Year: 1939
- Birth date: September 5, 1939
- Birth State: Alabama
- Birth City: Montgomery
- Birth Country: United States
- Gender: Female
- Best Known For: Claudette Colvin is an activist who was a pioneer in the civil rights movement in Alabama during the 1950s. She refused to give up her seat on a bus months before Rosa Parks’ more famous protest.
- Industries: Civil Rights
- Astrological Sign: Virgo