Claudette Colvin — The Woman Who Came Before Rosa Parks


The Woman Who Refused To Give Up Her Seat Before Rosa Parks

Deontae Roach, Editor: Virginia Bates

When people begin to celebrate Black History Month, they acknowledge the figures in the past that had the biggest impact. Of course, they deserve the recognition because they were the activists that had the biggest influence on making a better chance in this world for every black boy and girl who came after.

Don’t get me wrong, we will never forget to amend the individuals like Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Dubois, and Malcolm X, but these people weren’t the first black people to face discrimination.

There were many before these fighters that did not get as much acknowledgment as these people. In particular, Rosa Parks was not the first black woman to receive backlash for refusing to give up her seat. One of the people who came before her is Claudette Colvin.

Colvin is mostly known for her actions in her younger years. She made a stand against entrenched segregation nine months before Rosa Parks did. So why isn’t her name in the discussion when people talk about the greatest activists? This brown-skinned woman from Montgomery, Alabama faced many obstacles. On March 2, 1955, Colvin was riding the bus home from school when she didn’t move while being told to vacate her seat for a white woman.

During this altercation, three of her classmates got up for the women, but Colvin didn’t even budge. The police departments were soon involved, in which she informed the two officers that she knew her constitutional rights. They ignored her remarks and began to aggressively yank her off the bus and handcuff her in the back of a squad car. They then took her to the city jail. The situation de-escalated a few hours later when her mother and the family pastor arrived to bail her out. It was not over, though, Justice still needed to be served.

This unrighteous act caught the attention of local black leaders. The leaders wanted to use Colvin as an example for justification for a city-wide bus boycott, but she didn’t exactly fit the “image” they were going for. It made it seem like she was too “young” and “emotional” to serve as the rallying figure for what was certain to be a turbulent movement. Many other factors also made her unsuitable. They had found out that Colvin had been impregnated by an older man later that summer, and the community began to shun her. This topped it off and confirmed that she was the wrong person for the movement that they were going for.

Then, nine months later, the “right” person arrived when Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old seamstress, and NAACP secretary, caught the public’s attention due to her arrest on December 1, 1955, for the same thing Colvin did.

Those leaders finally got what they were looking for, and this prompted the launch of the Montgomery bus boycott the following day and the national rise of its captivating leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Since Colvin no longer had the support of her own community, this caused her to take a step back.

This did not last long because she knew what was right and wrong. A year later, Colvin teamed up with three other women, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith, who also experienced similar mistreatment on a bus, but the huge activist did not uphold it because they too did not fit the image. They were called the “plaintiffs.”

They filed a federal lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of Montgomery’s segregation laws. In the end, a three-judge panel ruled in their favor in June. This case even reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the decision in November. They issued a ruling that granted legal powers to the resistance and ultimately declared the bus boycott successful.

She received little recognition at the time for her efforts, and many people still don’t know her name to this day around the world. However, March 2 is now known as Claudette Colvin Day in Montgomery, Alabama. As the years go by, more recognition comes into place for this woman who did so much while being overlooked.

After discussing all of these details of Colvin’s life, I’ve concluded that maybe our leaders that we look up to so much may have been a little hypocritical. This doesn’t change the fact that they’ve done so much to help society today, because they have. This still means, though, that what they did was wrong in some ways, and this is okay because they’re human and things happen. They were doing the same thing white people did to them, to Colvin. They were basically segregating her from the rest because of a few difficulties.

During that time, they should’ve come together as a whole instead of removing Colvin because what happened to her was still wrong. The way she was treated was still unfair, no matter what happened in her personal life. They should’ve upheld her instead of ignoring her.