Today, we celebrate and remember Rosa Parks on what would have been her 103rd birthday. Rosa Parks is known as the “mother of the Civil Rights Movement” and we are forever grateful for all her work towards freedom and justice. However, before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin.
Claudette Colvin was one of several women to refuse to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, AL prior to Rosa Parks. On March 2, 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin refused to move stating, “I paid my fare and it’s my constitutional right.” In an interview she recalls, “I remember they dragged me off the bus because I refused to walk. They handcuffed me and took me to an adult jail.” At the time, Claudette Colvin was 15 years old. She explains, “I just couldn’t move. History had me glued to the seat.”
Claudette Colvin was charged with assault and battery, disorderly conduct and defying the segregation law.
It’s important to understand how mush of a sacrifice Claudette Colvin’s actions actually were. Her parents felt that she put their family in danger, so much so that her father stayed up that entire night with a shotgun fully loaded, fearful that the KKK would come to their home. She also lost friends, with their parents saying she was “crazy” and an “extremist.”
Claudette Colvin wanted to continue her fight in the courts, unlike others that had refused to give up their seat. However, even after she sought out a lawyer, the black community leaders preferred to wait on taking legal action. Claudette Colvin had not had any civil rights training and, soon after the arrest, she became pregnant and had a child out of wedlock. She believes they felt she did not fit the image.
However, a year later, federal lawsuit Browder v. Gayle was filed, which included Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith, and ultimately ended segregation on public transportation in Alabama.
Today, we remember Claudette Colvin for her courage and sacrifice. While there are some names that quickly come to mind when we think of the Civil Rights Movement, it is important to remember that there were thousands of foot soldiers who played major roles in the movement. We may not know all their names, but we are forever indebted to them.