March 3rd – Claudette Colvin

Today is March 3rd and we are remembering a civil rights activist Claudette Colvin.

Claudette Colvin was 15 years old on March 2nd, 1955. It was that day when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus for a white person. This happened 9 months before Rosa Parks’ famous protest but her name has gotten a bit lost in history.

Colvin’s book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice details the day of her arrest and you can read it from her point of view in this excerpt here.

Following her arrest, Colvin experienced many difficulties in her life.

Due to the bus incident, she was convicted of disturbing the peace, breaking segregation laws, and “assaulting an officer”, even though witnesses said there was no assault to the officers. When Colvin appealed, the charges of disrupting the peace and breaking segregation laws were dropped but the “assaulting an officer” was not.

Shortly after this, Colvin got pregnant at the age of 16.

Then following the birth of her son, Raymond in March 1956, Colvin stood with Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith as plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle court case. This was the case that put an end to the Alabama and Montgomery bus segregation permanently, declaring the segregation unconstitutional. There were originally 5 plaintiffs but Jeanetta Reese was pressured by the white community to drop out of the case.

After all of the things Colvin already had to deal with, she faced alienation from her own community. She was branded as a “trouble maker” after the bus incident, had a hard time keeping a job because of her participation in Browder v Gayle. She also had to deal with speculation about who her son’s father was, due to his lighter skin. To stary anew, Colvin moved to New York City in 1958 but she did not speak out about her story until a while later.

Even after all that she had done, fought for, and been through, she was told by organizations such as the NAACP that Rosa Parks was seen as a better figure to lead the movement because she was an “adult”. Parks had a job, she was middle class. Although Colvin has said that she wasn’t mad Rosa was the one to be the face of the boycott, she was just let down that her name, as well as others, were lost in the waves of history. In 2005 she said:

Let the people know Rosa Parks was the right person for the [Montgumery Bus] boycott. But also let them know that the attorneys took four other women to the Supreme Court to challenge the law that led to the end of segregation.”

She is completely right there. The names of the other women aren’t given as much gratitude as they are due for what they did. Their names aren’t on as many museums or in as many history books. They deserve so much credit for what they did. They risked their lives to do what was right, they’re heroes.

I’m very sad to say that at the age of 20, this is the first time I have heard Claudette Colvin’s story. 

She was just 15-years-old when she decided that enough was enough and took a stand for equality. Claudette Colvin’s name should be in every history book. She risked so much that March day and she deserves to be remembered and cherished.

Thank you, Claudette Colvin.

Sources: Wikipedia, NPR

I’ll be writing about a different badass woman every day of March so check out the master post here.

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