BHM Unsung Hero: Claudette Colvin

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David Bien-Aime

Before there was Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin, a fifteen-year-old girl arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus. Colvin was arrested on March 2nd, 1955, nine months before Parks. Colvin got arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, the same city as Parks. However, Parks’ arrest sparked outrage and led to the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott. Both did the same thing and stood their ground against the unjust laws, so why is one talked about while the other gets little to no attention?   

Colvin was born on September 5th, 1939, in the lower-income parts of Montgomery, Alabama. Growing up, she wanted to become president of the United States. This motivated her to work hard in school, and the motivation paid off because she got good grades. On the day she got arrested, she was heading home from school when the altercation occurred. When asked to move, Colvin stated, “It’s my constitutional right to sit here as much as this lady. I paid my fare, it’s my constitutional right,” When she was arrested, she was in jail for hours until someone paid bail. Many years later, Colvin overcame this conviction and became a nurse. 

Why does Claudette Colvin not get much attention? Part of the reason for this is because of her young age and her teen-pregnancy. When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was looking to submit this case to challenge segregation laws, they worried her pregnancy at a young age would bring a lot of public criticism. Some people also believed that part of the reason she wasn’t used as a symbol for the civil rights movement is deep-rooted in the fact she’s a dark-skinned woman, with more Afrocentric features compared to Rosa Parks, who was considered “fair-skinned.” Clearly, image was very important and Colvin’s contribution is overlooked. She inspired Parks to stand her ground months later. This makes Colvin an important person during the civil rights movement era. Without her initial courage and bravery, Parks may not have ever refused to give up her seat and the Montgomery Bus Boycott may not have ever happened.