Before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin

Zaynab Kouatli, Staff Writer

Many are familiar with the story of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger in 1955.

However, few are aware that there were numerous women who rejected the racist bus system. Fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin was the first to confront the injustice.

Colvin grew up in a majority poor, black neighborhood in Montgomery, Alabama. According to the National Women’s History Museum, Colvin was taught about the racial injustice for she attended an all-black school; Alabama did not desegregate its schools until years after the 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision.

Her school educated students on topics such as Jim crow and Black history. February was the month during which Negro History Week took place, which evolved to be known as Black History Month today.

Colvin walked to downtown Montgomery with three of her peers on March 2, 1955. According to Colvin, when they boarded the bus, they sat behind the first five rows, which were reserved for white passengers.

Shortly after, a young white woman boarded the bus; however, the white section was completely full. During this time, bus drivers had the ability to force black passengers to move for white passengers, despite if they were sitting in the black section.

The bus driver requested Colvin and her friends to give up their seat. Her friends immediately got up, but Colvin refused. Colvin told Teen Vouge, “Some white students (on the bus) were yelling: ‘You have to get up, you have to get up,’ and a colored girl, one of the students said, ‘Well she don’t have to do nothing but stay Black and die.'”

However, she persisted despit ethe insults being hurled towards her.

The bus driver notified the traffic police, and three stops later, a traffic officer came upon the bus and questioned why she was sat there and why she would not get up.

She replied, “because it’s my constitutional right,” and informed him that she was not violating any segregation law by sitting there.

The traffic officer told the bus driver that the police had to get engaged. A stop or two later, two police officers came onto the bus and ordered Colvin to get up.

Colvin states, “History had me glued to the seat. Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing down on the other shoulder. I was paralyzed between these two women, I couldn’t move.”

The police officers each seized one of her arms, kicked her, hurled her books from her lap, and jostled her off the bus.

The officers pushed her into their police car, handcuffed her through the windows, and took her to jail.

Colvin’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement have been forgotten or untaught. When asked why her arrest did not have the influence Parks’ did, she often claimed five justifications.

Parks seemed more dependable as the face of a movement than a 15-year-old child. Second, Parks was lighter complected than Colvin. Third, Colvin was of lower status than Parks who was middle class.

Fourth, Parks was previously well-established and admired in black political circles. Fifth, Colvin became pregnant a few months after her arrest; black leaders did not think it would be good image for the movement.

Though her position in the struggle to stop segregation in Montgomery may not be widely recognized, Colvin aided in advancing civil rights efforts in the city.

“Claudette gave all of us moral courage. If she had not done wheat she did, I am not sure that we would have been able to mount the support for Mrs. Parks,” her former attorney, Fred Gray, told Newsweek.