Claudette Colvin - Civil Rights Pioneer
Claudette was born on September 5, 1939 in Montgomery, Alabama. She worked hard at school and ended up earning mostly A’s in her classes. She aspired to one day becoming President.
In early 1955 Claudette was 15 years old and learning about Black History in school. She specifically remembers learning about Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth and having class discussions about the current injustices they were facing. In an interview Claudette says, “You couldn’t try on clothes, you had to take a brown paper bag and draw a diagram of your foot…and take it to the store.”
On March 2, 1955 Claudette was traveling home after school on a city bus when the bus driver tried to force her to give up her seat to a white passenger. She protested by saying, “It’s my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare, its my constitutional right.” She later stated that, “I felt like Sojourner Truth was pushing down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other – saying, ‘Sit down girl!’ I was glued to my seat.”
Claudette was put into handcuffs by two officers and arrested on a few charges, one of which was violating the city’s segregation laws.
Once arrested and placed in the jail cell the fear began to take over, mind you she is only 15 years old. “I was really afraid, because you just didn’t know what white people might do at that time,” She said after the event. She was so afraid there is a quote that says she began to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
Don’t forget that this all happened 9 months before Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Claudette’s minister bailed her out of jail but some in the community now saw her as a troublemaker, so things got tough for her. In her court hearing she pleaded not guilty, but the court disagreed and sentenced her to probation.
In 1956 she was drug back into the fight with three other women who experienced mistreatment on a bus, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith. They were all plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle case which ended up ruling that Montgomery’s segregated bus system was unconstitutional. Later that year the case was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court which made the bus boycott a success.
Fred Gray, Claudette’s former attorney later said, “Claudette gave us all moral courage. If she had not done what she did, I am not sure that we would have been able to mount the support for Mrs. Parks,”. Claudette ended up paving the way for the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the famous protest by Rosa Parks.
After the court case life in Alabama was hard for Claudette, so she took her son and moved to New York where she had another son and worked as a nurse’s aide. She stayed badass and retired in 2004.
**Photos from Newsweek. All written information found on Biography.com and NPR.com**