Most people know who the lady on the left is. Rosa Parks. The mother of the American Civil Rights Movement. The woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus and sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted from Dec 1 1955 to Dec 20 1956. When she passed away in 2005, she became the first woman to lie in honour at th Capitol Rotunda. What would have been Parks’ 100th birthday was even celebrated, and Obama said that ‘Rosa Parks’ singular act of disobedience launched a movement’. Although Parks’ actions will forever be remembered as a key moment in the Civil Rights movement, today is about the little girl on the right.
Claudette Colvin (Sept 5th 1939 – )
9 months before Rosa Parks made her stand (or sit), the then 15-year-old Claudette Colvin became the first person arrested for resisting the segregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama. In fact, there were 3 others who were arrested before Parks, who made up the case Browder vs Gayle in 1956. So if Colvin was the first to do what she did, why then isn’t she celebrated as highly as Parks?
Apparently, because Colvin was dark-skinned and actually gave birth to a son in Dec 1955, she wasn’t seen as a good representation for what the NAACP wanted to portray. Parks however, was a secretary at the NAACP, light-skinned and educated. Aurelia Browder (who resisted arrest 7 months before Parks) was chosen to front the case because she was middle-aged and educated. The other 4 plaintiffs consisted of 2 teenagers and 2 senior citizens. Browder was deemed as the best representation for the case.
When asked why she didn’t get up when the bus driver and then police asked her to, Colvin answers:
I could not move because history had me glued to the seat… because it felt like Sojourner Truths hands were pushing me down on one shoulder, and Harriet Tubmans hands were pushing me down on another shoulder… I yelled out “It’s my constitutional right!”
Colvin gives the occasional interview and you can watch one with her here.
I do rate Rosa Parks, just not as much as Claudette Colvin. Please forgive the almost blasphemous title.