Before Rosa Parks, It Was 15 Year Old Claudette Colvin
Rosa Parks was not the first person to refuse to give up her seat on a city bus for a white passenger. Nine months before Parks refused her seat, 15 year old Claudette Colvin did just the same.
Claudette Colvin was born on September 5, 1939, in Montgomery, Alabama. On March 2, 1955, she refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. She was arrested and became one of four plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, which ruled that Montgomery’s segregated bus system was unconstitutional. Colvin moved to New York City and worked as a nurse’s aide. She retired in 2004.
On March 2, 1955, Colvin was riding home on a city bus after school when a bus driver told her to give up her seat to a white passenger. She refused, saying, “It’s my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare, it’s my constitutional right.” Colvin felt compelled to stand her ground. “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,” she later told Newsweek.
Colvin was arrested, but was quickly bailed out by her minister. She was then put on probation. Her refusing to give up her seat gave her a reputation of being a trouble marker, which caused her to drop out of college. She also had a hard time finding work. She later moved to New York and became a nursing aid.
Although I was not taught about Colvin in school, I had heard stories of other people refusing their seat to whites before Rosa Parks did. Parks is said to have received such high recognition for her action because she was already a member of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and had been since 1943.
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