Influential Women #11: Claudette Colvin

I’m going to assume that most of my readers have heard of Rosa Parks, a woman most commonly known for her bus boycott in 1955. Rosa Parks became one of the main figures in the Civil Rights movement by refusing to give up her seat at the front of the bus. However, unlike what people think, she was not the first to do this. Enter: Claudette Colvin.

Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, 15 year old Claudette Colvin did the exact same thing. When Claudette was on a bus on her way home from school on the second of March 1955, she was asked to give away her seat to a white passenger. She refused. Later she recalled that she felt like she was being “held down by Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman” as she proclaimed that it was her constitutional right to have a seat on the bus.

She was arrested for standing up for herself and “ignoring the segregation law” soon after, yet today we still talk about Rosa Parks and not about Claudette Colvin. Why? It’s simple, and it’s kind of sad that it is. See, the black community needed a perfect activist to lean on to set off their fight, and Claudette, sadly, was anything but that: she was born in 1940 to a poor black family in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of Montgomery, Alabama. On top of that, she became a mother at the mere age of 16, and the father of the child was a married man. Lastly, her skin was darker than Rosa’s.

All this combined made Claudette no more than a “messy” part of the fight for civil rights, leaving her forgotten not only in today’s history but also by the people that fought hard on her side. Her name was not mentioned or it was to discuss why she was not the right protestor for the job, and many people today are not aware that Claudette Colvin is the one who truly sparked the bus boycott and thus the general change regarding segregation rules in America, and not Rosa Parks.

I am not saying that what Rosa Parks did was not relevant – au contraire. What I am saying, however, is that many people tend to forget that there was much more to the civil rights movement than Parks and Martin Luther King, and many people seem to forget this. If you’d like to read more about this, I highly recommend an article by the Washington Post that discusses this issue much more thoroughly.

Claudette Colvin was not the perfect activist. She was never “the perfect protestor for the job”. Yet she stood up for herself and for her people, and, maybe, that’s exactly why everyone should her name, too.

  • L. Parole

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