Yesterday, December 1st, marked the 60th anniversary of the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Did you know that she was not the first person arrested for this? In March, of 1955, a teenager named Claudette Colvin created a spark for the Civil Rights movement.
Colvin had to take the public bus to get to her high school. One day, on her way home, the bus driver told her to give up her seat for a white woman who was standing. Colvin refused, saying she didn’t feel like standing. The bus driver called the police who physically removed Colvin from the bus.
This incident earned her a place as a plaintiff in the the court case that would rule the segregation of buses as unconstitutional, Browder vs. Gayle. When the case went to the Supreme Court in 1956, Colvin, who was 17 at the time, was the last witness to testify.
The book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice recounts her story, from her childhood through her decision to move to New York. It’s a fascinating story and a look at how the Civil Rights movement was organized and planned. The book includes details on how the African-American community organized to make the Montgomery bus boycott effective, while still allowing them to go about their lives. Most everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks, but before reading this book I knew very little about Claudette Colvin. Hers is a fascinating story and gives much more context to Parks’s story as well.