While Rosa Parks is revered as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,’ a young 15 year old girl took a stand against segregation in Montgomery, Alabama nine months before Parks. Claudette Colvin was a student at the city’s Booker T. Washington High School. On March 2, 1955 she and two other Black passengers were onboard a bus heading downtown and Colvin refused to surrender her seat to a white woman when ordered by the bus driver. Colvin was arrested.
Young Claudette Colvin later testified in a federal court hearing that her actions were driven by a school assignment on the prohibition against Blacks shopping in department stores. To Colvin, being told to surrender her seat was simply another example of the violation of Blacks’ civil rights. When she was arrested and forcibly removed from the bus, Colvin shouted that her constitutional rights were being violated. She would eventually face a disorderly conduct charge.
Sadly, the name of Claudette Colvin is not well known and hardly mentioned when significant moments during the civil rights movement are noted. Montgomery’s Black leaders did not publicize Colvin’s plight because she was a teenager, pregnant and single. She did not fit the “image” of African-Americans local leaders, including the NAACP, wanted to project, compared to Rosa Parks who was deemed acceptable. Colvin left Montgomery in 1958 due to the stresses of Jim Crow and relocated to New York City with her sister.