Claudette Colvin is an African-American civil rights activist who dared to question the discrimination faced by blacks from a young age.
Growing up in a poor neighborhood, she had witnessed several accounts of racism and discrimination not only at the hands of the whites, but also at the hands of members of her very own black African-American community.
Claudette Colvin could be a common name in every modern U.S. history book, but the protest of another woman nine months later became the rallying cry for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Colvin, then a 15-year old student at Booker T. Washington, was arrested for her refusal to give up a bus seat in 1955, but it was another woman and another arrest nine months later that would capture people’s attention and be noted in modern American history books.
Civil rights attorney Fred Gray always discusses Colvin when he speaks about the boycott and about Parks.
He points out the boycott and its place in history would have been vastly different without Colvin’s action.
She is one of two living women who were plaintiffs from the lawsuit including Mary Louise Smith.
Even though Smith continues to live in Montgomery, she much like Colvin has received little recognition for her action.
Colvin will be recognized in the addition to the museum, which will be completed for the 50th anniversary.
There will be a photo of her and a description of her role in the civil rights movement.
There is little recognition of her in the current museum. In spite of her impoverished background, she held high aspirations and had mentioned in a school assignment that she wanted to be the president.
She learnt about the civil rights movement in school and was a member of the NAACP Youth Council.
On 2 March, 1955, she was riding a Capital Heights bus downtown when some white people got on.
At that time there was segregated seating arrangements in the buses—the blacks at the back and whites at the front.
She was sitting in the middle and was asked to vacate her seat for a white person who was standing.
She spent three hours in the jail before her mother and pastor, Reverend H.H. Johnson came to bail her out.
She was convicted of disturbing the peace and violating the segregation law.
However, this incident sparked off a heated debate in the Alabama community about the segregation laws.
She was kicked, handcuffed, arrested and held for three hours in an adult jail, then released to her mother.
She was charged and tried, and ultimately given indefinite probation in her parents’ care.
At the time, civil rights leaders in Montgomery were looking for a “test case” — an act of civil disobedience that could lead to a boycott of the bus system and the end of segregation.
Colvin was considered and dismissed — some say because it turned out she was pregnant (after her arrest), some say it was because she was poor and of a lower caste in the black community (because of her darker skin).
Nine months later, Rosa Parks proved a better test case. Colvin went on to be one of four plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case of Browder v. Gayle, the case that held in 1956 that bus segregation was unconstitutional.
When she was 18, Corvin moved to New York, where she worked as a nurse’s aide until retiring in 2004. Not one to seek attention, Corvin remained a footnote in the history of the civil rights movement until the 2000s.