Happy Women in History Wednesday! Our WCW for this week is Claudette Colvin!
Born on September 5th, 1939, Claudette Colvin grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. She was an intelligent student, and became active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council while in high school. Colvin noticed and experienced the harsh effects of racism in her neighborhood, and wanted to work for change.
Riding home from school on a public bus on March 2nd, 1955, Colvin sat in the middle of the bus and was told to move to the segregated back section as the bus got full. Colvin refused, repeatedly saying that it was her right to sit anywhere after buying a ticket to ride. The bus driver called the police, who forcibly dragged her off the bus and arrested her for disturbing the peace and violating segregation laws. Colvin spent several hours in jail, being verbally abused by the guards, before her mother and pastor arrived to bail her out. Colvin pleaded not guilty in court, but was still convicted and put on probation. In 1956, she and three other women who had experienced similar events challenged the Montgomery bus system’s segregation in the Browder v. Gayle case, and the segregation policies were ruled unconstitutional.
Now, you might be saying, “Allie, we’ve already heard a story like this, but it was Rosa Parks.” Parks was working as the secretary for the NAACP during this time, and was well known for her organizing and protest skills. The NAACP didn’t think that putting a teenager like Colvin at the head of the public transport desegregation movement would look respectable. Additionally, Colvin got pregnant during the summer of 1955, and having not just a teenager but an unwed and pregnant teenager wasn’t going to bring the attention that the NAACP wanted. So about nine months after Colvin’s refusal, arrest, and imprisonment, Parks was tasked with repeating the event and raising awareness of her own experience with the unjust segregation of public transport and facilities, effectively kicking off the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Only within the past decade has Colvin’s story become known.
While Colvin was originally praised by her community for her bravery, she was ostracized for her pregnancy. In 1958, she moved to New York and began working at as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home in Manhattan. She had one more son, but never married. Colvin retired in 2004, and still resides in the Bronx.
All my fellow youngin’s out there: I hope you take away a feeling of encouragement from Colvin’s story. She was a teenager when she challenged authorities and stood up for what’s right. We are not too young to make a difference – Colvin paved the way for a major part of the Civil Rights movement. If you want to make a difference, to drive change, go for it!
To learn more about Claudette Colvin’s recently uncovered life story, check out these NPR, bio., and Famous People articles. Additionally, a book titled Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose was published in 2010. I have yet to read it, so if you beat me to it, let me know what you think! There is also a great Drunk History episode about Colvin, which I hate to say is how I first heard about her.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!