African Americans Forgotten in History: Claudette Colvin

African Americans Forgotten in History: Claudette Colvin

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Angela Witherby, Staff writer

Claudette Colvin was a pioneer in the civil rights movement of the 1950s, refusing to give up her seat to a white woman on a bus months before the better known refusal of Rosa Parks.

Colvin was born on September 5, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. She grew up in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Montgomery but, determined to get out of the poverty cycle, Colvin studied exceptionally hard in school in order to succeed.

At the young age of 15, Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a bus. She was arrested on multiple charges including violating Montgomery’s segregation laws. She was bailed out by her minister a couple of hours after her arrest, but her family feared what might happen to them once the wider community found out.

Initially, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People wanted to use Colvin as a case against segregation, but because she was 15 and pregnant, they decided that it would be better to leave Colvin’s case out of their fight. When Colvin went to court she pleaded not guilty, but the court put her on probation, which ruined her reputation. Colvin dropped out of college and struggled to find a job.

In 1956, Colvin served as one of the four plaintiffs in the well known case of Browder v. Gayle. The verdict in the Browder v. Gayle case was what declared Montgomery’s bus segregation system unconstitutional. Her first son, Raymond, was born that year.

After the trial, Colvin moved to New York City with her son to work as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home in Manhattan. There she gave birth to her second son, Randy. Colvin retired from nursing in 2004.

Though Rosa Parks did have an enormous effect on desegregation and the civil rights movement, it is important that Claudette Colvin’s name is not forgotten. There are many that believe that if Colvin had not had the courage at the age of 15 to take a stand against segregation, the community may not have had the unity or support that Parks needed to make a significant push towards civil rights.