Claudette Colvin was a civil rights activist in Alabama during the 1950s who refused to give up her seat on a bus months before Rosa Parks’ more famous protest. Claudette Colvin was born on September 5, 1939, in Montgomery, Alabama. On March 2, 1955, Months before Rosa Parks, Colvin stood up against segregation in Alabama when she was only 15 years old. Colvin was riding home on a city bus after school when a bus driver told her to give up her seat to a white passenger. She refused, saying, “It’s my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare, it’s my constitutional right.” Colvin felt compelled to stand her ground. “I felt like Sojourner Truth was pushing down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other—saying, ‘Sit down girl!’ I was glued to my seat,” she later told Newsweek
She was arrested and became one of four plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, which ruled that Montgomery’s segregated bus system was unconstitutional.
After her minister paid her bail, she went home where she and her family stayed up all night out of concern for possible retaliation.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People briefly considered using Colvin’s case to challenge the segregation laws, but they decided against it because of her age. She also became pregnant around the time of her arrest, and they thought an unwed mother would attract too much negative attention in a public legal battle.
While her role in the fight to end segregation in Montgomery may not be widely recognized, Colvin helped advance civil rights efforts in the city. “Claudette gave all of us moral courage. If she had not done what she did, I am not sure that we would have been able to mount the support for Mrs. Parks,” her former attorney, Fred Gray, told Newsweek.
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