60th Anniversary of Claudette Colvin’s Arrest

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Mary Rose Bernal, Community Editor

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During Black History Month, certain immortalized vanguards for equality are commemorated for their acts of justice and promotion of black rights.  Among these are pacesetters such as Rosa Parks who has been taught about in schools over the country as an image of change. However, few know that Parks was actually inspired by a small fifteen-year-old girl from Birmingham, Alabama named Claudette Colvin.

60 years ago today, nine months before the unforgettable beginning of the bus riots, Colvin refused to give up her bus seat for a white female.  She credits her bravery to the empowering history and female role models she had been learning about in school. “My head was just too full of black history, you know, the oppression that we went through. It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn’t get up.”  Instead of moving, Colvin simply repeated that it was her constitutional right to sit on the bus like anybody else.

Colvin was promptly removed from the bus and arrested by local police.  According to Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, a book written about her experiences, the officers called Colvin derogatory names such as “Thing,” “Whore” and “Nig— Bit–” and asked about her bra size.  She remembers experiencing fear about what would happen to her and spent her time in the jail cell praying and crying.

Shortly after, Colvin was bailed out by her mother and pastor, but she never received recognition for her action.  The NAACP arranged for Rosa Parks to reenact the bus incident for a number of reasons.  First, Parks was an adult and deemed more credible for others to follow.  She had lighter skin and resembled a woman of middle class, making her altogether a better icon for the organization’s direction.  Finally, Colvin became pregnant around this time and the NAACP did not want a teenage mother as the figure behind the bus riot movement.

Following the federal court case overturning bus segregation laws in 1958, Colvin faced controversy in her community and was unable to find work.  She chose to move to New York, and her story was lost underneath the uproar of the Civil Rights Movement.  In the more accepting and modern time, Colvin is receiving praise for having demonstrated incredible bravery despite her age.  She serves as a symbol for young women everywhere who believe in a cause and in themselves, and deserves to be recognized this Black History Month.

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