If you know who Rosa Parks is, you should also be aware of Claudette Colvin.
Born September 5, 1939, in Alabama, she grew up in a poor, segregated area of Montgomery. Both of her parents worked hard to provide her some semblance of an average life, so she relied on the city’s bus system to get back and forth to school.
On March 2, 1955, Colvin was returning home from school, riding in the colored section of the bus. A white woman got on, and there was no room for her to sit. The law and custom of the time was for black passengers to accommodate white passengers by leaving their seats and giving them to white people who didn’t have one. Colvin refused, as did a pregnant woman who was sitting next to her. As a result, she was brutally arrested, hauled into juvenile court, and charged with assault, violation of the segregation law, and disturbing the peace.
She was a plaintiff in the subsequent civil rights case Browder v. Gayle, which eventually ruled that the bus segregation laws were in direct violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Although Claudette Colvin engaged in direct action months before the more notorious stand by Rosa Parks was taken on December 1st, 1955, mainstream organizations like the NAACP decided to publicize Parks’ case due to a myriad of factors, such as the disparity in class background, skin color, hair texture, and the fact that Parks was an adult and a veteran NAACP organizer/activist.
Nevertheless, the record still stands. Claudette Colvin holds a place in African American history.