When you think of the Civil Rights Movement, whose name first comes to mind as the impetus for the Montgomery bus boycott?
- Claudette Colvin
- Rosa Parks
- Mary Louise Smith
Rosa Parks has gone down in history for her role in not giving up her seat on the Montgomery buses, but she was not the first. Nine months earlier, Claudette Colvin, a high school junior, refused to give up her seat on the bus. She was arrested and harrassed. She returned to school amid controversy and questions. It seemed that Civil Rights leaders were taken by surprise by her rebellion and weren’t sure a teenage girl from a poor section of town was the person to become the public face of a segretation showdown.
Having grown up during a time of integrated schools and public places, it is hard for me to imagine the horrors segregation imposed. Claudette’s story brings home the injustice and unfairness and shines a light on the brutal treatment she and her family and neighbors endured every day. I found myself angry at her treatment by the white police and by the Civil Rights leaders who passed over her contribution. I also found myself rejoicing in Claudette’s pride that it took a school girl to speak out for the first cry for justice and goad her elders into taking action instead of just talking about it.
Even though Claudette did not get recognition of her role at that time, she later testified in the case Browder v. Gayle, which forced the integration of Montgomery buses and brought an end to the boycott. History nearly overlooked the bravery Claudette showed in her cry for freedom. I am glad that Phillip Hoose researched her story and shared it in Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice.
Claudette’s story doesn’t stop way back then. There are still injustices in the world today. Check out the Community Project to see how you can take a stand and speak out against injustice, too. Listen to Claudette’s story in her own voice:
How will you speak out against injustice?