Claudette Colvin is one of the 40 heroes in our CHILDREN game, made up of people who made/changed history under the age of 18.
Claudette Colvin made history on 2nd March 1955 when, aged 15, she refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. You may well say, ‘Surely that was Rosa Parks?’ – Rosa Parks did it too…9 months after Claudette Colvin’s stand.
Claudette was an African-American schoolgirl in segregated Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. She wasn’t allowed to use dressing rooms in department stores and she knew that the seats at the front of the bus were reserved for Whites. On 2nd March 1955 Claudette boarded a public bus with three friends. They sat in a middle row. As the bus continued its journey, it filled up. Soon a white woman stood expectantly by Claudette and her friends. The bus driver called to the girls, “I need those seats”. Claudette’s friends obediently got up and went to the back of the bus. Claudette Colvin stayed where she was. She later said, “I just couldn’t move. History had me glued to the seat”. Claudette had been learning about African American heroes in school at the time.
The bus driver called the police and when they told Claudette Colvin to leave the bus, she cried, “I paid my fare. It’s my constitutional right.” The police simply dragged the 15 year old schoolgirl off the bus and into an adult jail. There she was charged with assault and battery, disorderly conduct and defying the segregation law. Claudette Colvin’s parents were appalled and frightened. Her father stayed up all night with his shotgun in his lap, waiting for the Ku Klux Klan to appear but they did not.
Claudette Colvin was not greeted or supported with the same enthusiasm that Rosa Parks enjoyed from the same, local African-American community 9 months later. Many of Claudette’s friends parents told their children to stay away from the girl. As Claudette Colvin explained, ‘They said I was crazy. I was an extremist’. Claudette Colvin wanted to fight her case in court but her local community decided to wait for a more experienced representative to back in their fight against segregation. Nine months later an officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, mild mannered, 42 year old Rosa Parks stepped forward. She, too, was extremely brave and made important Civil Rights history. But let us not forget 15 year old Claudette Colvin for her inspirational contribution to history too.