Claudette Colvin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Claudette Colvin
Born (1939-09-05) September 5, 1939 (age 74)
Alabama, U.S.
Residence The Bronx, New York City
Occupation civil rights activist and nurse

Claudette Colvin (born September 5, 1939) is a pioneer of the African-American civil rights movement. In 1955, she was the first person arrested for resisting bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, preceding the better publicized Rosa Parks incident by nine months.

She was among the five women originally included in the federal court case, filed on February 1, 1956 as Browder v. Gayle (1956), and testified before the three-judge panel that heard the case in the United States District Court. On June 13, 1956, the judges determined that the state and local laws requiring bus segregation in Alabama were unconstitutional. The case went to the United States Supreme Court, which upheld their ruling on December 17, 1956. Three days later, the Supreme Court issued an order to Montgomery and the state to end bus segregation in Alabama.

For a long time, Montgomery's black leaders did not publicize Colvin's pioneering effort because she was a teenager and became pregnant while unmarried. Given the social norms of the time and her youth, the NAACP leaders worried about using her to represent their movement.12

Early life

Colvin was born September 5, 1939 and grew up in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Montgomery, Alabama.3 In 1955 Colvin was a student at the segregated Booker T. Washington High School in the city.4 Colvin was a good student in school, earning mostly A's in her courses and she even said she had high aspirations of being President one day. Colvin was a member of the NAACP Youth Council and was actively learning about the civil rights movement in school.5

She was returning home from school on March 2, 1955 when she got on a Capital Heights bus downtown. She relied on the city's buses to get to and from school. She sat in the middle section. If the bus became so crowded that all the "white seats" in front were filled and a white person was standing, the blacks were supposed to leave these seats and move to the back and stand if needed. When a white woman got on the bus and was standing, bus driver Robert W. Cleere ordered Colvin and two other black passengers to get up and move to the back. When Colvin refused, she was removed from the bus and arrested by two police officers.6 This was nine months before secretary Rosa Parks was famously arrested for the same offense.1 When Colvin refused to get up, she was thinking about a school paper that she had written that day. It was about the local custom that prevented blacks from using the dressing rooms and trying on clothing in department stores.7

"The bus was getting crowded and I remember the bus driver looking through the rear view mirror asking her to get up for the white woman, which she didn't," said Annie Larkins Price, a classmate of Colvin's. "She had been yelling it's my constitutional right. She decided on that day that she wasn't going to move."8 Colvin was handcuffed, arrested and forcibly removed from the bus. She shouted that her constitutional rights were being violated.16 Price testified for Colvin in the juvenile court case. Colvin was convicted of violating the segregation law and assault.8 "There was no assault," Price said.8

Court trial

Colvin was also one of four women plaintiffs in the court case Browder v. Gayle. This trial determined that bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama was unconstitutional.9 During the trial, Colvin described her arrest:

"I kept saying, 'He has no civil right... this is my constitutional right... you have no right to do this.' And I just kept blabbing things out, and I never stopped. That was worse than stealing, you know, talking back to a white person."7

The case was appealed by state and local officials to the United States Supreme Court. On November 13, 1956, the case was heard by the Supreme Court who affirmed the District Court's ruling. In December, the Supreme Court declined to reconsider and on December 20, 1956, it ordered Montgomery and Alabama to end bus segregation in the state.10

Personal life

In December 1955, Colvin gave birth to a son, Raymond. He was so light-skinned (like his father) that people frequently said she had a baby by a white man. Colvin left Montgomery for New York in 1958,11 because she had difficulty finding and keeping work after the notoriety of the federal court case overturning bus segregation. (Similarly, Parks left Montgomery for Detroit in 1957.)10 Colvin said after her actions on the bus she was branded as a troublemaker by those in her community and had to drop out of college.12

In New York, the young Colvin and Raymond first lived with her older sister, Velma Colvin. She got a job as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home in Manhattan, where she worked for 35 years. She retired in 2004.1 Colvin never married.1 While living in New York, she had a second son, who became an accountant in Atlanta, married and had his own family. Raymond Colvin died in 1993 at age 37 in New York.1

Legacy

Although Colvin did have a "spark" that may have ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott movement, she rarely told her story once she moved to New York City. Conversation in the black community focused on black enterprise by this time rather than on integration issues. NPR's Margot Adler said that black organizations felt that Rosa Parks made a better test case for integration because she was an adult, and she had the right hair and look to make her appear as middle class.5

In 2005, Colvin told the Montgomery Advertiser that she would not have changed her decision to remain seated.

"I feel very, very proud of what I did. I do feel like what I did was a spark and it caught on."13 "I'm not disappointed," Colvin said. "Let the people know Rosa Parks was the right person for the boycott. But also let them know that the attorneys took four other women to the Supreme Court to challenge the law that led to the end of segregation."10

Colvin has often said that she is not angry she didn't get the recognition she deserved, but instead disappointed. She said she felt as if she was "getting her Christmas in January rather than the 25th."14

In popular culture

  • Rita Dove, a U.S. poet laureate, included "Claudette Colvin Goes to Work," in her book of collected poetry, On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999). Dove referred to Colvin in her magazine article, "The Torchbearer Rosa Parks."15
  • The folk singer John McCutcheon set the poem to music, sang and recorded "Claudette Colvin Goes to Work," with Rita Dove speaking one line, on his CD Mightier than the Sword (2006).
  • Awele Makeba wrote, directed and starred in a one-woman drama, Rage Is Not A 1-Day Thing!, in which she relates the story of the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott through the eyes of Colvin following her arrest.16
  • Phillip Hoose wrote a biography, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, which won the 2009 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.1
  • In "Red Team III," the seventh episode in the second season of HBO's The Newsroom, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) references Claudette Colvin.

Quotes

  • "It's my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare, it's my constitutional right."17

Colvin said this as she was getting arrested by the two police officers on the bus.

  • "I knew then and I know now that, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can't sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, 'This is not right.'"18
  • "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,"

Colvin later told Newsweek this in an interview as to how she was feeling staying in her seat on the bus.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Brookes Barnes (November 26, 2009). "From Footnote to Fame in Civil Rights History". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ "Her circumstances would make her an extremely vulnerable standard-bearer." ISBN 0-671-68742-5 p. 123
  3. ^ "Claudette Colvin", Montgomery Boycott
  4. ^ "Claudette Colvin: an unsung hero in the Montgomery Bus Boycott". JET (FindArticles). 2005-02-28. Retrieved 2009-11-27. 
  5. ^ a b Adler, Margot. Before Rosa Parks, There Was Claudette Colvin. NPR. March 15, 2009. Retrieved November 24, 2013.
  6. ^ a b Gray, Eliza (2009-03-02). "A Forgotten Contribution: Before Rosa Parks, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on the bus". Newsweek. Retrieved 2009-11-26. "On March 2, 1955, nine months before Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., a skinny, 15-year-old schoolgirl was yanked by both wrists and dragged off a very similar bus." dead link
  7. ^ a b Brinkley, Douglas (2000). Rosa Parks. Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-89160-3. 
  8. ^ a b c Dawkins, Amanda (2005-02-07). "'Unsung hero' of boycott paved way for Parks.". The Huntsville Times. p. 6B. 
  9. ^ N.p.. Web. 2 Nov 2013. <http://www.biography.com/people/claudette-colvin-11378>.
  10. ^ a b c Spratling, Cassandra (2005-11-16). "2 other bus boycott heroes praise Parks' acclaim". Chicago Tribune. p. 2. 
  11. ^ Younge, Gary (2000-12-16). "She would not be moved". London: The Guardian. 
  12. ^ N.p.. Web. 2 Nov 2013. <http://www.biography.com/people/claudette-colvin-11378>.
  13. ^ Kitchen, Sebastian (2005-02-04). "Colvin helped light flame of civil rights.". Montgomery Advertiser. p. 1. 
  14. ^ N.p.. Web. 2 Nov 2013. <http://www.montgomeryboycott.com/claudette-colvin/>.
  15. ^ TIME, June 14, 1999
  16. ^ "Storyteller presents tale of Montgomery Bus Boycott". GVNow (Grand Valley State University). 2003-01-28. Retrieved 2009-11-27. 
  17. ^ N.p.. Web. 2 Nov 2013. <http://www.montgomeryboycott.com/claudette-colvin/>.
  18. ^ N.p.. Web. 2 Nov 2013. <http://www.biography.com/people/claudette-colvin-11378>.

Further reading

  • Phillip Hoose. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), Claudette Colvin, Twice Toward Justice. (2009). ISBN 0-374-31322-9.
  • Taylor Branch. New York, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, Parting The Waters - American in the King Years 1954-63. (1988). ISBN 0-671-68742-5.

External links








Creative Commons License