Claudette Colvin was born on September 5th 1939 in Montgomery, Alabama, where she was adopted by C. P. Colvin and Mary Anne Colvin. At the age of four Colvin experienced her first taste of racial inequality; she learned that black people could not touch white people and live to talk about it. In 1955 at the age of fifteen Colvin was attending Booker T. Washington High School, she relied to the city bus for transportation to and from school. On March 2nd 1955 Colvin was riding the city bus in the colored only section, home from school as normal. The bus became overcrowded and all of the white only seats were taken; during segregation blacks were seen as inferior and were required to give up their bus seats for whites.
A white man boarded the bus he was standing because all of the seats were taken. The bus driver ordered Colvin and three other black women to stand at the back of the bus. As the seats became vacant a pregnant woman Mrs. Hamilton boarded the bus and sat next to Colvin, the bus driver again ordered Colvin and Mrs. Hamilton to stand at the back of the bus. They both refused even further, the bus driver then called the police to remedy the situation. As the officer arrived he ordered two black passengers to move to the back of the bus so Colvin and Mrs. Hamilton could move. Mrs. Hamilton being pregnant complied with the officer’s request, Colvin however did not move. She was forced from the bus by the officers and arrested. During the drive to the police station it is said the officers continuously berated and harassed Colvin a child, about the size of her breast.
Colvin’s bus incident was eight months before Rosa Park’s historic bus encounter; Colvin stated that her mother ordered her to remain silent about her incident. Colvin was later convicted of disturbing the peace, violating the civil rights laws, and assault on an officer. She later became one of the plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle case, filed by Attorney Fred Gary to fight and end bus segregation. Colvin’s case was appealed by the United States Supreme Court on November 13, 1956; the case was upheld on December 20th around the same time the Supreme Courts ordered the state of Alabama to end bus segregation. Colvin eventually became a mother and moved to New York in 1958. She was forced to live with her sister because she had difficulty finding a job. She garnered a bit of fame because of her bus encounter and employers labeled her a trouble maker. She eventually found a nursing job which she maintained for 35 years.
Colvin is often a forgotten piece in the civil rights movement; she was the initial trigger that helped to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Rosa Parks is often viewed as the only black person to experience racism on the bus. We should not belittle Mrs. Parks’ involvement within the movement, but we should also recognize and never forget the contributions of others. Colvin was a brave teen girl who was tired of facing racism and injustice; her friend stated that before the bus incident, Colvin was passionately stating that her constitutional rights are being violated on the city bus. I am telling this story because it is important that we know and understand all of the pieces of our historical puzzle. Mrs. Claudette Colvin, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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