In March 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin did the exact same thing that Rosa Parks did nine months later. She defied segregation laws by refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
Eclipsed by Parks, her act of defiance was largely ignored for many years. She herself didn’t talk about it much, until recently.
“There was segregation everywhere. The churches, buses and schools were all segregated and you couldn’t even go into the same restaurants,” Claudette Colvin says.
Going to a segregated school had one advantage, she found – her teachers gave her a good grounding in black history.
“We learned about negro spirituals and recited poems but my social studies teachers went into more detail,” she says.
On 2 March 1955, Colvin and her friends finished their classes and were let out of school early.
“We walked downtown, and my friends and I saw the bus and decided to get on, it was right across the road from Dr Martin Luther King’s church,” Colvin says.
“The white people were always seated at the front of the bus and the black people were seated at the back of the bus. The bus driver had the authority to assign the seats, so when more white passengers got on the bus, he asked for the seats.”
The problem arose because all the seats on the bus were taken. Colvin and her friends were sitting in a row a little more than half way down the bus. A white passenger was standing in the aisle between them.
“He (the driver) wanted me to give up my seat for a white person and I would have done it for an elderly person but this was a young white woman. Three of the students had got up reluctantly and I remained sitting next to the window,” she says.
“It’s my constitutional right so I am not going to move”, she told him. The policeman on the bus dragged her off it and put her in custody. She was mostly angry at the white passengers than terrified and hoped her parents would be told she was in prison.
Her mother, proud of her, simply said to her: “You were anointed by God to do this”. To which Claudette replied: “I don’t think so. I just wanted people to come together, to unify and fight this segregation.”
Photo Credit: Great Big Story