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African American Heritage Week: Claudette Colvin

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The story of Rosa Parks' famous refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott, is widely known. However, lesser known is the story of Claudette Colvin, the first to stand up against bus segregation-- by sitting down.

Colvin was born in 1939, but was raised by a great aunt and uncle in a poor district of Montgomery, Alabama. She attended Booker T. Washington High School, which she traveled to every day by bus. Colvin witnessed firsthand bus segregation, and was already disgusted by the reality. As a member of the NAACP Youth Council, at age 15, Colvin made her stand against us segregation. Much like Rosa Parks, when asked to move so that a white woman could take her seat, Colvin refused to budge. She was arrested and tried in juvenile court for disturbing the peace, violating segregation laws, and assaulting a police officer. She was convicted on all three counts, but only the final count remained after an appeal.

Before her pregnancy was discovered the next year, Colvin was one of the plaintiffs in the case of Browder vs. Gayle, which would eventually overturn bus segregation laws, at least in the state of Alabama. Colvin was not formally recognized as the pioneer of the anti-segregation movement, because it was decided that Rosa Parks would fit a better image, as Colvin was a single teenage mother. Colvin has stated since:

"I do feel like what I did was a spark and it caught on. I'm not disappointed. 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."

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

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