Claudette Colvin was an important figure in the civil rights movement. She was born on September 5, 1939. At birth, she was adopted by C. P. Colvin and Mary Anne Colvin, who lived in a poor neighborhood in Montgomery, Alabama. This was a time of intense racial divide, and Colvin was a victim of it along with the rest. At the age of four, she was shopping for groceries with her mother, when a group of white children came into the store. They asked Colvin to touch hands with them, in order to compare the colors of their skin. Colvin did so, but received a slap and a severe reprimand from her mother, saying that she was not allowed to touch white people.
Colvin studied at Booker T. Washington High School, a segregated school for African Americans. She was a bright student and mostly received A grades. She was also a member of the NAACP Youth Council, and aspired to be President one day. On March 2, 1955, she was on a Capital Heights bus, making her way back home from school. Buses were segregated at the time, so Colvin sat in the black section of the bus at the back. She was sitting two seats away from the emergency exit. The norm was for whites and blacks to sit in their respective sections, but if the bus became too crowded, blacks were asked to vacate their seats if any white people were left standing. Such was the case on that day, when Colvin was returning home.
The bus driver, Robert W. Cleere, ordered Colvin and three other women to vacate their seats. Three of the women moved but another woman, by the name of Ruth Hamilton, got up and sat next to Colvin. She was pregnant and she kept saying that she didn’t feel like standing, and as she had paid her fare, she had as much right to the seat as the white woman. Colvin said the same but the bus driver threatened to call the police. When both women still refused to move, two policemen came to the scene and rearranged some seats so that Mrs. Hamilton could be seated. Colvin, however, continued to refuse so she was taken into custody. She was charged with disturbing the peace, as well as assault and violating the segregation law.
After her arrest, Claudette Colvin was one of the plaintiffs of the historic court case Browder v. Gayle, which determined that segregation was illegal. The district court’s decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the original ruling. The verdict of this case was a historic step for African Americans, as it officially led to the end of segregation and the signing of the 14th amendment.
Historically, however, the case of Rosa Parks has received much more attention and support. Rosa Parks was a black woman who also refused to give up her seat on a public bus, but this incident took place nine months later. Colvin did not receive the support of the NAACP and other organizations prominent in the civil rights movement. This was perhaps because she was only a teenager, and also because she became pregnant shortly after the incident. Rosa Parks had no such controversial issues attached to her name, and so her incident was popularized much more widely and she received widespread recognition. Decades later, however, she was recognized for her efforts, and she addressed a crowd at the New Jersey Transit Authority, where she was honored for her efforts. Her biography, titled “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice” was published in 2009.