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CLAUDETTE COLVIN

Claudette Colvin was a pioneer of the civil rights movement in the United States of America.

 

Born on September 5 1939, Colvin grew up in one of Montgomery Alabama’s poorest neighbourhoods. She is said to have worked hard at school, earning mostly A grades and had aspirations of becoming president.

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On March 2 1955, at age just 15, Colvin was arrested in for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger while riding home from school on a crowded segregated bus. When the driver demanded that she move, Colvin refused, saying, "It's my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare, it's my constitutional right." She later told Newsweek, "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 was arrested on several charges. Instead of being taken to a juvenile detention centre, she was taken to an adult jail. She speaks of those hours she spent in a small cell with nothing but a broken sink and a cot without a mattress explaining, "I was scared and it was really, really frightening, it was like those Western movies where they put the bandit in the jail cell and you could hear the keys. I can still vividly hear the click of those keys… you just didn't know what white people might do at that time." Finally, her pastor paid her bail and she went home and spent the night worrying with family about what would happen next. Colvin became one of four plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, which ruled that Montgomery's segregated bus system was unconstitutional. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People briefly considered using Colvin's case to challenge the segregation laws, but they decided against it because of her age. She also had become pregnant and they thought an unwed mother would attract too much negative attention in a public legal battle. Her name was never accredited by the civil rights campaigners at the time. Rosa Parks explained this by again referencing Colvin’s pregnancy, saying the press "would have [had] a field day."

 

Little had been written about Colvin’s bravery until writer Phillip Hoose published a book telling her story in 2009. Colvin remarked, "He said he wanted the people to know about the 15-year-old, because really, if I had not made the first cry for freedom, there wouldn't have been a Rosa Parks, and after Rosa Parks, there wouldn't have been a Dr King…And I lived to see that change."

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