Trailblazing Women You May Not Know (But Should): Civil Rights Pioneer Claudette Colvin
Each week, the Lean In tumblr will spotlight women who made a lasting mark on the world — yet didn’t end up in the history books. This week we celebrate Claudette Colvin, the first African American woman to refuse to move to the back of a bus, nine months before Rosa Parks.
Colvin was a 15-year-old student when she took a seat for justice on the very same bus system as Parks did in Montgomery, Alabama. On March 2, 1955, Colvin refused to get up for a white person — defiantly announcing that she had “paid my fare.” But police didn’t care. “They knocked my books out of my lap, grabbed both my arms, dragged me, and handcuffed me,” she wrote in her biography. “I kept screaming over and over, ‘This is my constitutional right!’”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his political debut fighting Colvin’s arrest, and Colvin was the star witness in the case that eventually forced bus desegregation. And yet the NAACP decided she wasn’t “the right face for the battle.” Colvin was seen as unruly and difficult to control, and she was pregnant by a married man. Parks, determined the NAACP, was a safer bet.
Now 74, Colvin is retired and lives in the Bronx. As she put it 2009: ”I knew then and I know now that when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’ And I did.”
(Image via Biography.com)