Claudette Colvin: the first to refuse to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus

Claudette Colvin: the first to refuse to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus

Cynthia Rossi, Staff Writer

When we think of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, we often immediately associate the boycott with Rosa Parks. However, Rosa Parks was not the first African American to refuse to give up their seat. Claudette Colvin was fifteen years old when she refused to give up her seat to a white person on a Montgomery bus. Her case, as well as three other women’s, sparked the court case Browder v. Gayle, which victoriously challenged the constitutionality of bus segregation laws specifically in Alabama. So, why is it that we often only hear about Rosa Parks when talking about the Montgomery Bus Boycott? 

According to Colvin, Rosa Parks had the perfect image. In Rosa Parks’ memoir, she stated that she initially had interest in Claudette Colvin after her arrest, but when Colvin became pregnant shortly after, E.D. Nixon (the former head of Montgomery’s NAACP chapter) decided it would be best to have someone else represent the boycott. Colvin also attributes the lack of awareness to colorism and classism. “Her [Rosa Parks’] skin texture was the kind that people associate with the middle class. She fit that profile.” 

While Colvin didn’t fit the “qualifications” to represent the Montgomery Bus Boycott, she was a plaintiff in the Browder v. Gayle case. The case upheld the Supreme Court’s ruling with Brown v. Board of Education that segregation is unconstitutional and that Black passengers should not have to give up their seat. Claudette Colvin’s strength and courage sparked a movement of civil rights throughout America. 

But for Claudette Colvin, her strength and courage cost her a lot. Colvin had to drop out of college as a result of the scrutiny she received from her arrest. It was difficult for Colvin to find jobs and other career opportunities. While it is easy for us now to understand why Claudette Colvin did what she did, the general public shamed and looked down upon her. 

Claudette Colvin’s story is becoming more commonly known, with Claudette Colvin Day being recognized on March 2 in Montgomery, Alabama. While Colvin has not yet been properly credited for the movement she started, the world is slowly starting to learn about how her resistance changed the world.