Saturday, September 7, 2013
Claudette Colvin vs Rosa Parks
Few people know the story of Claudette Colvin: When she was 15, she refused to move to the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white person - nine months before Rosa Parks, who was already sitting in the black section in the back of the bus, refused to give up her seat.
Colvin was a 15 year old teenager, in the same city, in the same bus system, with very tough consequences, hauled off the bus, handcuffed, jailed and nobody really knew about it…and it happened nine months before the Rosa Parks incident !
When asked why she is little known and why everyone thinks only of Rosa Parks, Colvin says the NAACP and all the other black organizations felt Parks would be a good icon because "she was an adult. They didn't think teenagers would be reliable."
She also says Parks had the right hair and the right look.
"Her skin texture was the kind that people associate with the middle class," says Colvin. "She fit that profile."
David Garrow, a historian and the author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, says people may think that Parks' action was spontaneous, but black civic leaders had been thinking about what to do about the Montgomery buses for years.
After Colvin's arrest, she found herself shunned by parts of her community. She experienced various difficulties and became pregnant. Civil rights leaders felt she was an inappropriate symbol for a test case.
Parks was the secretary of the NACCP. She was well-known and respected and, says Garrow, Parks had a "natural gravitas" and was an "inherently impressive person."
Colvin was the first to really challenge the law.