Claudette Colvin (Civil Rights Activist)

claudette-colvin.jpgClaudette Colvin (born September 5, 1939) is a pioneer of the African American civil rights movement.

She spontaneously resisted Alabaman bus segregation preceding the better known Rosa Parks  incident by nine months, but her case was not publicized for long by black leaders because of her image as an unmarried pregnant woman.

"Her circumstances would make her an extremely vulnerable standard-bearer."

Colvin lived in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1955, at the age of 15, she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white person, in violation of local law. Her arrest preceded that of Rosa Parks by nine months. In the months following the incident, Colvin became pregnant, thus making the NAACP question whether or not she was a "reputable" face for the civil rights cause.

In 1955 Colvin was a student at Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery.  Colvin was returning from school on March 2, 1955 when she got on a Capital Heights bus downtown (at the same place Parks boarded another bus nine months later). Colvin's family did own a car, but she relied on the city's buses to get to school.

Colvin was sitting in the section where if a white person was found standing the blacks would have to get up and move to the back. When a white women got on the bus and was standing the bus driver, Robert W. Cleere, ordered her along with two other black passengers to get up. She refused and was removed from the bus and arrested by two police officers.

When she refused to get up, she was still thinking about a school paper that she had written that day. It was about the prohibition for black people to try on white clothes in department stores.

"The bus was getting crowded and I remember the bus driver looking through the rear view mirror asking her to get up out of her seat, which she didn't," said a classmate at the time, Annie Larkins Price. "She had been yelling it's my constitutional right. She decided on that day that she wasn't going to move."

Colvin was handcuffed, arrested and forcibly removed from the bus. She shouted that her constitutional rights were being violated.

"Price testified on Colvin's behalf in the juvenile court case, where Colvin was convicted of violating the segregation law and assault." "There was no assault," Price said.

On May 11, 1956, Colvin, along with three other women, testified in a Montgomery federal court hearing about her actions on the bus in a case called Browder v. Gayle. During the trial, Claudette Colvin described her arrest. "I kept saying, 'He has no right... this is my constitutional right... you have no right to do this.' And I just kept blabbing things out, and I never stopped. That was worse than stealing, you know, talking back to a white person."

The case was fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court [which declared bus segregation unconstitutional in December 1956]. Attorneys decided not to use Colvin in the lawsuit because they wanted to build a case that clearly challenged the legality of bus segregation. Colvin had been charged with disorderly conduct.

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