Every American child learns about Rosa Parks in school. On December 1, 1955, she, a black woman, was arrested for refusing to give her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man. Her arrest led to a boycott of the city’s public transportation that lasted 381 days and ignited the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Nine months earlier, Claudette Colvin was arrested for the exact same thing. She was just 15 years old.
Colvin grew up in a poor black neighborhood in Montgomery, Alabama. She was well accustomed with the Jim Crow laws of the South. She says the first time she realized things were different for her was when she was a little girl and her mother took her to a department store. A white boy started staring at her and laughing because she looked different than him. She put her hands up to his to show him they both were really the same. Her mother slapped her for acting out and touching a white person. She picked up quickly that black people “had to be on their best behavior” while out in public because of Jim Crow. In school, she learned about inequalities black people in the South faced on a regular basis. She attended an all-black school, as Alabama did not actually desegregate its schools until years after the 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision. Her instructors took the time to teach their students about Jim Crow and about Black History, especially during February. February was the month during which Negro History Week (as it was then known) was celebrated around the country, but Colvin’s school celebrated Black History for the entire month, as we do now, because her teachers felt black people were absent from history books. Her personal heroes were Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Read the rest of this entry »