Claudette Colvin September 5, 1939 – Current Age 76
When studying the Montgomery (Alabama) Bus Boycott, make sure to learn the name Claudette Colvin. Her courage and refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger preceded the same act by Rosa Parks (by nine months) which led to the historic boycott. African-Americans had no right to the seats in the front of public buses in that era. When asked, African-Americans were expected to relinquish their seat to white passengers or face penalty. The date was March 2, 1955 and at the time Colvin was only a 15 year-old Booker T. Washington High School student when she was arrested for violating Alabama’s discriminatory segregation law.
As Colvin’s bus neared downtown, it reached full capacity. The bus driver noticed and said, “I need those seats.” Three young African-American girls seated near Colvin got up without protest, but Colvin did not - she remained firmly planted in her seat. She later explained that she, "couldn't move, history would not allow her to move." Her will and civil disobedience may have been influenced by her NAACP youth Council advisor, Rosa Parks.
When the police arrived, Colvin did not betray her convictions, noting, “this is a double standard.” She stood for what she believed was basic human decency. Colvin was soon the lead plaintiff in a case challenging Alabama’s discriminatory segregation law, Browder v. Gayle. This case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The outcome of the Browder case changed the history of segregation on public buses forever!
“The specific legal question before the court was whether the segregation of the Whites and Blacks on so-called "privately" owned buses operated by the City of Montgomery violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. On June 19, 1956, the three-judge panel ruled that Montgomery segregation codes "deny and deprive plaintiffs and other Negro citizens similarly situated of the equal protection of the laws and due process of law secured by the Fourteenth Amendment." The court essentially decided that the precedent of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) could be applied to Browder. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision in December 1956. With the nation's highest court now on their side, the victorious African American community in Montgomery joyously ended the bus boycott.” – Excerpt from Teaching Tolerance
Colvin’s actions on March 2, 1955 are directly linked to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled segregation on public buses unconstitutional.