August 16, 2016
Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose
by Phillip Hoose
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Mention the Montgomery Bus Boycott and people automatically think of Rosa Parks, the neatly dressed woman who was led from a bus by white police for refusing to give up her seat. Very few people recall that the first woman to be arrested for the same thing was Claudette Colvin, a high school student.
Claudette has been studying the constitution in high school. She also new the law. There were rows of black seats. There were rows of white seats. A black rider could be told by the driver to give up their seat as long as there was another black seat farther back. When four girls in Claudette’s row were told to get up to make way for a lone white woman, there were no other seats available. Claudette was tired of being pushed around and intimidated. Two policemen were called and they dragged her backwards off the bus, sending her school books flying and delivering at least one kick.
In spite of the fact that Claudette was scared for her safety, she refused to back down. Because of this, she wasn’t simply fined. She was charged.
Why is it that no one knows her name? In part, it was because Montgomery’s black leadership did not see this young girl as a viable face for their movement. They wanted a bus boycott and they needed someone to rally around. Colvin had cried at her sentencing so they wrote her off as flighty and emotional. They did remember her later when they filed the class action law suit that eventually ended the boycott.
This is a must read. It provides background to the current civil rights struggle including why organizers hold protests vs talks (talks didn’t work in Montgomery). The book also shows, without directly pointing out, the marginalization of black women in the early movement.
The author did extensive interviews with Colvin and often the text is first person in her voice. Additional historical notes are given as sidebars throughout the book.
In truth, everyone studying 20th century US history should know this story.