On March 2, 1955, a 15-year-old high school student attending Booker T. Washington High School named Claudette Colvin was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus. She, not Rosa Parks, was the first to refuse her seat to a white passenger. It wasn’t until 9 months later that Rosa Park took her stance. But we don’t hear much about Claudette Colvin nor is she celebrated as much.
Montgomery, AL was segregated. Black people had to use facilities that were less than stellar and couldn’t sit in the front of the bus. Colvin and three other students got on the bus. As the bus started to fill up, they were expected to move for the white passengers. Three of the students got up but Colvin didn’t. Inspired by black leaders Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Colvin said she couldn’t move. She refused to move although the driver asked her to. The cops were called and she was subsequently arrested. Her charges were assault and battery, disorderly conduct and defying the segregation law.
Colvin wanted to fight back and obtained an attorney, Fred Gray, to help her do so. In 1956, about a year after Colvin refused to give up her seat, Gray filed the landmark federal lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, which found bus segregation unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. The star witness was Claudette Colvin.
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