Uncovering Truth: What You Didn't Know About Claudette Colvin and the Montgomery Bus Boycott
There is a long legacy of Black women challenging transportation segregation. Claudette Colvin is one of them. She was born on September 5, 1939 in Montgomery, Alabama. On March 2, 1955 at age 15 she boarded a segregated Montgomery bus along with three of her classmates. They took seats in the middle section of the bus but as more white patrons boarded they were asked by the conductor to give up their seats. Her friends moved but Claudette refused and was arrested on three charges: assaulting an officer, disturbing the peace, and breaking the segregation law. She was kicked by the officer and dragged off the bus. While in the patrol car the officers made lewd comments about her body. 15 year old Claudette feared this sexual harassment would lead to a sexual assault. Years later she recalled covering her body with her hands in hopes the officers would stop. This incident highlights the added danger of sexual violence Black women faced when challenging segregation laws.
Her brave protest was met with mixed reactions from the Montgomery Black community. Her parents feared their daughter’s protest would lead to retaliation from the Klu Klux Klan. Her high school classmates were split; some saw her actions as heroic while others thought them dangerous. There has long been a misconception about Colvin’s life. Those who do know the story of Claudette Colvin often say it was because she was pregnant at the time of her arrest that Black Leaders felt she was a troublemaker and would not make a good face for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was in the works. This is not true, she did not find out until months later she was pregnant, long after the Black community decided she would not be the face. Although Rosa Parks was chosen in her place, Colvin’s criminal case was used in the landmark desegregation case Browder v. Gayle which successfully desegregated city buses across the country. Only a teenager, she was interrogated on the stand about her actions on the day of her arrest and she had to denounce Jim Crow segregation in open court, making her feelings known and risking everything for the chance of legal desegregation.
Another misconception surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott is that is was Rosa Park’s criminal case that led to desegregation of public transportation. Actually, Her arrest was used to galvanize the community to stop riding the Buses which pressured the courts to rule in favor of desegregation, however, Park’s criminal case was not included in Browder v. Gayle.
Claudette Colvin took two huge risks that could have threatened her life before the age of 20. Breaking the segregation law and testifying against Jim Crow in open court were massive acts of bravery that changed the course of American History and American Law forever, making her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement legendary. After the case she moved to The Bronx, New York City where she is currently still a resident.