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Claudette Colvin: The 15-Year-Old Overlooked through History

By Amy Saad

Claudette Colvin is a woman who has been overlooked by history, most people don’t even know her name. Few people know her story: in March 1955, when she was 15, she refused to move to the back of the bus and give her seat to a white person. This went against Jim Crow’s segregation laws. This instance occurred a mere 9 months prior to the more famous Montgomery bus boycott led by Rosa Parks in December of the same year. As the bus driver ordered her to make way for the white person to sit, she refused multiple times claiming that "It's my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare, it's my constitutional right!" Eventually, two white police officers arrested her with handcuffs, "All I remember is that I was not going to walk off the bus voluntarily" Colvin claimed. This event was extremely important as it was one of the leading factors that sparked the American Civil Rights Movement.

This led me to question: why don’t we hear Colvin’s name? Some of the main reasons why Claudette Colvin’s story is not well-known is because she had particularly dark skin, whereas Parks had lighter skin. Colvin explains how Parks’ “skin texture was the kind that people associate with the middle class… She fit that profile." This was extremely important as white people were 'more comfortable’ with a light-skinned adult activist rather than a dark-skinned teenager. Shortly after she was arrested, Colvin was rejected by numerous people in her community as they believed that she was only making matters worse for them. Soon, she experienced many difficulties and ended up facing teenage pregnancy which was also an additional reason as to why she was not accepted by society and her story was kept secret. People in her community felt that she was an embarrassment who was only trying to make matters for black people worse.

I believe that Colvin’s story must become heard as she played a crucial role in black rights and boosting the Civil Rights Movement. Her actions were not recognised as heroic at the time, however, her actions caused change which benefitted several lives of black people in America.


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