The REAL Mother of the Civil Rights Movement
This essay discusses Claudette Colvin, a young woman who started the bus boycotts before Rosa Parks during the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
She was the first black girl to stand against prejudice and discrimination by not giving up her seat to another white individual when asked. She was the first to get arrested and sent to jail simply for practicing her constitutional right by staying seated. She was inspired by Harriet Tubman who she had learned about in school and felt as if the spirit of both Tubman and Sojourner Truth had held her down and told her not to get up from her seat. Her name is Claudette Colvin, and this her story.
Most individuals mistake Rosa Parks for being the first woman to start this revolutionary act when in actuality it was Mrs. Colvin who had first challenged the law. At the time, Colvin was only 15 years old and returning home from school just like any other day. However, on March 12, 1955, in Montgomery Alabama, everything would change, in her life, and in the lives of many. Colvin and her friends got on the bus and sat down. Soon after, the bus seats started filling up and there were no more empty seats left, so the driver ordered Colvin and her black friends to stand, in order for the white passengers to sit. Having paid her fare, Colvin found this unfair and unconstitutional and stated that if it were a pregnant woman or an elderly person, she would have stood, but it was a healthy young woman standing. As her classmates hesitantly stood and gave their seats away, Colvin stayed put with her head held high and vowed to herself that no matter what, she would persevere and stay seated knowing this was her chance to take a stand for justice.
The bus pulled over and two police officers came in. They walked over to Colvin and stood over her asking her to move. When she refused, they pushed her to the point where her books went flying across the bus and quickly handcuffed her, but she made it clear she was not walking out without a struggle. They threw her in a car, calling her names and slurs all the way to jail. When they arrived, they threw her in a jail cell with nothing but a cot and a broken toilet. Terrified and alone, the only thing Colvin could do was recite prayers and pray for her parents to come to get her. Eventually, her mother and their pastor came and bailed her out, but the struggle did not stop here. For months after the incident, Colvin and her family feared getting attacked, so her community acted as lookouts, and her father would stay up all night with a shotgun in case the Ku Klux Klan showed up.
Soon, letters started flooding the NAACP, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, with one of the letters landing in the hands of the secretary of the organization, Rosa parks. After reading about what Claudette Colvin had done, she was immensely inspired and even partnered up with Colvin, eventually becoming very close friends.
After some time had passed, the president of the NAACP declared that they must organize a bus boycott, using Claudette Colvin’s arrest, as the main reason for the boycott. However, this is where the issue starts to arise. The rest of the committee decided on not using Colvin as the face of this movement because she had a dark complexion, and was only 15, so they knew that white allies would not support their anti-segregation movement. They decided, though, to have Rosa Parks, as the face of the movement, as she was a well known and respected member of her community and her complexion was what people associated with the middle class. The board decided she would best fit the face to lead this movement, so that’s when Parks made the move to sit in the white section of the bus, eventually getting arrested and sent to jail.
How much do you really know about the civil rights movement outside of the basic information you’re taught in school? In today’s episode, the Youth Ambassadors dive into Sohaila Ammar’s passionate essay “The Real Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” In this essay, Sohaila highlights courageous conversations that should be had about Rosa Parks and the overshadowing of Claudette Colvin.
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