Celebrating Claudette Colvin
“I knew then and I know now that, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugar-coat it. You must take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.” These are the courageous words of Claudette Colvin.
Many of us know the inspiring story of Rosa Parks who is known as “the mother of the civil rights movement.” Rosa Parks invigorated the struggle for racial equality when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery and was arrested on December 1, 1955. Yet 9 months prior to that date, a courageous 15-year girl named Claudette Colvin who also lived in Montgomery Alabama was on the public bus coming from school. She walked down the aisle and sat in an empty seat, moments later the bus driver told her to vacate her seat to accommodate a white woman. When Claudette refused, she was called racial slurs and threatened. Shortly after the bus driver stopped the bus and policemen physically removed and arrested her. When she was arrested, she was placed as a minor in a city jail versus the juvenile detention centre required by state law. Her rights to a phone call were ignored and she was left in her jail cell falling to her knees scared and crying.
Claudette remembers how hard she prayed. She prayed like never before and in her mind, she kept thinking through what happened. How did this happen? She knew she had a constitutional right to sit there as she paid her bus fare. During Claudette’s removal and arrest she remembers not being rude but only saying: “It’s my constitutional right.” With no phone call, she was not able to call her parents to let them know where she was, yet luckily some of her classmates witnessed what happened and they alerted her mother. Her mother and family friend Reverend Johnson drove to the jail where the Reverend paid her bail to release her. On the way home Claudette states the Reverend told her that he thought she had just brought the revolution to Montgomery. A group of black civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr., came together to discuss Claudette’s arrest with the police commissioner which led to the charges being dropped against her.
As scary as that experience was and as worried as she was about the repercussions, Claudette felt very proud of herself. She stood up for her rights, challenged the police who she knew were treating her unfairly because of the colour of her skin and she refused to be treated unjustly. Claudette may have only been 15 years old but what happened that day led to something so much greater. Regardless of how scary it was to go up against the law, Claudette was fearless. She was one of the first to challenge the bus laws and in 1956 she was a plaintiff in the landmark case Browder vs. Gayle that was heard before the federal court to challenge the Montgomery Segregation laws. The judges ruled that the laws were indeed unconstitutional and later that decision was upheld by the US Supreme Court. This lawsuit was the first that helped change the laws and bolster the civil rights movement.
Imagine being on a bus, minding your own business, tired from a long day or in a rush to get somewhere and within a short few minutes, you are told to not sit in your seat and when you decline you are pulled away by police, charged, placed in jail with no way to call anyone for help. Imagine the fear that filled Claudette’s mind and the questions she asked herself of “HOW?” How will she get through this? Yet the more Claudette spoke to herself and said, “it’s my constitutional right” and the more she prayed, the more her fear weakened which allowed her mind to fill up with enough courage to keep strong. Her love for herself, her rights, her family and for all people who were unjustly treated because of the colour of their skin. She knew no matter how hard it would be to stand for justice, she needed to, and she did not back down.
At IDareU2Bee.com we are honoured to share with you stories about amazing human beings who had to let go of fear and fall into kindness so that they can WIN over injustices. We ask you to join us in practicing being a kinder person, to learn from our black historical heroes and keep their legacies alive through your love for the world. It is kindness and love that will heal all the broken parts of humanity and when we are able to let go of fear and fall into kindness, we can be part of building humankind.