Book – Non-fiction. By Phillip Hoose. 2010. 160 pages.
The story of Claudette Colvin, a teenager who refused to give up her seat in the year leading up to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
On March 2, 1955, an impassioned teenager, fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation and inspired by school lessons on the Constitution during Black History Month, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
I could not move, because history had me glued to the seat. It felt like Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on another shoulder, and I could not move. And I yelled out, ‘It’s my constitutional rights,’ because I wasn’t breaking a law under the state’s law, separate but equal; I was sitting in the area that was reserved for black passengers. (From 2013 interview on Democracy Now.)
Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be just nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin found herself shunned by her classmates. Community leaders considered making hers a test case, but decided to wait instead. They introduced Colvin to the NAACP Youth Council where Rosa Parks was an adviser.
Colvin signed on to be a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South.
Based on extensive interviews with Claudette Colvin and many others, Phillip Hoose presents the first in-depth account of an important yet largely unknown civil rights figure, skillfully weaving her dramatic story into the fabric of the historic Montgomery bus boycott and court case that would change the course of U.S. history. [Adapted from Powells.com]
“…as a teenager, I kept thinking, Why don’t the adults around here just say something? Say it so that they know we don’t accept segregation? I knew then and I know now that, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’ And I did.” —Claudette Colvin, portrait by Robert Shetterly of Americans Who Tell the Truth. (Available as a poster.)
ISBN: 9780312661052 | Published by Square Fish/MacMillian.
“Phil Hoose, who has done pioneering work in bringing to our attention the crucial role of young people in social movements, here tells the extraordinary, yet little-known story of Claudette Colvin, who, even before the famous incident involving Rosa Parks, sparked the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Claudette Colvin was a remarkable teenager. With great courage she acted upon her principles — and played a significant role in the drama of the civil rights movement. This is a story that if taught in every classroom in the nation, might well inspire a new generation of young activists to join the on-going struggle for social justice.” —Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States
“Phil Hoose’s profile of the remarkable Claudette Colvin is MUST reading for anyone still imbued with hope. She is a lighthouse in a stormy sea.” —Studs Terkel, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Good War