"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."
Claudette Colvin was born on September 5, 1939. She lived with her adopted parents in a poor black neighborhood in Montgomery, Alabama where her father mowed lawns and her mother was a maid. Claudette attended school at the segregated Booker T. Washington High School where she was a member of the NAACP Youth Council and actively learned about the Civil Rights Movement.
Because her parents were too poor to own a car, Claudette relied on the city buses to get to and from her high school every day. At the time, blacks and whites had separate seating sections. However, if the white section was filled and a white person was standing, the convention was that a black person in the front of their section must get up and move to the very back of the bus or stand if there were no available seats.
On March 2, 1955, Claudette was returning home from school and sat towards the front of the black section next to a pregnant black woman named Ruth Hamilton. Earlier that day Claudette had written a paper about a local custom which prevented blacks from using dressing rooms at department stores. She was thinking about this paper when an incident occurred. The bus was getting crowded and a white woman was left standing. The bus driver, Robert W. Cleere, ordered Claudette and Ruth to move to the back of the bus, so that the white woman could sit. They refused. The bus driver ordered them again, and once more they refused. Cleere called the police who tried to resolve the incident by ordering two black men to stand so that Claudette and Ruth could sit one row back. Claudette still refused. She decided that day that she wouldn’t move. As she later described it, "I felt like Sojourner Truth was pushing down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other—saying, 'Sit down girl!' I was glued to my seat." Claudette was handcuffed and forcibly removed from the bus. She was convicted in juvenile court for disturbing the peace, violating the segregation law, and assault.
Colvin was in consideration by the NAACP to be the face of their movement but she became pregnant at 16, and they wanted to make sure that the face of the Civil Rights movement could not be dismissed as immoral. She did became one of five plaintiffs in the court case Browder v. Gayle, organized and filed by a civil rights attorney name Fred Gray who argued that bus segregation in Alabama was unconstitutional. The plaintiffs received widespread support from the black community. Claudette Colvin started a movement and nine months later, Rosa Parks was famously arrested for the same offense. Segregationist policies in Alabama soon began to change and new ones were implemented. Browder v. Gale made its way to the Supreme Court and on November 13, 1956 bus segregation in Alabama was ended permanently.
Colvin had another son and moved to New York City, where she worked as a nurse's aid for many years. In the words of her attorney, Freddy Gray, "Claudette gave all of us moral courage. If she had not done what she did, I am not sure that we would have been able to mount the support for Mrs. Parks."