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Claudette Colvin spearheaded the Civil Rights Movement in the United States with her arrest on March 2, 1955. She protested the segregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama. This led to the Supreme Court ruling that ended bus segregation in Alabama. Claudette Colvin’s young age and big personality kept the NAACP from turning her into the symbol that Rosa Parks became for the civil rights movement.

Young Life

Claudette Colvin was born on September 5, 1939, in Montgomery, Alabama. Her adoptive parents C. P. Colvin, a lawn mower, and Mary Anne Colvin, a maid, lived in an impoverished black neighborhood.[1][2] In Twice Toward Justice, Phillip Hoose’s biography of Claudette Colvin, she recounts a time at four years old when she spoke to a couple of white boys in a retail store with her mother. The boys asked to compare hands. Her mother saw her about to touch hands and she slapped her in the face and told her she could not touch them.[3]

Protest and Arrest

Claudette Colvin attended the segregated high school in Montgomery, Booker T. Washington High School, in 1955. Colvin learned about the Civil Rights Movement in school and became actively involved in the NAACP Youth Council. She used public buses to get to and from school since her parents had no vehicle.[4] During this time, African-Americans sat in a designated section of the bus. If a white person could not find a seat in the front, then any black people on the bus must move to the back and allow the white person to take their seat. Even if that meant that the African-American must stand for the duration of the ride.

On her way home from school on March 2, 1955, Claudette Colvin sat in the middle of the bus in an undesignated section.[5] A white woman entered with no seat available and the bus driver ordered her to the back of the bus with three other black women.

Fueled with the knowledge of the current civil rights movement, Claudette Colvin felt compelled to draw attention to her case after being arrested.

She did not move and a pregnant black woman, Mrs. Hamilton, entered the bus and joined her. Claudette Colvin quotes Mrs. Hamilton as saying, “she didn’t feel like standing,” and decided to remain in the seat with her. The bus driver threatened to get a policeman.

An African-American man left the bus and Mrs. Hamilton moved to his seat. The policeman asked Colvin to leave her seat again and she refused several times. He proceeded to kick her three times and forcibly removed her from the bus and into a waiting police car. Colvin arrived at City Hall after suffering verbal harassment from the arresting officers. The news spread by the time she arrived home and the whole neighborhood knew.[6] The court tried and found Colvin guilty of disorderly conduct, assault and battery, and breaking the segregation law.

Making a Statement

She wanted to fight the charges and chose African-American lawyer, Fred Gray to represent her. Local community leaders determined it would be better to wait.

The NAACP did not feel an unmarried pregnant teenager like Claudette Colvin could positively represent their cause.

Rosa Parks was famously arrested on December 1, 1955, for refusing to move and she became the NAACP’s face of the civil rights movement.[7]

A few key reasons exist for why the NAACP chose Rosa Parks over Claudette Colvin. Colvin’s young age of 15 made her seem more immaturely defiant to the public eye. Colvin’s family came from a very poor background and Parks fell into the middle class. Colvin’s skin was much darker than Parks. Rosa Parks already held a key position of respect with African-American politicians. But most importantly, Colvin became pregnant several months after her arrest by a much older man.[8]

The Case of Browder v. Gayle

Claudette Colvin joined Susie McDonald, Jeanette Reese, Mary Louise Smith, and Aurelia S. Browder to testify in the case of Browder vs. Gayle. Fred Gray argued the case and the court ruled bus segregation unconstitutional in Montgomery, Alabama. The African-American community’s strong backing of the girls greatly influenced the decision.[9]

Colvin quotes of her arrest during the case, “I kept saying, ‘He has no civil right... this is my constitutional right... you have no right to do this.’”[10] The case went to the Supreme Court on November 13, 1956, and it upheld the ruling. On December 20, 1956, the Supreme Court required the whole state of Alabama to cease bus segregation.[11]

Personal Life

Claudette Colvin gave birth to her son, Raymond, on March 29, 1956. The rumor started that the father was a white man since his skin was so light. In 1958, she and Raymond relocated to New York. She struggled to find and keep work since her fame from the Browder vs. Gayle case gave her an unsavory reputation.

Colvin became pregnant again and, in 1960, she gave birth to her second son, Randy. Raymond joined the army and ultimately died of a drug overdose in her apartment in 1993. Randy married and moved to Atlanta, Georgia to practice accounting.[12] Claudette Colvin’s official biography was written by Phillip Hoose and titled Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice.[13]



Blattman, E. (2010, February 5). #ThrowbackThursday: The girl who acted before Rosa Parks. National Women’s History Museum.

Hoose, P. M. (2009). Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. New York: Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar Straus Giroux.

Kramer, S. K. (2015, March 2). Before Rosa Parks, A teenager defied segregation on an Alabama bus. NPR:Codeswitch.

Phibbs, C. F. (2009). The Montgomery Bus Boycott: A History and Reference guide. United States: Greenwood Press.

Younge, G. (2000, December 16). She would not be moved. The Guardian.


  1. Phibbs, 2009
  2. Blattman, 2010
  3. Hoose, 2009
  4. Kramer, 2015
  5. Phibbs, 2009
  6. Younge, 2000
  7. Kramer, 2015
  8. Blattman, 2010
  9. White, D. G., Bay, M., Martin, W. E., & Bay, P. M. (2012). Freedom On My Mind, Volume 2: A History of African Americans, with documents. Boston: Macmillan Higher Education.
  10. Brinkley, D. G. (2000). Rosa Parks. New York: Viking Books.
  11. Spratling, C. (2005, November 16). 2 Other Bus Boycott Heroes Praise Parks’ Acclaim. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune.
  12. Younge, 2000
  13. Hoose, 2009

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