Thursday, February 12, 2009

Almost Famous: Teen "Rosa Parks"

"This is not right."

Yesterday (February 11, 2009), I had the privilege of meeting Claudette Colvin and her family in a standing room only presentation of her largely ignored story. The event took place at the Five Points West Public Library in Birmingham and celebrated the publication of a new book about her. As participants shared personal stories of those humiliating and dangerous times (sometimes weeping), Ms. Colvin listened empathetically to the emotions of people like her who lived through it all in Montgomery and Birmingham. She graciously embraced the recognition finally accorded her for taking a stand. Now seventy years old, she tells her story of a time when she felt dehumanized by the police and courts in Montgomery and alienated by the activists in the movement. Rosa Parks became the iconic figure associated with the boycott and the desegregation of buses. However, it was this young woman with three other women who, in fact, were the plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court case that desegregated Montgomery buses.

On March 2, 1955, 15 year old Claudette Colvin, set in motion events that would change the course of American history by her courageous commitment to the Civil Rights Movement. Outraged by the injustices of Jim Crow segregation, she refused to give up her seat to a white boarder on a Montgomery bus. She suffered not only the rough treatment of the Montgomery police, but found herself shunned and dismissed by her classmates and civil rights community leaders (who deemed her too unpolished to represent their protest efforts) . Nine months later Rosa Parks would become celebrated for the very same action. A year later, with the tenacity and fervor of youth, Claudette dared to challenge Jim Crow bus transportation segregation as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery.

Read more about Claudette in Wikipedia:

Reviews by Howard Zinn and Studs Terkel on the newly released book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose:

"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

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