Saturday, November 28, 2009

Claudette Colvin: The "Real" Rosa Parks

The images above feature Claudette Colvin. The images of her taken on a bus was part of a municipal bus decoration project done in her honor by school children of Portland, Maine.
an excerpt from the nytimes
From Footnote to Fame in Civil Rights History, By BROOKS BARNES
On that supercharged day in 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., she rode her way into history books, credited with helping to ignite the civil rights movement.
But there was another woman, named Claudette Colvin, who refused to be treated like a substandard citizen on one of those Montgomery buses — and she did it nine months before Mrs. Parks. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his political debut fighting her arrest. Moreover, she was the star witness in the legal case that eventually forced bus desegregation.
Yet instead of being celebrated, Ms. Colvin has lived unheralded in the Bronx for decades, initially cast off by black leaders who feared she was not the right face for their battle, according to a new book that has plucked her from obscurity.
Last week Phillip Hoose won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice,” published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The honor sent the little-selling title shooting up 500 spots on’s sales list and immediately thrust Ms. Colvin, 70, back into the cultural conversation.
“Young people think Rosa Parks just sat down on a bus and ended segregation, but that wasn’t the case at all,” Ms. Colvin said in an animated interview at a diner near her apartment in the Parkchester section of the Bronx. “Maybe by telling my story — something I was afraid to do for a long time — kids will have a better understanding about what the civil rights movement was about.”
Ms. Colvin made her stand on March 2, 1955, and Mrs. Parks made hers on Dec. 1 that same year. Somehow, as Mrs. Parks became one of Time Magazine’s 100 most important people of the 20th century, and streets and schools were named after her, Ms. Colvin managed to let go of any bitterness. After Ms. Colvin was arrested, Mrs. Parks, a seasoned N.A.A.C.P. official, sometimes let her spend the night at her apartment. Ms. Colvin remembers her as a reserved but kindly woman who fixed her snacks of peanut butter on Ritz crackers.
“My mother told me to be quiet about what I did,” Ms. Colvin recalled. “She told me: ‘Let Rosa be the one. White people aren’t going to bother Rosa — her skin is lighter than yours and they like her.’ ”
Ms. Colvin said she came to terms with her “raw feelings” a long time ago. “I know in my heart that she was the right person,” she said of Mrs. Parks.
Unlike Mrs. Parks, whose protest was carefully planned, Ms. Colvin was just a 15-year-old who couldn’t stomach the Jim Crow segregation laws one second longer.
Ms. Colvin was riding the bus home from school when the driver demanded that she give up her seat for a middle-age white woman, even though three other seats in the row were empty, one beside Ms. Colvin and two across the aisle.
“If she sat down in the same row as me, it meant I was as good as her,” Ms. Colvin said.
Two police officers, one of them kicking her, dragged her backward off the bus and handcuffed her, according to the book. On the way to the police station, they took turns trying to guess her bra size.
At the time, the arrest was big news. Black leaders, among them Dr. King, jumped at the opportunity to use her case to fight segregation laws in court. “Negro Girl Found Guilty of Segregation Violation” was the headline in The Alabama Journal. The article said that Ms. Colvin, “a bespectacled, studious looking high school student,” accepted the ruling “with the same cool aloofness she had maintained” during the hearing.
As chronicled by Mr. Hoose, more than 100 letters of support arrived for Ms. Colvin — sent in care of Mrs. Rosa Parks, secretary of the Montgomery branch of the N.A.A.C.P.
But Ms. Colvin was ultimately passed over.
“They worried they couldn’t win with her,” Mr. Hoose said in an interview from his home in Portland, Me. “Words like ‘mouthy,’ ‘emotional’ and ‘feisty’ were used to describe her.”

Isn't it embarrassing the schoolchildren of Portland, Maine honor Bronx native Claudette and nothing has been done in Bloomberg and Klein's Broad Prize Award Winning public school system of New York. Social Studies and history is paid short shrift in the so-called greatest city. It is only done well by inspired and brave leaders and teachers in far few schools that risk side-stepping the all day, every day test prep mantra.
for more on Phil Hoose's award winning book

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