The right image was never destined.

For most teenagers and adults, the first black baseballer, or the creator of the lightbulb is common knowledge. Some baseball fans will know who Jackie Robinson is, but even less will know or celebrate Fleet Walker’s accomplishment. Another famous example would be Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison’s collaboration on creating the lightbulb. Regardless of bringing forth the same ideas, Edison is known as the primary creator of the light bulb. Before I begin, I would like to set out a disclaimer to all readers that by no means am I discrediting any of these famous historical figures. I simply want to inform my audience of one of the world’s “Hidden Figures”. 

The story of the colored woman who resisted leaving her seat is one of the most notable catalysts for the civil rights movements. She was recognized as a national African American leader. This reputation belongs to Rosa Parks, but what if I told you it belonged to another woman? Nine months before Rosa Park’s notable accomplishment, a young fifteen-year-old had refused to give up her seat for a white woman. At a young age, Claudette Colvin always aimed towards challenging racist social constructs. She began her defiance by simply embracing her natural hair. On the day of her arrest, Colvin and her schoolmates were asked to give up their seats for a single lady. Her friends had stood up as prompted to do so, but Colvin remained seated. Police officers, in turn, pushed her out of the seat and arrested her. Her arrest became the talk of the town. African American activists who had heard these stories supported Colvin. Through this, she received legal aid, and her sentences were dropped. 

With Colvin’s stories grasping the attention of many people, protest leaders decided she was not a suitable leader of such an accomplishment. They believed having a young student would cause emotional decisions that would be inappropriate for a heavy topic such as segregation. Additionally, she had gotten pregnant in the summer of that year. As a result, they decided to over overlook the situation entirely. She was not pregnant during her arrest, a common myth for not getting her recognition. Without the support of other reformers, what Colvin had done was stubborn. Many parents had told their children to avoid her. She had become an outcast in her Montgomery town. Soon after, Rosa Parks followed suit. “She was an adult,” says Colvin. “Her skin texture was the kind that people associate with the middle class”. Now imagine what would have happened if Colvin was accepted into the community of activists. Imagine if we reminisced about March second during Black History month, the catalyst of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Although this is already happening in Montgomery, what if was as widespread as Rosa Park’s story?  

On the day of her arrest, Colvin argued with the men on the bus, telling them she knew her constitutional right so she did not need to leave her seat. Following her arrest, African American activists supported her through her trials. As a result, she left with most of her sentences dropped. Seeing her fearlessness, they decide to use her as a sign for a Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Montgomery Bus Boycott showed to many people how much the African American community contributed to the bus transportation business. During the negotiations of the segregation laws, leaders of the boycott had agreed to allow black people to sit wherever, as long as they entered the bus from the rear door. Despite this, Colvin, alongside three other women, became plaintiffs for a case asking the laws to be violated entirely. We now know this as Browder v. Gayle. As Colvin had dreamt of, this case would have gotten more recognition. 

According to Phil Hoose, the author of Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, he felt Colvin’s story should have gotten more recognition; “As a teenager, Claudette’s risks were different, and I think much greater.” The Montgomery Bus Boycott ended because of the case Colvin was involved in. Despite the public protests of multiple people, only four women were willing to sign their names to be plaintiffs. Had Claudette Colvin gotten recognition for both of these feats, she would have been a role model to many young women. As she said, “I always tell young people to hold on to their dreams. And sometimes you have to stand up for what you think is right even if you have to stand alone.”

Richelle Asamoah, St. Ignatius, DMSF

Image credit: Wikipedia commons