Before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin.
One of the pleasures of Women’s History Month is meeting women whom you never knew had made history. Joining the ranks of female crusaders this year is Claudette Colvin, a figure who proved that women – or rather, girls – have what it takes to make a difference.
Phillip Hoose tells her story in a new book for tweens Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice.
If you haven’t heard of Colvin, you’re hardly alone. A newspaper article referencing her role in the civil rights movement got her last name wrong – and this just nine months after she spurred Montgomery, Ala., to rebellion.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Hoose begins by placing Colvin’s life in the context of Jim Crow laws: Colvin grew up in 1940s and ’50s Alabama where racial prejudice ran deep. Before she even knew her ABCs, she knew the societal differences between being black or white.
But Colvin wasn’t content to rail against social injustices in private. Her moment came on March 2, 1955, when she was a mere 15 years old. Frustrated with the segregation laws that ruled the Montgomery bus system, Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white woman. Colvin was arrested; the city was electrified.
Although Hoose’s book primarily focuses on Colvin’s story – from her bus protest in 1955 to her role in the landmark court case that brought an end to segregated busing on Dec. 21, 1956 – there’s also plenty of general civil rights history for context and enrichment. Readers are introduced to a young, fiery orator by the name of Martin Luther King Jr. And they meet a well-respected seamstress and head of the Montgomery NAACP. Her name? Rosa Parks.
What’s most interesting of all about Hoose’s book is his explanation of why it was Parks, and not the teenage Colvin, who became the heroine of the Alabama bus boycott. And yet, Hoose also shows how Colvin’s stand for justice built the foundation for Parks’s later act.
True, it’s a story that may have been taken for granted in 1950s Alabama. But today, thanks to Hoose, a new generation of girls – and boys – can add Claudette Colvin to their list of heroines.