The story of Claudette Colvin
We all know and are inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and he was immortalized as the civil rights leader of the day. Aside from MLK, many personalities have also contributed just as much to the movement and are often overlooked.
As we celebrate the life and legacy of MLK, I also want to look at some of the movement’s other historical figures, even after his murder.
Many fail to realize that his death is also part of his legacy, and as we honor his accomplishments, we must also tell the stories of those who are forgotten and neglected.
One of my favorite stories is that of Claudette Colvin.
Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, there was Claudette Colvin. At 15, she paid for her bus fare and sat in a chair for a white woman to ask her and her friends to give it up. She refused and was arrested.
In several accounts of her story, she relates that history held her back. At school, she heard about Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, and she felt them holding her to the seat. When her three comrades got up, Claudette remained seated.
Three charges were brought against her, one for disturbing the police, another for breaking the law on segregation and finally, assaulting a police officer. While the first two charges were dropped, the third remained and was not struck from his record until 67 years later.
The likelihood of her assaulting a grown man is incredibly unlikely, so I think we can safely conclude that the legitimacy of the charges is questionable. In fact, according to womenshitory.org, “the officers each grabbed one of her arms, kicked her, threw her books in her lap, and ‘roughed’ her off the bus.”
What his story tells us
Colvin cites several reasons why Parks was the face of the movement when she had been excluded. First of all, Parks was an adult. Second, Parks had lighter skin. Third, Colvin was poor and Parks was middle class. Fourth, Parks was well known and respected in political circles. And five, Colvin got pregnant shortly after her arrest.
Even though these things happened 60 years ago, they are issues that still plague modern America. Colorism is defined as “prejudice or discrimination against dark-skinned people, usually among people of the same ethnic or racial group.”
Essentially, even within the black community and most minorities, the lighter your skin, the more opportunity you have. Light-skinned people have more options than dark-skinned people.
We see this on the big screen in Who Gets Roles. We see that who’s music is based on who’s music becomes popular first. That’s not to say light-skinned performers aren’t talented. This means that other dark-skinned talented performers aren’t getting the hype and attention they deserve.
Another theme in his story that speaks to modern America is classism. There’s this lingering belief in America that if you’re poor, you’re lazy, you don’t deserve any help, and if you wanted to, you could stop being poor at any time.
However, this mindset fails to recognize that poverty is cyclical and often not solved by a simple lifestyle change. Many issues surrounding low-income families are generational and historical. By continuing to live in neighborhoods with poor schools because houses cost less, schools have less disposable income because they are funded by neighborhood taxes.
And there is also the belief that the poor are less intelligent and less valuable in society. In reality, many poor or low-income jobs are essential to humanity. Grocery store workers, fast food workers, factory workers, teachers, and many other positions are undervalued, especially considering all they do to make the world go round.
Finally, there’s Colvin’s pregnancy. It’s hard to be a young single mother today. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be a single, pregnant black girl in the South in the 1960s.
This is another demonstration of the current need for more comprehensive sex education in our country. We also need to do more to protect young women from men who might take advantage of them and their lack of experience.
The baby’s father was 10 years older than Claudette. And the way men still talk to young women is despicable. The way men crawl underage Tik Tok accounts or flirt with women who are the same age as their granddaughter is disgusting and something we as a society have not done enough to address. to prevent. I work at a grocery store and I’ve still had men old enough to be my dad try to touch my hands.
But this behavior is rarely condemned.
If Claudette was not a figurehead of the movement, she was the spark that lit the fire. Even in her youth, she clung to what she believed was right even when it wasn’t popular. She stood by his story with pride and lived by his morals.
I try to look problems in the face and stay firm, like Claudette. I hope to have half the conviction of Claudette Colvin. And that’s why she’s one of my favorite figures and one of the unsung heroines of the civil rights movement. I hope that by hearing his story, we can inspire others to stand up for what they believe in.
It should also be noted that even though we have come so far, we still have a long way to go to achieve equality.
We still have more to accomplish and settle in 2022. We need to think critically about how black people are policed. We need to start addressing some of the systemic injustices that affect people of color in the justice system. We need to do more to make sure schools have the resources they need. We need to make sure everyone can vote for the politicians who represent them.
We’ve come so far in America, but the job is not done.