Before Rosa Parks, There Was Courageous Teen Claudette Colvin

By Aaliyah-Marie Garner, age 12 and IndyKids staff

Rosa Parks will forever be remembered for refusing to give up her seat to a white lady on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in December 1955. However, a name most of us do not know is Claudette Colvin. Nine months before Parks remained seated, 15-year-old Colvin said “no” first. 

Claudette Colvin had been on a bus on March 2, 1955, traveling home from school, when a white lady demanded that she give up her seat. Colvin’s two friends stood up, but she remained seated. “No,” she said. Police were called to the scene, and the scared but determined teen was dragged from the bus, handcuffed and arrested.

But why was Colvin not remembered for this act of bravery, but Parks, who courageously did the same, was? Parks was an adult. She had a light complexion. She had the “right” haircut. She had a look which “people associate with the middle class,” said Colvin in an interview with NPR. “She fit that profile.” Whereas Colvin, with her dark skin and thick hair, was seen as an unreliable and mischievous teenager. But Colvin was far from that. She was a courageous young civil rights activist who put her foot down.

“Why don’t the adults around here just say something?” Claudette would often think to herself as a teenager, according to the biography Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. “Say it so that they know we don’t accept segregation? I knew then and I know now that, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’ And I did.”

Colvin was charged with one felony and two counts of violating Montgomery’s segregation ordinance. She was given indefinite probation, and she was never informed that her probation had ended. 

In December 2021, Montgomery County Juvenile Judge Calvin Williams finally ruled that Colvin’s criminal record be expunged. The judge said that her crime was now “recognized as a courageous act on her behalf and on behalf of a community of affected people.”

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