Rosa Parks before there was Rosa Parks

We are taught that the Civil Rights movement started on a bus in Alabama in December 1955. Rosa Parks’ act of defiance, her refusal to give up her seat on a bus, was an act of courage.

In fact, she wasn’t the first to do this. She was, however, the poster child the movement wanted.

Nine months earlier in March 1955, Claudette Colvin preempted Rosa Parks, refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. (Who knows. Maybe there was someone before her?) A fifteen-year-old who became pregnant (and remained unwed), she was not picked as the face of the movement that others wanted.

Claudette’s role to end segregation on buses didn’t end with her refusal to give up her seat. Even though she wasn’t picked as the face of the movement, she had a huge impact. She was one of five plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, which ultimately ended segregation on buses.

A belated thank you to Claudette Colvin…and to all of the other non-public faces of protest—large and small—in the face of injustice.

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