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1st black woman to refuse to give up seat says she’s gone unnoticed because of dark skin

claudette colvin 2The first black female arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person — nine months before the icon Rosa Parks did it — was a 15-year-old girl Montgomery, Ala. native named Claudette Colvin. To this day, Colvin believes her her dark skin played a part in her lack of recognition over the years.

Colvin, had refused to move to the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white person nine months before Rosa Parks did the very same thing. Yet hardly anyone knows she exists. Most people know about Parks and the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott that began in 1955. However, there were a number of women who refused to give up their seats on the same bus system before Parks did. Most of the women were quietly fined and no one ever knew their names. Colvin was the first to really challenge the law.

According to NPR:

Colvin, 69, says she remembers taking the bus home from high school on March 2, 1955, as clear as if it were yesterday. The bus driver ordered her to get up and she refused, saying she had paid her fare and it was her constitutional right. Two police officers put her in handcuffs and arrested her. Her schoolbooks went flying off her lap. “All I remember is that I was not going to walk off the bus voluntarily,” Colvin told NPR.

Ms. Colvin tells NRP why she feels her story didn’t receive more recognition. Many speculated that she was pregnant at the time.

There are many reasons why Claudette Colvin has been pretty much forgotten. She hardly ever told her story when she moved to New York City. In her new community, hardly anyone was talking about integration; instead, most people were talking about black enterprises, black power and Malcolm X. When asked why she is little known and why everyone thinks only of Rosa Parks, Colvin says the NAACP and all the other black organizations felt Parks would be a good icon because “she was an adult. They didn’t think teenagers would be reliable.” She also says Parks had the right hair and the right look. “Her skin texture was the kind that people associate with the middle class,” says Colvin. “She fit that profile.” Were you in the know about this little known black history fact?



2 Comments

  1. 7734real on February 5, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Being only 4 years younger than Colvin, yes, I am familiar with her story. It’s a shame that the tables were turned against her, but very true.

  2. One Sheila on February 5, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Yes. However, I believe it had less to do with hair and color and more to do with the fact that Rosa was an adult, had a history as a civil rights advocate and possible a bit more resilient. I have often read that Claudette was pregnant at the time and some stories suggest that she was having an affair with a married man. Don’t know if it was true, but she does deserve to be honored for being at the forefront of history.