"I felt like Sojourner Truth was pushing down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other, saying, 'Sit down girl!' I was glued to my seat."
The Montgomery, Alabama, teenager who said these words was arrested for remaining seated on a bus while white people had to stand. Later, she and three other young women successfully sued the city for its segregated buses. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court.
Who was this girl?
a) Claudette Colvin
b) Shirley Chisolm
c) Rosa Parks
d) Ruby Dee
On March 2, 1955, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white woman. She was arrested. At the time, a group of African American women had been planning a boycott of the bus system if the city did not end the segregated seating. They were looking for just such an incident to set the boycott in motion.
But the group decided not to use Colvin's arrest to launch the boycott, because in their view Colvin didn't present a respectable enough image: She was young, poor, perhaps too dark-skinned, and shortly after the arrest, pregnant.
Nine months later, Rosa Parks was arrested for the same crime, and the resulting bus boycott made history. Parks, a long-time civil rights movement activist, was a 42-year-old seamstress, and married.
Questions for discussion:
1. Did the boycott committee make the right decision in bypassing Claudette Colvin?
2. Colvin's actions are sometimes referred to as "civil disobedience." Is civil disobedience a legitimate form of protest? Is it effective?
3. How is the civil rights struggle of 1955 different from the civil rights struggle of 2015?
Give students one of these short writing assignments:
- Imagine that you personally were on that bus in Montgomery with Claudette Colvin in 1955, and she refused to move. Write a paragraph about what you would have done and why.
- Is there a cause that you feel so strongly about that you would find the courage to challenge authority as Claudette Colvin did in 1955? If so, what is that cause, and why do you feel so strongly about it? If not, why not? Write a paragraph explaining your response.