That’s not right.
Let me try this one more time.
Claudette Colvin. There we go. Much better.
What am I saying? Well, we all know the name Rosa Parks. She was the poised, elegant Black woman who stood up to the absurdity of bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama. At her actions, the Bus Boycotts began, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was born, and the nation came to know Martin Luther King, Jr.
But how many of you know that Rosa Parks was not, in fact, the first Black woman to stand up to this disparity? No, that honor in fact goes to one Claudette Colvin. So why on earth is Rosa Parks the one who gets the credit for sitting on the bus?
There are a few factors which go into it. MLK and the leaders of the civil rights movement were good at publicity. Sometimes they were, indeed, controlled by it (refer to MLK distancing himself from the Million Man March organizer, Bayard Rustin). Others, they used it to their advantage, such as the world seeing White Police Officers attacking children (to clarify, the Civil Rights Movement did not want the children attacked, but knew how to use the imagery when it did happen). The case of Claudette v Rosa is one such case.
Claudette was a young, outspoken teenager, suspected of being pregnant at the time by a married man. Rosa, on the other hand, was a married woman in her early 40’s who was an active participant in her church.
Which image has the greater ability to stand as a symbol of the public?
Now none of this detracts from the achievements of either woman. Both were a part of the case which would overturn the bus segregation, Browder v. Gayle (1956). Claudette would later move to New York City with her husband and become a nurses aide. While Rosa would move to Detroit and remain an activist, Claudette would settle into living her life.
Claudette would later be referred to as the spark which started the movement. Here was her response:
“I feel very, very proud of what I did. I do feel like what I did was a spark and it caught on. I’m not disappointed. Let the people know Rosa Parks was the right person for the boycott. But also let them know that the attorneys took four other women to the Supreme Court to challenge the law that led to the end of segregation.”
As you learn, don’t discount others who were involved. Understand there is more to everything you read. Like Claudette said,
“Young people think Rosa Parks just sat down on a bus and ended segregation, but that wasn’t the case at all.”