I hoped that Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice would change the way we talk about the Montgomery bus protest. I think it has. It isn’t just that then 15-year-old Claudette Colvin took great risks and suffered great consequences before Rosa Parks famously did exactly what she did nearly a year later. It is, that as a teenager, Claudette’s risks were different, and I think much greater.
As Evanston Public Library staff said in the Loft Blog post about the book, “the teens who stood up (or remained seated) for their constitutional rights had everything to lose. They did not have established reputations on which to draw, rather, they were immersed in the sometimes murky waters of high school where student opinions shift like the tides; one minute you’re a hero, and the next you’re an outcast and are shunned. Claudette Colvin’s courage is the rawest, bravest kind. She put her entire future on the line.”
Beyond that, hardly anyone knows how the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended. Most assume that the boycott simply wore down the bus company and city officials, and they gave up. Far from it. They were fighting for the entire southern way of life. In fact, a lawsuit turned the tide. Entitled Browder v. Gayle, the suit challenged the constitutionality of bus segregation laws in Montgomery and Alabama. Claudette Colvin was one of only four black citizens of Montgomery-all females-who put their names on that suit as a plaintiff. By doing so, they put their own lives, and those of their families and neighbors at risk. Amazingly, they won. That suit ended legal racial discrimination in public transportation.
Why did I write about Claudette Colvin? I wrote about Claudette because she made contributions to human rights far too important to be forgotten. I believe the book has cast a brighter, broader light on her courage. I’m proud of it’s success, and delighted that it’s now out in a superb paperback edition with a new afterward.