The Other Rosa Parks: Now 73, Claudette Colvin Was First to Refuse Giving Up Seat on Montgomery Bus

At a ceremony unveiling a statue in her honor last month, President Obama called Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus a “singular act of disobedience.” But nine months before Parks’ historic action, a 15-year-old teenager named Claudette Colvin did the very same thing. She was arrested and her case led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s order for the desegregation of Alabama’s bus system. Now 73, Claudette Colvin joins us for a rare interview along with Brooklyn College Professor Jeanne Theoharis, author of the “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.” Theoharis says Parks’ act of defiance may not have happened if not for Colvin’s nine months before. Colvin says learning about African-American history in school inspired her act. “I could not move because history had me glued to the seat,” she recalls telling the bus driver and the police officer who came to arrest her. “It felt like Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing down on one shoulder, and Harriet Tubman’s hand pushing down on another shoulder.”


Claudette Colvin, A pioneer in the Civil Rights movement. In March 1955, she was the first person arrested for resisting bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama. Her refusal to give up her seat to a white person came nine months before Rosa Parks and helped spark the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott. Her legal challenge went all the way to the Supreme Court. That case led the court to order an end to bus segregation in Alabama.

Jeanne Theoharis, Author of “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.” She is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and has written extensively about the civil rights and Black Power movements.

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