Friday, January 15, 2010
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
[Set-up room for a RE-ENACTMENT of March 2, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama, in the vicinity of Bibb and Commerce Streets: chairs=bus seats, student volunteers=bus driver, black girl in the 11th grade, friends, white woman in her forties, two policemen, riders black and white. Narrate the scene as students take their places.]
There were basically two separate worlds in Montgomery back in 1955. One was white, one black. A divisive hatred lived on for decades in the South after the Civil War. If you went to a sporting event you might be surprised to see some white folks not stand up for the Star Spangled Banner, but they would for Dixie, a song often played in the South since the Civil War. If a black man looked at a white woman directly in the eye, the black man would be in big trouble. Whites and blacks had separate bathrooms, schools, restaurants, and movie theaters. The system of laws that divide whites and blacks is known as segregation. These laws also had another name-Jim Crow. Jim Crow laws even applied to those that rode the city bus everyday.
The front four rows on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, were reserved for whites only. Even if the front seats were open, black riders could not occupy them. If the reserved seats were full, the bus driver would yell to the back of the bus for black riders to give up their seats for additional white riders. For years the city ordinance stated clearly that no rider had to give up a seat unless there was another seat available. In reality the ordinance didn't matter. Bus drivers would still yell: "I need that seat!" To ride a city bus, blacks would enter and pay the fare, and then, unless there were no whites on board, they had to reenter the bus through the back door. Black riders had to stand if the back of the bus filled-up even though seats were available up front. Laws in the South that divided people by race basically gave permission for one race to rule over the other as bullies.
On March 2nd, 1955, an 11th grade girl and her high school friends stepped up to the driver, paid their fare, and proceded straight down the aisle. They took their seats in the same row behind the reserved section. No whites were on board, yet. Gradually the bus filled up with more riders. Many eventually had to stand. A white woman stood by the girl. The woman expected the girl to give up her seat despite the fact that the seat was behind the reserved section.
The bus driver noticed the awkward situation and barked to the girl and her friends: "I need those seats."
Her friends got up, but she didn't. The white woman wouldn't sit down until all the seats in that row were unoccupied by blacks.
The girl didn't plan for this to happen. The girl just decided she wasn't going to take it anymore. Why should she give up her seat just because she was black? The girl knew the rule-she didn't have to give up her seat if all the seats on the bus were full.
The bus driver barked again: "Why are you still sittin there?" "Gimme that seat!" He then alerted the authorities.
At the intersection of Bibb and Commerce Streets, a squad car waited. Two Montgomery policemen climbed aboard. Everyone held their breath.
"Aren't you going to get up?," one said.
"No sir," the girl replied.
"Get up!," he commanded.
"It's my constitutional right to sit here."
The two policemen grabbed an arm each and pulled the girl straight up out of her seat. School books and papers flew everywhere. She went limp. She didn't fight back; she was too smart for that. One of the policemen kicked her.
The girl repeatedly cried out as she was pulled out of the bus: "It's my constitutional right! It's my constitutional right! It's my constit......."
The ride to the police station would be far worse. Insults, accusations, and threats were hurled at the girl by the policemen. They even pretended to take her directly to prison instead of the police station.
Why had she acted so impulsively? What would her parents think? What would the kids at school think? Did she do the right thing? There would be consequences. According to police the girl violated segregation laws, disturbed the peace and assaulted two policemen. (They claimed that the girl scratched and kicked them.)
After bail was posted she was released from jail. The 11th grader returned to her school, but a hero's welcome did not greet her. She was shunned, not celebrated. She should have been treated as a civil rights pioneer, but instead was treated as an outcast by some of her classmates.
Who was she? Who was this girl that stood before bullies that tried to force her out of the bus seat? Her lawyer remarked that this girl had more courage than any other person involved in the movement. Who was this girl that gave another young woman, almost a year later, the courage to do the same thing on a different Montgomery city bus? The young woman is still reverred, but not the girl.
Before Martin Luther King Jr. became the face of the Civil Rights movement, almost a year before Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, there was a teenage girl named Claudette Colvin. She was the girl. Like the unknown source to a mighty river, Claudette Colvin was the unknown source of inspiraton that helped lead the way for Rosa Parks and others in the city of Montgomery to stand up for their rights. Discover more about a story that will no longer exist as just a footnote in Civil Rights history, in, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose.
Check out the video on Claudette Colvin and the book written by Phillip Hoose.
Posted by Mr. S @ BC at 8:53 AM