History Class Was Wrong: The Montgomery Bus Boycott

The world has created a narrative of Rosa Parks - a quiet Black woman, tired from a day’s work. The truth is, Rosa Parks was not tired from a long day of work like many believe, she was instead, “tired of giving in”. 

The Montgomery Municipal busses each had 36 seats. The ten in the front were reserved for white people, the ten in the back were supposed to be reserved for Black people., The sixteen seats in the middle were for anyone, but, if a white person came on the bus, a Black person was expected to give up their seat.

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, she was located in the middle of the bus, an area she was permitted to be.

When a white man came aboard, Rosa Parks refused to move, citing the fact that she paid the same fare as the white man and got on the bus first, thus deserved to remain seated.

The other three Black womxn sitting in the same section moved to stand in the back of the bus when asked, but Rosa Parks did not follow their example. Being an advocate for racial equity since her childhood, Rosa Parks had had enough. 

Although known by many as the one who incited the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Rosa Parks was not the first person to refuse to give up her seat on the bus to a white person.

Claudette Colvin was fifteen years old when she refused to give up her seat to a white person, nine months before Rosa Parks did the same. 

Colvin was a young girl on her way back from school when she was asked to move to the back of the bus. One can imagine that this was not done politely, but either way, Colvin refused to move citing the fact that she paid her fare and had the right to a seat on the bus just like any other fare-paying passenger. 

That same month that Colvin was arrested, she had been learning about Black leaders in her segregated school. After hearing about all of the injustices, people of color faced, she'd had enough and wanted things to change.

“Colvin remembers the moment the jail door closed. It was just like a Western movie”. The same things she was learning about in class, were now happening to her.

Now the question is, why is Claudette Colvin not the face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott? After all, "in the same city, in the same bus system, with very tough consequences, [there was another girl] hauled off the bus, handcuffed, jailed and nobody really knew about it.”

According to Claudette Colvin, the NAACP felt that Rosa Parks should be the face of the movement as “she was an adult. They didn't think teenagers would be reliable." Rosa Parks better fit the profile of what a black middle-class womxn looked like, something that Claudette Colvin did not do.

But why have we never heard of Claudette Colvin? After moving to New York City, the focus was on Malcolm X and Black power, leading to Colvin never telling her story to those around her. As a result, her story is not well known and is covered up by that of Rosa Parks.

Seeing how we do not hear about the true origins of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, it is important to question the history we have been taught and conduct our own research. Before sharing stories, I urge you to be inquisitive and be curious- ask questions and examine different perspectives. This is the only way to understand the full story.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Photo Credit: Her Campus Media Library