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Claudette Colvin: 15-Year-Old Civil Rights Activist

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SBU chapter.

I don’t know about you but when I think about the people I have learned about in connection to the Civil Rights Movement, people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks are probably the names I have heard the most.

As we move into February, Black History Month, I did a little research about influential people in Black history. I came across the name Claudette Colvin underneath a picture of a beautiful, young Black American girl. Little did I know that the young 15-year-old girl, Claudette Colvin, is considered one of the true pioneers in the Civil Rights Movement.

Rosa Parks is famous for her heroic act of refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. However, Claudette Colvin made the courageous decision to refuse to move from the colored section of a bus to accommodate a young white woman several months before Rosa Parks’ boycott. 

So why is it that not many people know who Claudette Colvin is if she had such an influence on change during the Civil Rights Movement? While her act of courage should most certainly be recognized, back in 1955 when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat, certain aspects of her status prompted the NAACP and local activists to step away from using her case as the backbone for change and the new face of their organization. Furthermore, the NAACP felt that Colvin being such a young girl, as well as becoming pregnant shortly after, would result in negative publicity and the belief that more attention would be geared towards Colvin’s teen pregnancy rather than her courageous act to refuse to give up her seat which resulted in her arrest. 

Without the contributions of Claudette Colvin, the history of the Civil Rights Movement could’ve looked very different had she not chosen to boycott. Author Philip Hoose wrote a book about Claudette’s story and he believes that without her demonstration, we would not know who Rosa Parks or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were and their contributions. While activists initially tried to shy away from her case, eventually they realized how important her testimony was about ending segregation. Approximately two years after being arrested, she would become one of four plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, Browder v. Gayle, which would establish that bus segregation violates the 14 Amendment which states all citizens are guaranteed equal protection of the laws. 

Claudette Colvin changed the course of civil rights by acting as the stepping stone to bigger forces that have been recognized for generations. Had she not taken a stand at the age of 15 to fight for what is right, the Supreme Court case that she was a part of might not have been successful had she chosen not to testify. 

Johanna is currently a Senior Health & Society major, with a minor in Business Administration. This is her first semester writing for Her Campus. Aside from Her Campus, Johanna works as a Resident Assistant as well as a volunteer EMT on MERT, St. Bonaventure's emergency response team. In her time away from academics, Johanna enjoys the sport of Drag Racing in the summers, spending time with friends, watching TV, and listening to music.