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Claudette Colvin

Activist

Born: 5 September 1939
Birthplace: Birmingham, Alabama
Best known as: The teenager who did a Rosa Parks before Rosa Parks did
Claudette Colvin was a teenager in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 who did just what Rosa Parks did nine months later: she challenged the local segregation laws that said African Americans had to give up their bus seats to whites. Rosa Parks became famous and Claudette Colvin became a footnote for the next half century. Colvin was fifteen years old on 2 March 1955, the day she refused to move from her seat on a public bus so that white passengers didn't have to share a row with black passengers. The driver drove directly to the police station and had her arrested. At the time, civil rights leaders in Montgomery were looking for a legal challenge to the segregation laws, but Colvin didn't seem like a good candidate, not only because she was a teenager, but also because she got pregnant a few months after her arrest. In December of that same year, Rosa Parks famously refused to move from her seat to accommodate white passengers, and her arrest led to public demonstrations and has since been seen as a turning point in the Civil Rights movement. These days, Colvin politely acknowledges the differences between the two cases -- she was a rambunctious teen and Parks was a 42-year-old model of stability -- and the pragmatic reasons why her case didn't carry the same weight at the time. Her story in the fight for African American civil rights earned more attention in 2009, with the publication of Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, a National Book Award winner by Phillip Hoose.

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