We all learned about Rosa Parks in grade school. But do you know the full story?
On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested.
Why? For refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to a white man. Of course, as with most things my teacher told me in high school, that's not the whole story. Here's what really happened, "Drunk History"-style.
Well that had some new information, didn't it?
OK, let's look at these events in order.
1946: U.S. Supreme Court case Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia rules that segregation on interstate buses is unconstitutional.
March 2, 1955: NAACP Youth Council member Claudette Colvin, 15, is arrested for resisting bus segregation in Montgomery. Yep, that's a full nine months before Rosa Parks was arrested for the same thing.
Dec. 1, 1955: NAACP member Rosa Parks is arrested for resisting bus segregation, again in Montgomery. In response, the Montgomery black community launches the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Dec. 13 and 17, 1956: The Supreme Court confirms the lower court's ruling in Browder v. Gayle, stating that all bus segregation is unconstitutional, and then refuses additional appeals. Claudette Colvin was a plaintiff in this case.
Dec. 20, 1956: After 381 days of boycott, Montgomery buses are desegregated, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott ends.
So why have we never heard of Claudette Colvin?
A lot of sources say Colvin's arrest was not widely publicized because the NAACP didn't think she was an ideal figure to be the face of the movement.
Some sources even say this choice may have been affected by the fact that shortly after her arrest, Colvin became pregnant while unmarried. She experienced many difficulties in her community and had trouble holding a job. And three years after her arrest, she left Montgomery for New York.
Side note, Colvin has allegedly said that Rosa Parks had "the right hair and the right look" to be the bus boycott's icon. Claudette, are you saying that you were left out of the history books because of a bad hair day!? Let's hope not. (Just kidding, that is most definitely not what she's saying.)
But listen up. Claudette Colvin is pretty amazing. And it's time we put her name in the history books.
And Rosa Parks? She, too, was a BAMF.
Isn't there room for more than one important black woman to get her name in the history books?
FACT CHECK TIME!
- The "Drunk History" video states that Rosa Parks boarded the bus and sat down in the white section. Actually, she took a seat directly behind the white section. However, as the bus filled up after a few more stops, the bus driver told Parks to give her seat to a white man who had been left standing. She refused and was arrested.
- Dec. 13 and 17 are both important days in the Browder v. Gayle case, as the Supreme Court confirmed a lower court's ruling on the 13th and denied additional appeals on the 17th.
- For more about Claudette Colvin, why you've never heard of her, and all there is to know, check out this NPR story, this speech by Colvin, this page from the Congress of Racial Equality, and this article from The Guardian. All facts about Colvin in this post were pulled from these sources.
- For Rosa Parks' full account of her own arrest, check out the Academy of Achievement.