On March 2, 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white passenger.
Here in her court testimony she describes what happened:
[The bus driver] asked us to get up. [A middle-aged, pregnant, African-American woman, Mrs.
Hamilton, was also still seated.] So, he directly asked me to get up first. So, I told him I was not
going to get up. He said, “If you’re not going to get up I will get a policeman.” So, he went
somewhere and got a policeman. He [the policeman] said, “Why are you not going to get up?”
He said, “It’s against the law here.” So I told him that I didn’t know that it was a law that a
colored person had to get up and give a white person a seat when there were not any more vacant
seats and colored people were standing up. I said I was just as good as any white person and I
wasn’t going to get up. So he got off. And then two more policemen came in. He [one] said,
“Who is it?” and was very angry about it. He said, “That is not new, I had trouble out of that
thing before.” So he said, “Aren’t you going to get up? He didn’t say anything to Mrs. Hamilton
then. He just said it to me. He said, “Aren’t you going to get up?” I said, “No.” He saw Mrs.
Hamilton but he was afraid to ask her to get up. He said, “If any of you are not gentleman
enough to give a lady a seat you should be put in jail yourself.” So Mr. Harris, he got up and
gave her a seat, and immediately got off of the bus. He said, “You can have that seat, I am
getting off.” And so she took his seat. So he [the police officer] asked me if I was not going to
get up. I said, “No sir.” I was crying then. I was very hurt because I didn’t know that white
people could act like that and I was crying. And he said, “I will have to take you off.” So I didn’t
move. I didn’t move at all. I just acted like a big baby. So he kicked me and one [policeman] goon one side of me and one [another policeman] got the other arm and they just drug me out. And
I was so very pitiful. It really hurt me to see that I have to give a person a seat, when all those
colored people were standing and there were not any more vacant seats. I have never seen
nothing like that. Well, they take me down, they put me in a car and one of the motorcycle men,
he says, “I am sorry to have to take you down like this.” So they put handcuffs on me through the
As she explained in an interview in The Guardian (December 16, 2000), “I was really afraid,
because you just didn’t know what white people might do at that time.” In August that year, 14-
year-old Emmett Till had said, “Bye, baby” to a woman at a store in Mississippi, and was fished
out of the Tallahatchie River a few days later, dead, with a bullet in his skull, his eye gouged out,
and one side of his forehead crushed. “I didn’t know if they were crazy, if they were going to
take me to a Klan meeting. I started protecting my crotch. I was afraid they might rape me.”
They took her to City Hall, where she was charged with misconduct, resisting arrest, and
violating the city segregation laws. The full enormity of what she had done was only just
beginning to dawn on her. “I went bipolar. I knew what was happening, but I just kept trying to
shut it out.”
She concentrated her mind on things she had been learning at school. “I recited Edgar Allan Poe,
Annabel Lee, the characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Twenty-
third Psalm.” Anything to detach herself from the horror of reality.
At the trial, Colvin pleaded innocent but was found guilty and released on indefinite probation in
her parents’ care. “She had remained calm all during the days of her waiting period and during
the trial,” wrote Jo Ann Robinson, “but when she was found guilty, her agonized sobs penetrated
the atmosphere of the courthouse.”
Claudette Colvin was a “student, quiet, well-mannered, neat, clean, intelligent, pretty, and deeply
religious,” noted Robinson. She had dark black skin and lived in King Hill, a very poor part of
Tuesday is an important day in our countries future. On Tuesday, January 20th 2008 Barack Obama becomes President in a country where less than 50 years ago it would have been hard for him to vote in many parts of this country because he is an African American. Historical to say the least.
Today is an important anniversary in our countries past and yes future. Today is Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday. He would be 80 years old if he had not been gunned down at the young age of 39. That is right he changed the world he lived in for the better before he was forty. A man who started a movement that insured that Barack Obama and millions like him would be guaranteed their right to vote , and all of the other civil rights that we Americans are promised in the United States Constitution.
Some of my older classes have been looking at Mahatma Gandhi this week. Gandhi led a peaceful protest against the racism and discrimination of Indians in their own nation by the English. He used non-violent protest like King to change laws and gain freedom. Indeed he did it first. King learned from Gandhi about the principles of non-violence and love as weapons to fight injustice and racism. King learned that violence would not change things, he saw that peaceful protest was the only way to really change things. And things have changed. I was very young when King was murdered, I remember. I am old enough to see the changes in our world. I owe as does Barack Obama a debt of thanks to King and the thousands of people who fought peacefully for equality for all people.
One thing that Gandhi said that really applies to King ” Be the change you want to see in the World” King was the change he wanted to see. He gave up his life, working for years to make this world better for all. King was the change he wanted to see in the world, was an example of love and peace.
Yes Tuesday is an important day, celebrate it, enjoy it and remember it. After a past that included slavery and segregation we have an African American President, but lets not forget how important today, January 15th is as well.
Happy Birthday Martin Luther King Jr.