Imagine having to sit at the back of the bus, just because of your skin color. Less than 100 years ago, it was common in the United States to block African Americans from job opportunities, stores, and restaurants that were only for white people. They were also banned from many public services and forced to use lower quality public toilets, hospitals, and even schools. Sitting in the front of a public bus was just one form of legal discrimination that African Americans faced at that time.
In 1865, slavery was made illegal, but black people’s lives didn’t get much easier. They were often accused of crimes they didn’t commit. They were jailed and even killed for no reason in the early 1900s. In the 1950s, blacks were still treated like second-class citizens, but their tolerance had grown thin.
Rosa Parks is a famous African American woman who is known as the mother of the Civil Rights Movement. She started this movement of non-violent resistance by refusing to give up her bus seat for a white person. She’s still celebrated today for her courage.
What many people don’t know is that Rosa Parks wasn’t the first African American woman to do this. Just nine months earlier, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin had bravely done the exact same thing.
In 1955, Claudette was asked to move from her bus seat so that a white person could sit there. Claudette refused. The police were called, but still the brave girl stood her ground.
The police stormed onto the bus, grabbed both of her wrists, and ripped her from her seat. Her books went flying to the floor. They kicked her and forced her from the bus and into a police car. They called her names and threw her in jail.
So, why hasn’t history remembered Claudette? She should be just as famous as Rosa Parks, but she isn’t. That’s because Civil Rights leaders thought that Rosa made a better face for the movement. Rosa was older than Claudette and more reserved. But many say that Rosa’s lighter skin made her a more attractive woman to lead the movement. Claudette’s skin was darker, and people thought this made her seem poorer and less trustworthy.
It’s sad to think that skin color even played a role in the woman history chose as the face of the civil rights movement – a movement to end racial inequality.