The name Claudette Colvin doesn't ring a bell for most, but she actually played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Bronx reporter Erin Clarke shares the story of this unsung hero.
"Aurelia Browder, Ms. Susie McDonald and another teenager named Mary Louise Smith."
Those are names most people don't know.
But 60 years ago, those three women, along with Claudette Colvin, now 76 years old — brought the historic legal challenge that struck down Alabama laws that allowed segregation on public transportation.
"There were no more seats lefts, so he asked for the four seats and I refused to get up," Colvin said. "I felt like Harriet Tubman's hand was pushing down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth's hand was pushing down on the other. I said 'History had me glued to the seat.'"
That was on March 2, 1955 — nine months before Rosa Parks did the same thing.
But Colvin was just 15 years old, and that summer she was also pregnant — so Parks became the face of the landmark Montgomery bus boycotts — even as Colvin and those three other women pressed on with their lawsuit, a case known as Browder v. Gayle.
"The professional people chose someone who would be impressive," Colvin said. "A lot of people think that Rosa sit down and that was it. That wasn't it. A lot of litigation went down."
On Tuesday, December 1 — the 60th anniversary of the day Parks refused to go to the back of the bus — Colvin, now living in the Bronx, was honored.
"Ms. Colvin, on behalf of the Bronx community, we honor you and thank you because you sat down so that we could stand up."
Colvin's biography was published in 2009, but she remains an unsung hero of the Civil Rights movement.
Ever humble, she says she hopes sharing her story will provide a fuller picture of what happened, encourage those fighting injustice to continue and spread the message that it takes many people fighting together to produce change.
"Come together and have discussion," Colvin said. "Demonstrate what the founding fathers said in the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all."