On March 2, 1955, an impassioned teenager, fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be just nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin found herself shunned by her classmates and dismissed by community leaders. Undaunted, a year later she dared to challenge segregation again as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South.
Based on extensive interviews with Claudette Colvin and many others, Phillip Hoose presents the first in-depth account of an important yet largely unknown civil rights figure, skillfully weaving her dramatic story into the fabric of the historic Montgomery bus boycott and court case that would change the course of American history. – Goodreads
In my next foray into required classroom reading, we meet Claudette Colvin, who was a real person who did real things, and this book acts as a bit of a history lesson about Jim Crow. My university was founded by the Roosevelts in the 1930s, so social justice is a big thing there. Most of the novels have some kind of social justice thread throughout. Everything about the Jim Crow era makes me sick. I just can’t even imagine how that world was, the constant normalcy of humiliation, not to mention violence, that hung over everyone’s heads. It’s awful.
This book is interesting though, because it’s not fiction. There are real interview excerpts with Colvin herself interspersed with factoids about the Jim Crow era, completely with pictures of “white only” grocery stores and movie theaters for “colored people.” I feel as thought a lot of history written for children is whitewashed, so to speak. They say Rosa Parks was “just tired” when really she’d been a civil rights activist for years. They call slaves “servants” in textbooks. But this book doesn’t whitewash and it doesn’t focus on just one thing. They talk about rape, and trumped up charges, and injustice done by the justice system. I liked that. Show us what really happened. Don’t cover anything up.
This book is so interesting because it’s real life and not fiction. Claudette Colvin was like a teenager precursor to Rosa Parks; in fact, Colvin knew Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr basically got his start with her case (though he wasn’t the lawyer who represented her in court). Colvin was pretty much the reason the Montgomery bus boycott happened in the first place, something I never knew, even though it happened months after her arrest. This is what I mean by history books whitewashing history. Everyone is taught that poor, quiet Rosa Parks was tired one day and didn’t want to get up, and that’s why the boycott began and the buses were desegregated. But Parks’ protest was planned, she was an adviser and confidante of Colvin’s, and Colvin’s bravery kicked everything off. These people were not just exhausted from work, they were tired of being seen as less.
This is an important book because it’s more than standard teenage coming-of-age stuff (though that is plenty important too). This is a book told in the words of the people who were there, a recounting of history as it happened. Everyone should know the truth in all things, especially this.