Claudette Colvin & Civil Disobedience

Claudette Colvin, aged 13, in 1953.

On March 15, 2009, National Public Radio, Inc. published an article called “Before Rosa Parks, There Was Claudette Colvin.”


On March 2, 1955, Claudette Colvin (1939–) was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama.


This event took place nine months prior to Rosa Parks’ refusal on December 1, 1955 to give up her seat in a “colored section” of a bus to a white person because the white section was full.


Rosa Parks’ act of civil disobedience is well known in U.S. history.


Colvin’s is not.

At the segregated bus station in Durham, NC, 1940.

On February 1, 1956, Colvin and three other plaintiffs who had been discriminated against by bus drivers in Montgomery (Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith) testified in a federal court case, Browder v. Gayle, that was filed by a civil rights attorney.


W.A. Gayle was the mayor of Montgomery from 1951 to 1959 and was the defendant in the case. In June 1956, the judges determined that the state and local laws requiring bus segregation in Alabama were unconstitutional.


The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling in December 1956. Browder v. Gayle is the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow laws. 


Prepare a 4–5-minute presentation that includes a summary of Claudette Colvin’s accomplishments, specific types of civic engagement mentioned in the handout, and the impact she had on democracy in the United States.


Also, share your thoughts on whether you think Claudette Colvin and/or two other civically engaged Americans of your choosing should be included in all U.S. high school history textbooks. 

Rosa Parks (7).jpg

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted after being arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger.

NAACP flyer advertising a lecture by Rosa Parks, September 23, 1956.


  • civil disobedience—the refusal to comply with certain laws or to pay taxes and fines, as a peaceful form of political protest

  • Jim Crow laws—state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States. Enacted by white Democratic-dominated state legislatures in the late 19th century after the Reconstruction period, these laws continued to be enforced until 1965. 

Next Up:



Discuss what you've learned through your assignment on civically engaged Americans.



Hear from students about how they have become civically active.



Watch a short profile of student activist Michelle Hua.

In the book, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice,
Colvin recollected,

"One cop grabbed one of my hands and his partner grabbed the other and they pulled me straight up out of my seat. My books went flying everywhere. I went limp as a baby—I was too smart to fight back. They started dragging me backwards off the bus. One of them kicked me. I might have scratched one of them because I had long nails, but I sure didn’t fight back. I kept screaming over and over, ‘It’s my constitutional right!’ I wasn’t shouting anything profane—I never swore, not then, not ever. I was shouting out my rights."


Margot Adler, “Before Rosa Parks, There Was Claudette Colvin,” National Public Radio, 15 March 2009, [31 July 2020].

Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), 35.

“Browder v. Gayle: The Women Before Rosa Parks,” Teaching Tolerance, 16 June 2011, [31 July 2020].

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