On February 19th, civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin presented a talk on her life at the Boston College School of Social Work, remembering the day 60 years ago when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Colvin was truly a trailblazer in the fight for civil rights – her refusal of segregation took place nine months before Rosa Parks’ similar protest. She was only 15 years old at the time.
“Claudette spoke eloquently about how she has proactively addressed adversity throughout her life, and she encouraged our faculty and students to stand up and provide a compassionate voice when confronted with social injustice in our own lives,” said BC Social Work Dean Alberto Godenzi. “She also encouraged us to strive to understand what’s happening in the world around us today, and she asked us to remember our distinct pasts as a critical means to gaining truthful perspectives on our shared futures. “
Colvin’s own unique perspective traced the events of her life, placed firmly in the context of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“Colvin recounted the events of that historic day – March 2, 1955 – and how she had boarded the bus in front of the church where Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor,” reported the Boston College Chronicle. “In school that day, her class had discussed the impact of Jim Crow segregation laws on their daily lives, and when the bus driver ordered her to give up her seat for a white passenger, Colvin said, ‘I remained where I was, because history had me glued to the seat. I felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side, and Harriet Tubman on the other, holding me down. That’s why I didn’t move.’”
The event celebrating Black History Month was also covered by the Boston Globe, which highlighted the three generations of Colvin women who were in attendance on the day. Claudette’s granddaughter Jennifer is a first-year MSW student BC Social Work, and Jennifer’s mom Cheryl is currently playing an important role in organizing a 50th anniversary jubilee commemorating the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965.
“People don’t often realize that it was my mother-in-law’s experience that was cited in Browder vs. Gayle, the court case that first ruled that the segregation of buses was unconstitutional,” Cheryl recently told BC Social Work.
“The public has always seen Rosa Parks as the woman who refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus. But the law sees Claudette Colvin. She played such an important part in the Civil Rights Movement, and it’s good to see that she can now openly share that, at this time in her life. I think this is meaningful to her.”
We encourage you to watch Claudette’s talk on our YouTube page. To learn more about the Colvin family’s significant contributions to civil rights and social justice, read a Q&A with Jennifer and Cheryl on our blog.