ABSTRACT

On March 2, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama police arrested a young black woman by the name of Claudette Colvin for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Local black leaders began to plan a bus boycott to protest her arrest and use her as a test case to challenge segregated busing. At the last minute, the same local leaders called off the boycott after they discovered the details of Claudette and her reaction to the arrest. Claudette hit, kicked, and cursed the police as they dragged her off the bus. She was also an unwed pregnant teen. Claudette’s response to the arrest and status as an out-of-wedlock pregnant teen would undermine the legal challenge because she did not refl ect the type of black citizen that could be used to argue that blacks deserved protective civil rights legislation. Luckily, a local activist by the name of Rosa Parks who did conform to the type of black citizen who would be deserving of rights lived in Montgomery. Accounts of Parks, then and today, describe her as a ‘tired, old, seamstress’ whose long day of work left her ‘neck and shoulders particularly sore’, who ‘calmly’ said no to the bus driver who asked her and three other black passengers to give up their seat for a white passenger. Her character was pristine. No rational person, even a white person from Montgomery, could argue that she did not deserve a seat on her bus ride home from work. It was the normative image that Parks embodied, the racially non-threatening “good black citizen” that local Montgomery activists, including a young minister named Martin Luther King, would organize a year-long bus boycott around.