Lessons in Black History – Claudette Colvin (plus Mary Louise Smith and Irene Morgan Kirkaldy)

Claudette Colvin – Rosa Parks is considered the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement for not giving up her seat on a segregated bus in December 1955. Parks’s act of defiance has been recorded by history as being the spark that set off the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was in turn crucial in ending segregation. But Parks was not the first black woman to refuse to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Nine months before Parks was arrested for refusing to move to the back of the bus, fifteen year old Claudette Colvin (above) was arrested in Montgomery for the same thing. Mary Louise Smith was arrested for not giving up her seat eight months later (nearly two months before Parks). The black leaders of Montgomery felt neither Colvin nor Smith were appropriate to be placed in the forefront of the struggle for equality (Colvin was pregnant and unmarried). The stories of Colvin and Smith shed some light on the inner workings and politics that went on during the Civil Rights Movement. At the same time, both of their stories illustrate how the role of women in the movement has been largely overlooked. In 1944, eleven years before Colvin, Smith or Parks there was Irene Morgan Kirkaldy (below), who refused to give up her seat on a bus in Greyhound bus in Virginia. Kirkaldy’s case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1946, which led to the landmark decision that segregation on interstate bus travel was illegal. This ruling was crucial in paving the way to end bus segregation throughout the South. Kirkaldy is as important to the Civil Rights Movement as anyone, and yet her name has been neglected and forgotten by history. Irene Morgan Kirkaldy passed away in 2007 at the age of 90.


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