Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

by Phillip Hoose
ages: 11+
First sentence: “Claudette Colvin: I was about four years old the first time I ever saw what happened when you acted up to whites.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

When I came across a brief mention of Claudette Colvin in Mare’s War, I knew I needed to (finally) read this book, if only to find out a little bit more about who this girl was.

Told in a combination of narration and quoted memories from Claudette herself, the covers a broad range of history in Alabama, though it focuses specifically on Claudette, following her from early childhood through the late 1950s. It’s a turbulent time in Alabama, and the book doesn’t sugar coat much of anything: the treatment of blacks during the Jim Crow years, the conditions that they lived, worked and went to school in. Claudette had hopes of rising above all that, and she had a remarkable support system. She was opinionated, and curious, and willing to stand up for what she believed in. Which is why, one day, she just decided that she’d had enough of Montgomery’s stupid backward bus laws/customs, and refused to get off her seat. Nine months before Rosa Parks did the same thing.

What surprised me most about this book — and perhaps it shouldn’t have — was how much class came into play during the civil rights movement. I guess I kind of figured that all the blacks were fed up, that all the blacks would support whatever stand against segregation whomever it was that made them. According to the book and Claudette’s memory, that wasn’t so. She made a stand, but she wasn’t the right class, wasn’t the right person, it wasn’t the right time… all among the reasons she wouldn’t made a good poster girl for the cause. I suppose it’s cynical to think so, but everything dealing with government is political, everything needs PR and the right spin, and the civil rights movement wasn’t exempt.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t a worthy cause, just because it was politicized. It was. I just felt bad for Claudette. In many ways, she was courageous, and deserved to be honored for that. But, instead she was shunned and pushed to the side. No wonder she never made it into history books, even though she was the star witness on the lawsuit — Browder v. Gayle — that actually got the city of Montgomery to integrate the bus system. It’s a portrait of an unsung hero, yes, but it’s also a look into the politics of a movement.

Fascinating stuff.

One thought on “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

  1. I loved this book and also found it absolutely fascinating! I put a copy in our classroom library and my students were definitely intrigued. I only wish the Civil Rights Movement was a part of our curriculum…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s