Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

By: 

Phillip Hoose

Number of Pages: 

133

Minimum grade level: 

6th

In 1955, at the end of a long day, an African American female got on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, sat down in a seat behind the sign that said “white,” in the seats five rows back from the driver where she was legally permitted to sit. As the bus filled up, the seats in front of her, “reserved” for white people, filled up. And that rider knew what was coming next. “I need those seats,” the bus driver said. For if white people were standing, black people seated in the colored section of the bus were required to give up their seats. “It’s my constitutional right,” the rider said. But still, she was dragged off the bus. Who was that rider?

Well, if you said Rosa Parks, you’d be wrong. (Rosa Parks quietly let the Montgomery police arrest her.) No, the rider was a 15-year-old high-school student named Claudette Colvin. She was the first. Eight months before Rosa Parks, Claudette’s unplanned protest and subsequent arrest planted the idea of Parks’ civil disobedience into the minds of Alabama’s civil rights leaders. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What’s fascinating about this book is why Claudette was – up until now – overlooked by history. And the author was lucky enough to meet his subject, talk to her at great length, and help her tell her story to contemporary teenagers. As she explains it, “I made [my cry for justice] so that our own adult leaders couldn’t just be nice anymore. Back then, as a teenager, I kept thinking, ‘Why don’t the adults around here just say something?’ … You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’... And I did.” [page 104]

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. Why did Collette decide not to move from her seat when told to do so? What happened next?
  2. Why did Claudette refuse to plead guilty?
  3. Would you stand up for something that was important to you even if it meant going to jail? Why or why not?
  4. How was Claudette’s experience different from Rosa Parks’ protest?
  5. Why did the civil rights leaders choose Rosa instead of Claudette to be the face of protest?
  6. Talk about some of the other things Claudette did to help the Civil Rights movement.
  7. It took author Phillip Hoose four years to get Claudette to agree to be interviewed. A year and fourteen interviews later, Mr. Hoose had gathered the material for this book. Is there someone you would like to interview? If so, who and why? Would you persist for four years in order to get your interview?

If you liked this book, try

  • The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman
  • Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement by Ann Bausum
  • Fight On: Mary Church Terrell's Battle for Integration by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin
  • Ida B. Wells: Mother of the Civil Rights Movement by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin
  • We Were There, Too! Young People in U.S. History by Phillip Hoose