Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Teenagers Who Changed The World: Part Two

     On March 2, 1955, a certain African-American woman was sitting in a city bus when a white passenger suddenly needed a seat. This woman refused to give up her place. "It's my constitutional right!" she exclaimed. In response, she was seized by the wrists, her belongings scattered everywhere, dragged from the bus, sworn at by policeman, and thrown into jail. This woman was...
     ...Claudette Colvin.
     I heard that. You just said, "Huh?"
     Months later, another black woman was arrested. Her name was Mary Louise Smith. Never heard that name either, have you? Let's see if you recognize the next name.
     Almost a year after Colvin's experience, Rosa Parks choose to follow Claudette's example. She was escorted of the bus by police. One of them kindly carried her bag. You know this story. But how is it that every first grader in America has heard of Parks, but not those who acted first?
     Colvin was fifteen years old. Smith was eighteen. And they couldn't have teenagers as the face of  world-changing protests, could they?
     Prejudice in the midst of a civil rights movement. Does anybody else see that as slightly ironic?
     Parks lived the rest of her life in the spotlight. Colvin was shunned and even faced hostility from both white and black people. Teachers, parents, and even other students were embarrassed that somebody else-and a teenager, no less- had the courage to do what they didn't. As she walked down the hall, classmates would call out, "It's my constitutional right! It's my constitutional right!" in mocking tones.
     In her only biography, Claudette said, "I decided I would be safer [working] in restaurants than in white people's homes — you never knew who was KKK. But whenever I'd start a job in a cafeteria, word would get around fast about who I was. ... I got fired from several restaurant jobs when my employers found out I was the one who wouldn't give up her seat. I'd change my name back and forth from Colvin to Austin so I could work, but they'd always find out and that was that." [p. 98]
    If you ask me, Claudette and Mary Louise showed more courage than Rosa. After all, they were the first to take action. Many people have changed the world. We can't ignore some of them just because they're younger that others.

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