“They said they didn’t want to use a pregnant teenager because it would be controversial and the people would talk about the pregnancy more than the boycott,” Colvin says.
Was Rosa Parks the only woman to refuse to give up her seat on a segregated bus? Below are a few of the women left out of the history books.
Irene Morgan – We have all heard of Rosa Parks, but there were at least three women who refused to give up their seats on the bus in the Jim Crow south throughout history. Eleven years before Parks, Irene Morgan, later known as Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, a black woman, was arrested in Middlesex County, Virginia, in 1944 for refusing to give up her seat on an interstate bus according to a state law on segregation. The Irene Morgan Decision inspired the men and women of CORE to create a nationwide protest movement called “The Journey of Reconciliation” when groups of civil rights activists rode buses and trains across states in the South in 1947, a precursor to The Freedom Rides of 1961.
The Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, handed down a landmark decision on June 3, 1946, when they agreed that segregation violated the Constitution’s protection of interstate commerce. Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth catalyzed further court rulings and the Civil Rights movement. Eight years later, the Supreme Court decided in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation violated Equal Rights Protection.
Irene Morgan died on August 10, 2007.
Claudette Colvin – Born on September 5, 1939, in Montgomery, Alabama, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white passenger months before Rosa Parks on March 2, 1955. Colvin was only 15 years old but she was poor. She didn’t have the NAACP or the connections Parks had. As a result, little is know of her. The NAACP considered using Claudette but they said she was too young. They also looked away because she was pregnant and they did not want to represent a young, unwed mother and bring about negative attention to the movement. They thought Colvin’s condition would make blacks look bad. Colvin went on to serve as a plaintiff in the landmark legal case Browder v. Gayle, which helped end the practice of segregation on Montgomery public buses. Today, Claudette Colvin is still not a name you hear very often concerning bus desegregation, even though she was there before Parks.
“Whenever people ask me: ‘Why didn’t you get up when the bus driver asked you?’ I say it felt as though Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing me down on the other shoulder. I felt inspired by these women because my teacher taught us about them in so much detail,” she says.
Aurelia Browder – After Colvin, Aurelia Browder followed suit and was arrested on April 19, 1955, for refusing to give up her seat. Browder was born on January 29, 1919. She joined the NAACP, SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), the Women’s Political Council (WPC), and the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Aurelia could join all the organizations she wanted but with six children and no husband, her refusal to give up her seat on a bus did not stick, even though she was before Parks.
Mary Louise Smith – Mary was born in 1937, in Montgomery, Alabama. She attended and graduated from St. Jude Educational Institute. On October 21, 1955, at the age of 18, Mary was returning home on the Montgomery city bus. At a stop after Mary had boarded and seated, a white passenger boarded. There was no place for the white passenger to sit and Mary was ordered to give up her seat. She refused. Mary was arrested and charged with failure to obey segregation orders and given a nine dollar fine, which her father paid.