Meet the Original "Rosa Parks"
Hoose says recording Colvin's emotional memory of both the Jim Crow era and her stand against it was his mission as a historian. "What it felt like, how angering and raw and humiliating it could be if you let it really get to you," he says. "She told stories that I put in the book that make me so mad to hear them. When she would go to buy shoes downtown, her mother would have to trace the shape of her shoe on a paper sack and Claudette would carry that sack downtown with the outline of her foot, because they wouldn't let her try the shoes on."
After her heroic stand, Colvin faded from the historical memory. She moved to New York City, eventually settling into the rhythms of family and the anonymity of work in a nursing home. In 1995, a reporter named Richard Willing wrote a piece about Colvin in USA Today. Suddenly all her friends and co-workers knew about what she'd done four decades earlier. "They were swept off their feet. They didn't realize," she says. "One girl in the locker room, she almost knocked me on the floor."
But no article can tell the full story of Colvin's stand. While working on We Were There, Too!, a book about the too often ignored contributions of children throughout American history, Hoose kept hearing people mention Claudette's story. When he started researching it, he found some brief mentions of her in various books about the civil rights movement, but they tended to be either dismissive of her personal protest or represented her as a wild and uncontrollable teenager. "She was in danger of being forgotten, but probably in greater danger of being unfairly characterized throughout history, in tiny little paragraphs."
After coming across Willing's article, Hoose tried for four years to contact Colvin. "And always the message would come back: Maybe when I retire," Hoose says.
When she did retire, Colvin agreed to allow Hoose to write her story—on one condition. She wanted him to write the book in such a way that it would be put in schools for children to hear her story. "My reason wasn't seeking notoriety," she says. "My reason was wanting the young people to know the struggles and appreciate the civil rights movement."
"I'm very, very happy that her story has attracted this much attention. I think it'll make it impossible to tell the story of the Montgomery bus protest in the same way," Hoose says. "Our lives are changed because of things this 15-year-old girl did."
Are you inspired by Claudette's courage? What other women in history have empowered you? Share your comments below.