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Black History Month: Meet Claudette Clovin

Teenagers, including teenage girls, played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. But their ages and gender have often caused their contributions to be overlooked. Ms. Clovin was one of these overlooked teenage girls.

On March 2, 1955, 9 months before Rosa Parks, Clovin refused to give up her seat to a white woman  in Montgomery Alabama. Two white police officers dragged her off the bus as she kept saying, “It’s my constitutional right.” What inspired her to take a stand? In her segregated school, she had been learning about the actions of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, as well as discussing the constitution and the daily injustices Black people faced. 

Additionally, she was still upset over the horrific treatment her classmate Jeremiah Reeves, who was eventually executed by the state, received at the hands of the police and the unjust legal system.  Clovin was charged with disturbing the peace, breaking the segregation law and assaulting police officers. The first two charges were dropped, but she was convicted of the third. After her arrest, her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement continued. She was one of four plaintiffs in the Browder v Gayle civil case. The District Court found segregation on buses to be unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court reaffirmed that decision. 

Despite the vital role Clovin played in the Civil Rights Movement, her contributions were ignored for decades. Clovin attributes this to a number of factors: her age, the fact she would become pregnant as an unwed teenager  and to her dark skin. She explains: “They [local civil-rights leaders] wanted someone, I believe, who would be impressive to white people, and be a drawing. You know what I mean? Like the main star. And they didn’t think that a dark-skinned teenager, low  income without a degree, could contribute.” After  she retired, she became more outspoken regarding her experiences in the Civil Rights Movement enabling her story to reach a wider audience. 

This Black History month IJPC is celebrating women of the Civil Rights Movement. Black women are often written out of history despite being the backbone of many of our systems of care and igniting the spark that creates movements for change. Each week this month we will highlight the work of an important Black woman activist. You can take part in this series through our email, Instagram or Facebook and we encourage you to share something you learned with a family member or friend.