November 15, 2019 - Issue: Vol. 165, No. 183 — Daily Edition116th Congress (2019 - 2020) - 1st Session
IN HONOR OF CLAUDETTE COLVIN FOR HER COURAGE DURING THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND CONTRIBUTION TO AMERICAN HISTORY; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 183
(Extensions of Remarks - November 15, 2019)
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[Extensions of Remarks] [Page E1455] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] IN HONOR OF CLAUDETTE COLVIN FOR HER COURAGE DURING THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND CONTRIBUTION TO AMERICAN HISTORY ______ HON. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ of new york in the house of representatives Friday, November 15, 2019 Ms. OCASIO-CORTEZ. Madam Speaker, I rise to recognize Claudette Colvin, an American Civil Rights pioneer, who on March 2, 1955, at the age of 15, was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat to a young white woman passenger, becoming one of many to be arrested for challenging Montgomery's bus segregation policies. Nine months later, Rosa Parks was famously arrested for performing the same act of defiance. Although there were hundreds of people arrested before Claudette and Rosa Parks, Claudette along with Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith, were the first to challenge the law in the Alabama courts. Prior to her historic 1955 stand against racial injustice, Claudette had been studying Black leaders like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth during Negro History Month in her segregated school. Claudette's classroom conversations led to discussions around the current day Jim Crow laws she and all her peers were experiencing. In describing the significant moment when a bus driver ordered her to give up her seat to a young white woman, and she refused, Claudette says: ``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.'' After a year-long battle in the courts, being ostracized by her peers and the community, an older man befriended her, and she became pregnant. In addition, she was a 15-year-old teenager, from a low- income family, and she had very dark skin. Therefore, the leaders deemed Claudette inappropriate to be the face of the Bus Boycott. Claudette's heroic story was nearly forgotten by history. The story of Claudette illustrates how the role of women in the Civil Rights movement has been largely overlooked. Her actions led to monumental progress in our nation's history. Not only that, her heroic actions led to the rise of other great African Americans. If not for Claudette's brave act, there may not have been a Thurgood Marshall, Robert L. Carter, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Rosa Parks. She truly paved the way for our nation's history. Claudette, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith were among the four women plaintiffs to testify in the federal court case filed by civil rights attorney Fred Gray on February 1, 1956, as Browder v. Gayle. On June 13, 1956, the three- judge panel that heard the case in the United States District Court determined that the state and local laws requiring bus segregation in Alabama were unconstitutional. The case went to the United States Supreme Court, which upheld their ruling on December 17, 1956. Three days later, the Supreme Court issued an order to Montgomery and the state of Alabama to end bus segregation. This order not only ended bus segregation in Alabama, but also impacted public transportation throughout the Unites States, including airplanes, taxis and trains. In 1987, The 100th Congress designated March as ``Women's History Month'' in honor of the tremendous contributions of women to society, and to recognize that despite these contributions, the role of women in history has consistently been overlooked and undervalued in our history books. Claudette is testament to the fact that we are still discovering new accomplishments of historical women, and we will continue to shine a light on these amazing icons for years to come. Though their historic acts of civil disobedience were separated by nine-months, Claudette and Rosa Parks remain intertwined in the same movement. Claudette knew Rosa very well, was active in Rosa's youth group, and considered Rosa an inspiration to her own beliefs and actions. Rosa and Claudette's mother, Mary Jane Austin (Gadson), grew up together in Pine Level, Alabama. Her mother used to play with Rosa and her brother Sylvester at Ms. Leona's house, Rosa's mother. Rosa also knew Claudette's great grandfather, Gus Vaughn, who has been mentioned in several of her books. Madam Speaker, I ask our colleagues to join me in recognizing Ms. Claudette Calvin's courage to stand in the face of injustice and demand her recognition of her inalienable rights. Because in her own courage to fight for her freedom, she paved a path for millions of others to do the same--because it was her constitutional right. ____________________