Thursday, December 3, 2009

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (2009)

It may surprise many people (including history-impaired ones like me) that Rosa Parks was not the first woman to refuse giving up her seat on a bus in racially segregated Montgomery, Alabama. Phillip Hoose has earned the 2010 National Book Award for this book which chronicles the life of a teenaged girl (much in her own words) who felt embarassed and outraged at the treatment black people received from whites as well as other blacks.

All of a sudden it seemed such a waste of time to heat up a comb and straighten your hair before you went to school. So I just quit doing it. I felt very emotional about segregation, about the way we were treated, and about the way we treated each other. I told everybody, "I won't straighten my hair until they straighten out this mess."

It was the law in Montgomery that black people had to give not just their seat, but a whole row occupied by black people, to a white person.

Rebellion was on my mind that day. All during February we'd been talking about people who had taken stands. We had been studying the Constitution in Miss Nesbitt's class. I knew I had rights. I had paid my fare the same as white passengers. I knew the rule - that you didn't have to get up for a white person if there were no empty seats left on the bus - and there weren't. But it wasn't about that. I was thinking, Why should I have to get up just because a driver tells me to, or just because I'm black? Right then, I decided I wasn't gonna take it anymore. I hadn't planned it out but my decision was built on a lifetime of nasty experiences.

The rest of Claudette's story, along with pictures and sidebars telling about others involved in the struggle, give a vivid picture of what it was like at that time and how segregation was overturned. The strength and solidarity of the black community during the bus boycotts was amazing. Of particular interest is how Claudette felt her credibility was hurt by her pregnancy.

I highly recommend this book to history buffs and wannabe rebels.

My rating for this book: +++++

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