CLAUDETTE COLVIN

A work of fiction, based in fact

By Tom Lawrence

 

bus

Fred Gray sat in his law office in downtown Montgomery, listening to the March rain pelting against his window. He was expecting visitors, and had a fresh pot of coffee burbling on the office hot plate. He was about to pour a cup, when the front door opened, revealing a tall dark man, dressed in a three piece suit, folding an umbrella as he stepped in from the street. Gray turned to the man and said,

“Good evening, E.D. I was just about to get some coffee. Want a cup?

“Always want a cup of coffee,” the man with graying hair and a worry lined face replied. Am I the first one here?”

“You are, but everyone else should be here shortly. I thought we’d better meet this afternoon and come to some agreement as to what I should do tomorrow.”

“I agree. Who all did you call?”

Gray handed E.D Nixon a steaming mug of coffee, and replied,

“Martin King and Cliff Durr. I thought we ought to limit our exposure until we decide what to do.”

“Again, I agree. There’s just too much at stake to start letting events take over. We’ve been planning this too long to risk a misstep.”

There was a knock on the door, and when Gray opened it, a smiling white man in a drenched, tattered raincoat stepped in. As he stood dripping on the floor, he said,

“Sorry I’m late. I had a last minute brief to file, and the courthouse was packed. Is everyone here?”

“Everyone but Martin. He was visiting a church member at the hospital when he returned my call. I expect he’s on his way.”

Gray poured another mug of coffee, and handed it to Cliff Durr.

“Cliff, how’s Virginia?”

“She’s fine. She wanted to come with me, but I promised to fill her in when I got home. You know Virginia; she’s too hot headed, and she’d want to storm the jail and free the young lady tonight.”

Nixon nodded and said,

“We all might want to join her, but we have to stick to our plan. Today’s incident may be a God sent opportunity, or it may be an open trap.”

Gray’s office door flew open, and a handsome man in a tailored suit under a Burberry rain coat came barging into the office. Martin Luther King was such a presence, that he seemed to suck the very air out of any room he occupied. He was in his late twenties, with a neatly cut mustache, and fire in his eyes. Despite the fact that he was by far the youngest and least experienced man in the office, he just naturally took over the meeting.

He peeled off the dripping rain coat, and stood near the edge of Gray’s desk, looking around the small office. Finally, he spoke in a rich baritone voice that reminded people of Moses speaking from the Mountain.

“From what Fred tells me, we may have the incident we’ve been waiting for. This young woman,” he paused, and looked at Fred Gray, and arching his brow asked, “what did you say her name is?”

Gray replied,

“Claudette Colvin. She’s a student at Washington High.”

“Well, Miss Colvin’s decision to sit in the front of the bus certainly came at a propitious moment. What do y’all suggest we do about her?”

“Her daddy called me as soon as he got the news that she’d been arrested and taken to jail. I’ve been to see her, and I’ve made arrangements for bail later tonight.”

“What’s she charged with?” Cliff Durr asked.

“They’ve booked her for violating the law concerning segregated bus service, disturbing the peace, and assault,” replied Fred Gray.

“Where’d the assault charge come from? Did she resist arrest?”

“She says she didn’t. She did shout loudly about her constitutional rights being violated,” added Gary.

“You say she’s in high school? I’m surprised that she had the presence of mind to talk about her rights,” observed Martin King.

Nixon spoke up and said,

“The young lady in question is a member of the NAACP’s Youth Council, and they’ve been studying about constitutional rights at Washington High. This may be the exact situation we’ve been hoping for.”

Martin King thought for a moment then said,

“I think we all agree that the segregated bus service is our best target to get a case into Federal Court, and Miss Colvin’s action could certainly be such a case, but remember, we also agree that the success or failure of such an effort will depend a great deal upon the events following the arrest. We’ll need someone who is calm, polite, and determined to see this whole thing through. Fred, judging from your visit with Miss Colvin, can she handle the aftermath?”

“Well, considering that I’ve spent less than an hour with her, it’s difficult to say for sure. I can say that she was pretty upset about the whole thing. Her language was what one might describe as salty, and I’d have to say she’s a bit feisty and emotional. She’ll need a lot of coaching before I would want her put on the witness stand.”

King looked at Nixon and said,

“E.D. where are we on grooming a candidate to be our test case?”

“Martin, I believe you know Rosa Parks. She’s the Secretary of our Local NAACP Chapter.”

“I do know Rosa—a fine church lady—but could she handle the aftermath any better than Miss Colvin?”

“Rosa has been active in the movement since the early years. She’s calm and determined. We’ve scheduled Rosa for the summer session at The Highlander School to study the whole concept of non-violence. She also just happens to ride the city bus back and forth to her job as a seamstress.”

King looked at Durr and said,

“What’s your advice Cliff?”

“I think we wait until Rosa’s ready to do it. There’ll be too many opportunities for a teenager to make an embarrassing mistake. If it were up to me, I’d do everything we can to get this young lady out of jail, and we’ll certainly help defend her against the trumped up charges, but I think we should continue to work with Rosa until the time is right.

King looked around the room and said,

“I agree with Cliff. Rosa Parks it’ll be.

Nine months later, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery City bus, and became an icon of the civil rights movement. Claudette Colvin faded into history’s background.

 

The bus photo is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.flickriver.com

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