Before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin. In March 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks galvanized the Montgomery bus boycott by refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus, police violently dragged 15 year old Claudette Colvin off a bus by her hair while kicking her for not giving her seat up to a white woman.
The local NAACP got more than 100 letters asking them to support Colvin. But she became pregnant, and civil rights leaders of the time would not build their movement around an unmarried pregnant teenager, so Claudette Colvin's brave act was eventually forgotten while Ms. Parks' brave act became an important part of history.
Even though it's less well known, Claudette's act had an important effect -- her court case was eventually appealed to a federal court and led to those laws being declared unconstitutional, ending bus segregation across the state!
I know this story so well because I'm Claudette Colvin's nephew. I didn't get to grow up with Aunt Claudette nearby -- she faced so much discrimination in Alabama after her arrest she had to move away to New York. But I heard her story over and over again, and I was proud of what she accomplished and how much she risked at such a young age. Her contribution to creating a more fair America for everyone shouldn't be forgotten -- it should be celebrated, just like Rosa Parks is!
That's why I want President Obama to give her a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Giving her this award wouldn't just be a recognition of her own personal accomplishment. It is in a way a recognition of the many unsung heroes of the civil rights movement: the boarding houses that surreptitiously put up and fed high profile leaders, the folks who organized community meetings, who volunteered their cars and their time and risked arrest and beatings in driving during the bus boycotts.
Ms. Rosa Parks deserves every ounce of the respect and admiration heaped upon her. Aunt Claudette's legacy deserves similar recognition.