Posted by: morgan1965 | February 1, 2010

An Important Woman in African American History

February is designated as Black History Month, and African American History is remembered and celebrated in a variety of ways. The Civil Rights struggle marked a dynamic era in that history. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the drum major for justice, and he led numerous civil rights demonstrations. Another crucial dynamic in the civil rights struggle was the many court cases that were adjudicated during those turbulent years.

One such court case was Browder versus Gayle which in a significant way changed the posture of relationships between blacks and whites in America and the world. It has been observed by some historians that few people know about the case and still fewer know about the plaintiffs. In Browder v. Gayle the attorneys for the plaintiffs contended that the segregation laws governing Montgomery’s [Alabama] city buses violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It is interesting to note who was not a plaintiff in this case. Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, and became the icon of the Montgomery bus boycott was not a plaintiff. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, was not a plaintiff. The attorneys ruled out Rosa Parks for inclusion among the plaintiffs because her case was still under appeal. Martin Luther King, of course, who did not ride the public buses, had not experienced any mistreatment on the buses.

There were four women, however, who had experienced mistreatment on the buses and they became the plaintiffs in Browder vs. Gayle. These four women were Aurelia Browder, Claudette Colvin, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith. The case was named after the plaintiff, Aurelia Browder, whose last name came first alphabetically, and W.A. “Tacky” Gayle, the mayor of Montgomery. This was a crucial civil rights law suit.

Rosa Parks had been arrested on December 1, 1955. Claudette Colvin, however, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated Montgomery bus on March 2, 1955. She was a fifteen year old teenager at the time of her arrest. When the police dragged her off the bus, she shouted: “It’s my constitutional right.” Claudette was not celebrated in the community as Rosa Parks was celebrated in her defiant act that occurred nine months later. Subsequently Claudette was found guilty of the charges levied against her. She became an awesome witness in the Browder vs. Gayle case.

The Browder vs. Gayle decision, favorable to the plaintiffs, was announced on June 19, 1956. The city appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Court upheld the original decision on November 13, 1956. This decision ended legal segregation on the buses.

As people of faith, we are well aware that the Court’s decision has not ended racial prejudice in America. We have the continuing task of working together, therefore, to overcome prejudice in all of its ugly forms in the church and in the community.

Let us teach our children to love one another. Remember too, that Claudette Colvin, a teenager, acted on the basis of what her parents, her elders and her church had taught her.


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