Thursday, June 18, 2009

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

I continue to read juvenile biographies. The only thing "juvenile" about them is that they are intended for older elementary or middle school students. The writing in many of these serious books is honest and economic. Though they are on the short side, their authors include enough details to tell their stories well. Horrible injustice is described truthfully, and the courage of individuals is lauded. If these books were formatted and bound as typical adult nonfiction, they might easily pass as such.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose is one such book. In 133 pages, Hoose tells the mostly forgotten story of a teenage African American who was arrested in early 1955 for not giving up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus, nine months before Rosa Parks also refused to relinquish her seat. Few people praised Colvin for her stand. Most of her classmates in high school shunned or ridiculed her for getting in trouble. She lost her case and was sentenced to a year of probation. Despite the trouble that resulted from her initial stand, she later joined in a long shot case in Federal Court to declare Montgomery's segregating of buses unconstitutional. Her testimony helped win that case of Browder v. Gayle, which was later affirmed by the U. S. Supreme Court.

Colvin's story is not, however, triumphant. Because she was an unwed mother, she was even shunned by many leaders in the civil rights movement. It was many years after the events that her role was "rediscovered" and celebrated. In the meantime, she lived a hard life.

Readers learn a lot about Montgomery, the South, and the fall of the old racist ways in Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. It's not just for kids.

Hoose. Phillip. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2009. ISBN 9780374313227

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