Sixty years on, U.S. heroes of Montgomery bus boycott recalled

Mon Nov 30, 2015 8:10pm EST
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By Letitia Stein

(Reuters) - While Rosa Parks became a symbol of the U.S. civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat on a segregated Alabama bus, the 60th anniversary of her arrest is also highlighting lesser-known pioneers of the bus boycott she sparked.

Parks made history by taking a stand alongside other desegregation pioneers like Claudette Colvin, a black teenager arrested nine months earlier in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger, said Fred Gray, a lawyer who represented both women.

"If there had not been a Claudette Colvin, who did what she did, a lot of other events would not have occurred," Gray said. "It was a matter of each one building upon each other, and the rest is history."

The Montgomery bus boycott, launched in protest of Parks' arrest on Dec. 1, 1955, modeled the nonviolent protests that defined the era and brought to prominence a lead organizer, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Bus tours, lectures and youth-oriented summits this week to commemorate the boycott's 60th anniversary include efforts to spotlight less prominent players who worked alongside the famed leaders of the protest.

Gray will speak at a two-day event organized by the National Bar Association to mark the occasion, which will be headlined by a visit to Montgomery on Tuesday from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

"We are going to be recognizing these older foot soldiers and the people's shoulders that we all stand on today," said Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange. "We want to make sure that as many as possible get their moment."

This anniversary may be the last major one featuring those who participated in the yearlong boycott, said Howard Robinson, an archivist and instructor at Alabama State University, which will host a discussion titled "I Was There."   Continued...