R.1, R.2, R.3, R.4, R.7, W.3, SL.1, L.5, L.6 

This Is What Courage Looks Like

How 15-year-old Claudette Colvin took a stand that changed history

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Check the character you’re going to read.

*Starred characters have larger speaking parts.

  • *Narrators 1, 2, 3  (N1, N2, N3) 
  • *Claudette Colvina 15-year-old girl 
  • Mrs. Nesbitt, Claudette’s teacher 
  • Joan, Dennis, & Eddie, Claudette’s classmates
  • Bus Driver
  • Officers 1 & 2
  • Mr. Colvin, Claudette’s dad 
  • Mrs. Colvin, Claudette’s mom
  • Fred Gray, Claudette’s lawyer
  • Walter Knabe, the city’s lawyer
  • Newscaster


N1: Have you heard of Rosa Parks? In December 1955, she did something very brave.

N2: Back then, in Montgomery, Alabama, there were many unfair laws.

N3: One law said that black people had to give up their bus seats to white people.

N1: But one day, Rosa Parks stayed in her seat. She thought the law was unjust. 

N2: Rosa was arrested. She became famous for fighting for equality.

N3: But Rosa Parks was not the first to do what she did.

N1: Let’s visit Montgomery nine months earlier . . .


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A City Divided  
Montgomery, Alabama, was a segregated city. African-Americans couldn’t go to the same restaurants as white people. Black people even had their own water fountains.

N2: It is March 1955. 

N3: In the South, segregation is still in effect. 

N1: Black people can’t live in white neighborhoods. 

N2: They can’t eat at white restaurants or attend white schools.

N3: Booker T. Washington High School is a school for black students. 

N1: Mrs. Nesbitt stands in front of a crowded class. 

Mrs. Nesbitt: Who can name a black hero?

N2: A tall girl with glasses raises her hand. 

Mrs. Nesbitt: Claudette?

Claudette Colvin: Harriet Tubman. She was a slave who escaped. Then she went back to the South and helped free more than 70 other slaves.  

Mrs. Nesbitt: Yes, she was very brave. All through our history, black people have fought for their rights.

Joan: Who is going to be the Harriet Tubman of today?

Dennis: Every day we are treated badly.

Eddie: At the movies, we have to sit in the balcony. 

Joan: When I shop, I’m not allowed to try anything on. Only white girls can do that. 

Claudette: Have you noticed how run-down our school is? 

Dennis: White kids go to nice schools with brand-new books. 

Mrs. Nesbitt: Now back to Joan’s question: Who will be the Harriet Tubman of today?


N3: After school, Claudette and her friends get on a city bus. They walk to the middle, behind the “whites only” section, and sit down. 

N1: The bus starts to fill up.

Eddie: We have to move. That white lady wants our seats. 

N2: Claudette’s friends get up. But Claudette does not move. 

Bus Driver: Why are you still sittin’ there?

N3: Claudette sits quietly. 

Bus Driver: Give up the seat! Don’t make me get the police. 

Claudette: I paid my fare.

N1: At the next stop, two police officers get on.

Officer 1 (to Claudette): You gonna get up?

Claudette: No, sir.

Officer 2: It’s not a choice. 

Claudette: I paid my fare.

Officer 1: Get up!

N2: Tears fill Claudette’s eyes. 

Claudette: It is my constitutional right to sit here.

N3: The officers yank Claudette from her seat. Her schoolbooks fall to the floor.

N1: One officer kicks her. 

N2: Claudette cries as the officers drag her off the bus.


Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Taking a Stand 
Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person. She became a symbol of the fight for equality. But few people know that Claudette Colvin had taken the same stand months earlier.

N3: Claudette spends several hours alone in a jail cell. 

N1: Finally, she can go home. 

Mr. Colvin: What were you thinking, Claudette? 

Claudette: I was thinking of Harriet Tubman. I felt like her hand was on my shoulder, keeping me in my seat. 

Mr. Colvin: Those policemen could have really hurt you.

N2: Claudette’s mother puts her arm around Claudette.

Mrs. Colvin: I think you were very brave.

N3: Back at school, friends gather around Claudette. 

Dennis: I can’t believe you got arrested! 

Eddie: I would never have the guts to do what you did!

N1: For a while, Claudette is treated like a celebrity. 

N2: But then things take a bad turn. By not giving up her seat, Claudette broke the law.

N3: One of the policemen says she scratched him. 

N1: She is charged with assault and found guilty.

N2: Now her friends avoid her. 

N3: In the cafeteria, they take their trays and move away. 

Claudette: Where are you going? 

Joan: You made things worse for all of us. 

N1: Claudette eats alone.


N2: In December, 42-year-old Rosa Parks is arrested for not giving up her seat on a bus. 

N3: It is the same thing Claudette did nine months earlier. But this time, people are ready to join the fight. 

N1: Tens of thousands of black people in Montgomery boycott public buses. 

N2: They refuse to ride until the unfair laws are changed.

N3: Meanwhile, the Colvins speak to a lawyer. 

fred Gray: We want to fight the bus laws in court. 

Mr. Colvin: Do you really think you can win? 

Gray: I think we have a real chance. Claudette, will you be a witness? You can explain how you were treated.

N1: Claudette looks at her parents.

Gray: It won’t be easy. You’d be in the papers and on TV. Your family might get threats.

N2: Claudette is quiet, then lifts her chin.

Claudette: I will do it.


Grey Villet/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

The Bus Boycott  
After Rosa Parks was arrested, more people were ready to join the fight for equal rights. African-Americans in Montgomery refused to ride the bus for a year.

N3: The courtroom is packed

N1: Three judges sit up front. 

N2: Claudette is on the witness stand. 

Gray: Miss Colvin, what happened when you stayed in your seat on the bus?

Claudette: One policeman asked if I was going to get up. I said, “No, sir.” 

Gray: Then what?

Claudette: The other policeman kicked me. They dragged me out. I was crying.

N3: The judges listen closely. 

Claudette: They handcuffed me. They took me to an adult jail, even though I was 15. 

Gray: Thank you, Miss Colvin. That is all. 

N1: The lawyer for the city stands up.

Walter Knabe: Who told all the black folks of Montgomery to boycott the buses?

Claudette: No one. 

Knabe: But there wasn’t a problem with the buses before the boycott, was there? 

Claudette: Yes, there was. 

N2: Claudette sits up straight.

Knabe: I’m going to ask you one more time: Why did you stop riding the buses?

Claudette: Because we were treated wrong—like we weren’t even human beings.


N3: A month later, Claudette is watching the news.  

Newscaster: The decision in the bus case has come in. 

Claudette: Mom! They’re talking about our case! 

Newscaster: The judges have ruled that the bus laws are unconstitutional. 

Claudette: We won!

Mrs. Colvin: I am so proud of you, Claudette. 

Claudette: I will never stop fighting for our rights. 

N1: Like Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, Claudette had become a true hero.


Making an Inference

Julie Jacobson/AP Images

A True Hero  
Today, Claudette Colvin lives in New York City. Few people know about her brave act as a teenager.

You’ve just read “This Is What Courage Looks Like” Now it’s time to try this activity.

TipAn inference is something that isn’t stated but can be figured out from clues in the text.

What to do: Imagine that you are Claudette Colvin, all grown up. A student wants to write a school report about you. Make inferences to answer each question below with at least one complete sentence.

Joan wondered who would be “the Harriet Tubman of today.” What did she mean? 

When the officers asked you to give up your seat, you said, “I paid my fare.” What point were you trying to make?

When the officers asked you to give up your seat, you said, “I paid my fare.” What point were you trying to make?

In court, what was Walter Knabe trying to get you to say about the bus boycott?

How do you think someone would describe you after seeing you in court?

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