Rosa Parks not seated alone in history

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Claudette Colvin has been all but lost to history in this quintessential Southern city where the modern civil rights movement began 50 years ago.

She was arrested for refusing to give her seat on a city bus to a white passenger — nine months before Rosa Parks' same act of quiet defiance launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott in December 1955.

From here, the civil rights movement swept across the South, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. becoming its primary voice. Parks went on to become an icon, "mother of the civil rights movement" and the first woman to lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol after her death in October. Colvin, who had flirted with immortality at age 15, faded into decades of obscurity.

Yet Colvin believes her actions on March 2, 1955, helped pave the way for Parks. That belief is shared by Fred Gray, the chief legal strategist of the bus boycott, which lasted for 381 days until the city ended its policy of segregation on buses.

This week, Colvin, Gray and four other lesser-known but pivotal boycott figures will get a measure of recognition. They — and all the ordinary Montgomery blacks who made the boycott succeed — will be honored Thursday at a reception marking the opening of a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit on Rosa Parks and the bus boycott. The exhibit premieres Friday at the Alabama State Capitol.

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