*Narrators 1, 2 & 3
(N1, N2, N3)
a 15-year-old girl
Miss Nesbitt: Claudette’s teacher
Dennis, Joan & Eddie:
During a troubled time in U.S. history, one 15-year-old girl stood up to injustice—and helped change America
Learning Objective: After reading a drama about a real teen who challenged segregation laws, students will identify cause and effect relationships within the play.
N1: Have you heard of Rosa Parks?
N2: In 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, she did something very brave.
N3: At that time, there were many unfair laws in Alabama.
N1: One said that black people had to give up their seats on the bus to white people.
N2: Rosa Parks grew tired of this injustice.
N3: So one day in December, she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger.
N1: Mrs. Parks was arrested.
N2: She became famous for her fight for justice and equality for African Americans.
N3: But Rosa Parks was not the first to do what she did.
N1: Let’s visit Montgomery nine months earlier.
A Classroom, March 1955
N2: Claudette, a tall girl with glasses, stands at the front of a crowded classroom, reading from a paper she’s written.
N3: She attends Booker T. Washington High, a public high school for black students.
N1: A year earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that making black students and white students go to different schools was illegal.
N2: But so far, nothing has changed in Montgomery.
Claudette (reading): In 1849, Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery. She made it to the North, where she could be free. But she risked her life to go back to the South to lead other enslaved people to freedom.
N3: The other students listen intently.
Claudette: Harriet Tubman showed extraordinary courage. To me, she is a true hero.
Miss Nesbitt: Excellent presentation, Claudette. Class, any questions?
Dennis: Why don’t we hear about other heroes like her?
Joan: Yeah—didn’t others risk their lives doing what Harriet Tubman did?
Miss Nesbitt: Indeed they did. All through our history, black people have fought for our rights.
Eddie: Miss Nesbitt, I want to know who’s going to be the Harriet Tubman of today.
Dennis: Yeah. Who is going to help us escape all the unfair laws we have to put up with?
N1: At the time, racist laws kept black people and white people separate.
N2: These laws—called Jim Crow laws—were in place throughout the South.
Eddie: At the movies, we have to sit in the balcony, a million miles from the screen, and not with the white people down below.
Joan: When I go to the store, the saleslady won’t let me try anything on. Only white girls are allowed to do that.
Claudette: How about the fact that our school is run-down while the white kids are in fancy schools with brand-new books?
Miss Nesbitt: Let’s go back to Eddie’s question: Who is going to be today’s Harriet Tubman?
Claudette: Well, my plan is to go to college and become a lawyer. Then I can fight against Jim Crow laws in court.
Miss Nesbitt: That is a fine plan, Claudette.
A Public Bus, That Afternoon
N3: After school, Claudette and her classmates board a city bus.
N1: They walk to the back, behind the “whites only” section, and sit down.
N2: The bus starts to fill up.
Eddie: We have to move. That white lady wants our seats.
N3: Claudette looks up and sees the woman.
Bus Driver: I need those seats!
N1: Claudette’s classmates get up. But Claudette does not move.
Bus Driver: Why are you still sittin’ there?!
N2: Claudette sits quietly.
Bus Driver: Give up that seat!
N3: Claudette stares straight ahead, steadfast.
Bus Driver: Don’t make me get the police.
Claudette: I paid my fare.
N1: At the next stop, the bus driver calls for the police. Two 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 (shouting): Get up!
Claudette: It is my constitutional right to sit here.
N2: The officers yank Claudette from her seat. Her schoolbooks fall to the floor.
N3: One of the officers kicks her.
Claudette (tearfully): It’s my right!
N1: The officers drag her out and handcuff her.
The Colvins’ Kitchen, That Evening
N2: Claudette spends several hours alone in a jail cell.
N3: Finally, she can go home.
Mr. Colvin: What were you thinking, Claudette? Those policemen could have really hurt you.
Claudette: I was thinking of Harriet Tubman. I felt like her hand was on my shoulder, keeping me in my seat.
N1: Mrs. Colvin puts an arm around Claudette’s shoulders.
Mrs. Colvin: We are very proud of you, Claudette.
N2: Just then, there is a knock at the door. It’s Claudette’s friends.
Eddie: We want to see the girl who got arrested!
Mrs. Colvin: Come on in, kids.
Joan: Everyone is talking about you, Claudette.
Claudette: I just wanted my constitutional rights.
Eddie: Well, you’re a celebrity now!
N3: But two weeks after her arrest, Claudette has to go to court.
N1: She is charged with breaking the law by refusing to give up her seat.
N2: Claudette pleads not guilty—but she is found guilty.
N3: Now her dream of becoming a lawyer is over because she has a criminal record.
N1: When Claudette returns to school, other kids avoid her. They say she has made things worse for everyone.
N2: With no friends and no future, Claudette feels alone and forgotten.
The Colvins’ Living Room, February 1956
N3: In December 1955, 42-year-old Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, just as Claudette had done.
N1: A bus boycott began on December 5. Forty thousand African Americans in Montgomery are refusing to ride the bus until the unfair laws are changed.
N2: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is helping lead the boycott. All over the country, people read about it in the newspapers.
N3: Meanwhile, in the Colvins’ living room, Claudette, her parents, and a lawyer named Fred Gray sit around the coffee table.
Mr. Colvin: These are incredible times, aren’t they? The bus boycott’s been on for almost two months now.
Gray: Yes, these are amazing times, Mr. Colvin. But the boycott isn’t enough. There’s going to be a lawsuit, claiming that the bus laws are unconstitutional and must be changed.
Claudette: Do you think that’s possible? Won’t judges want things to stay the way they are?
Gray: I think we have a real chance. That’s what I came to talk to you about.
Claudette: What do you mean?
Gray: We need a small group of citizens to tell their stories in court. Claudette, I came to ask if you would be one of them.
N1: Claudette inhales sharply.
Gray: It won’t be easy. You’d be in the papers and on TV. Your family might get threats.
N2: Claudette is quiet for a long moment.
Gray: I know this is a lot to ask.
N3: At last, Claudette lifts her chin.
Claudette: I will do it.
A Courtroom, May 1956
N1: The courtroom is packed. Claudette’s parents and neighbors are there too.
N2: At the front of the room, three judges sit in wooden chairs.
Judge Rives: Mr. Gray, call your next witness.
Gray: I call Claudette Colvin.
N3: Claudette walks to the witness stand.
N1: Claudette is one of four people in the case. Fred Gray saves her for last, knowing that her account will be the most powerful.
Gray: Miss Colvin, please describe what happened on the day you refused to give up your seat.
Claudette: One policeman asked if I was going to get up. I said, “No, sir.” The other policeman kicked me. They dragged me out. I was crying.
N2: The judges listen closely.
Claudette: It hurt me to be treated that way.
Gray: Then what happened?
Claudette: They put me in handcuffs and took me to jail—an adult jail, even though I was only 15.
Gray: Thank you, Miss Colvin. That is all.
Rives: Mr. Knabe, you may question the witness.
Knabe: Who told all the black folks of Montgomery to boycott the buses?
Claudette: No one. We just decided.
Knabe: Be honest. Didn’t Reverend King give you the idea that there was something wrong with the buses?
N3: Knabe wants the court to believe that black people were satisfied with the buses until Dr. King convinced them there was a problem.
Claudette: We have always known that Montgomery’s bus system is wrong. Some of us just didn’t have the guts to stand up and say so.
Knabe: I’m going to ask one more time: Why did you stop riding the buses on December 5?
Claudette: Because we were treated wrong—like we weren’t even human beings.
N1: The trial continues into the afternoon.
N2: Then everyone goes home to wait for the court’s decision.
The Colvins’ Living Room,
N3: Claudette and her mom are folding laundry. A TV is on in the background.
Newscaster (on TV ): We have breaking news. The decision in the case of Browder v. Gayle has been announced.
Claudette: Mom! The decision on our case is in!
Newscaster: The judges have ruled that Montgomery’s bus segregation laws are unconstitutional.
Claudette: Mom, we won!
Mrs. Colvin: I’m so proud of you, Claudette.
Claudette: I will never stop fighting for our rights.
N1: Like Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin had become a real hero.
This play was originally published in the October/November 2019 issue.
Have your class watch this Great Big Story interview to hear Claudette Colvin’s story in her own words.
Students can learn more about the Montgomery bus boycott—including how thousands came together to organize and carry it out—by watching this brief History channel video.
Claudette Colvin is one of many young people who stood up for justice during the civil rights era. Introduce your class to seven of today’s young African Americans who are working hard to make the world a better place. (As this page contains links to many other sites, including social media, we recommend viewing it with your class.)
Did you ever wonder where the word boycott comes from? Charles Boycott was an Irish land agent in the 1800s. When he tried to evict some of his tenants, they decided to shun him. Nobody would work for him or trade with him. It was big news, and his name started to take on a new meaning as a verb.
More About the Story
Cause and effect, vocabulary, fluency, author’s craft, inference, character, interpreting text, synthesizing, theme, critical thinking, narrative writing
Levels of Meaning
The play is based on the true story of a teen girl who took a stand against injustice during the Civil Rights Movement. It conveys the important idea that ordinary (and young) people can do powerful things.
The play contains challenging domain-specific vocabulary, such as boycott, unconstitutional, and segregation, as well as rhetorical questions.
The play mentions Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
1. Preparing to Read
Show a Video (10 minutes)
Preview Vocabulary and Text Features (20 minutes)
2. Reading the Play
Assign parts and read the play aloud as a class. After reading, discuss the close-reading and critical-thinking questions.
Close-Reading Questions (20 minutes)
3. Skill Building
Featured Skill: Cause and Effect
In addition to the civil rights terms in bold, the play contains other challenging words, such as intently, extraordinary, and steadfast. Read the play aloud, pausing to define unfamiliar words on the board while students highlight the terms in their magazines. Ask students to read the play again on their own, referring to the definitions as needed.
Claudette’s teacher asks, “Who is going to be today’s Harriet Tubman?” Hold a discussion about what the question means, then have students research to find out about a person who is currently fighting against injustice.
To better understand the play, ELLs may benefit from having more information about U.S. civil rights history. Before reading the play, go over the events in “The Fight for Equality” sidebar together.