Finished: Claudette Colvin on the Bus

And now I’m done.

This is the final version of my illustration of Claudette Colvin refusing to give up her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus on March 2, 1955 in Montgomery, AL. She was 15 years old and was riding the city bus home from school. Because she refused, police were called and she was arrested.

This was 9 months before Rosa Parks did the same thing, but they were not the only ones. Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Mary Louise Smith and Jeanetta Reese also refused to give up their seats.   Their arrests were the trigger for the Montgomery AL bus boycott that ran from December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956. All these women were plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle lawsuit against the city of Montgomery, AL and the bus company. On June 5, 1956 the court found that bus segregation was unconstitutional but it was sent to the US Supreme Court and through an appeal before the city and bus company were finally forced to integrate the buses on December 20, 1956.

A historical illustration of Claudette Colvin as she refuses to vacate her seat on a Motgomery Alabama bus on March 2, 1955.

There are two photos of Miss Colvin taken around that time which I used for references on her likeness and a hint at the clothing she might have worn that day. I’m not sure what color she’d have worn, but red illustrates anger and stands out nicely from the green bus seats. I always draw kids with big eyes, so her eyes are disproportional. I hope that doesn’t throw off her likeness too much. I think her face could be a little narrower, but then the huge eyes wouldn’t fit. I got her chin with that little almost-cleft. The nose is pretty close. Glasses and hair are right, I think. I got her coloring from a color photo of her as an adult.

I didn’t find any references to who the white woman was who demanded that Miss Colvin move or any of the other passengers on the bus. So, I used my imagination and designed some generic characters with 1950s clothes and hair. I hope I didn’t make the women too colorful. I got their fashions from vintage photos and drawings.

The bus interior is based on several reference photos of buses of that era.


What historical figure should I tackle next?

4 thoughts on “Finished: Claudette Colvin on the Bus

  1. rayebusser07 says:

    randomly came across this while researching Claudette and this is just amazing. i love that you depicted her in clothing that a kid would’ve worn at the time and made the other black passengers look worried for her. it really just puts it into perspective what she would’ve been going through and what she had to face when she decided to not move. absolutely beautiful

    • Karen B. Jones says:

      It was an illustration of a historical event. It occurred under Jim Crow laws. Legally at the time, Claudette had to move back. Not to was breaking the law, hence her subsequent arrest. The white lady would not have been willing to share a seat with Claudette for racist reasons that were part of the predominant culture at the time. It might have even gotten Claudette in worse trouble if she had.

      Yeah, it would have been easy just to share a seat. Morally, it would have been the right thing to do. But it just wasn’t how things were done back then. Cultural norms are powerful things.

      It took protests like this, and a subsequent lawsuit over it, to change things for the better. And even then, it was just the one thing, eliminating segregated buses, that it changed. It’s been decades of little steps to make the progress we’ve made today. And the work is still not complete.

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