Civil Rights Superstar Conundrum

We're a country obsessed with superstars. It is never enough to simply be good, or even better than good. Someone must be the best. Maybe this accounts for the rise of the competitive reality show, where average people can prove themselves to be the very best at, say, cleaning their house or straightening picture frames or grooming dogs. Unfortunately, this obsession has leached into history books, where we proclaim people to be the very best in their realm of progressive expertise — One Feminist to Rule Them All! In reality, it takes hundreds upon thousands of people to build a civil rights movement, not just one or two. Claudette Colvin is someone who might not be as ubiquitous as Rosa Parks, but she refused to give up a seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus nine months before Parks did. Colvin was just a high school student when she decided not to relinquish her seat to a white passenger, and, like Parks, she was summarily arrested and carted off to jail. Colvin subsequently became the star witness in the federal case that would desegregate Montgomery buses. Later, she moved to New York City and became a nurse's aide; she was also the muse of a poet laureate and the subject of a book. Colvin speaks with Enid Lee at an event called “Riding While Black 1955 … Walking While Black 1999,” which also features spoken-word poetry and performance. Colvin may not be a household name, but she undoubtedly made an indelible mark on history — if not on every history book.
Oct. 10, 1:30 p.m., 2010

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