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Claudette Colvin Seeks Greater Recognition For Role In Making Civil Rights History

NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- Thursday marks the 61st anniversary of Rosa Parks' historic "sit-down" on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

Parks, who was arrested and charged with civil disobedience after refusing to give up her seat to a white man in a symbol of defiance, has long been considered the "mother of the civil rights movement."

But in an exclusive interview with 1010 WINS Anchor Larry Mullins, Bronx resident Claudette Colvin, 77, reminds all that she committed the same act nine months earlier when she was just 15 years old.

"I said I paid my fare, it is my constitutional right," Colvin said. "I was manhandled backwards off the bus."

Colvin and at least three other teenage girls became the plaintiffs in a legal challenge against the city of Montgomery, and the state of Alabama over their civil rights.

Parks, a mature woman who also worked as a secretary for the NAACP, was considered a better representation for the civil rights movement, and in particular, the historic bus boycotts which ensued. Parks' case would also end up in court.

However, it became bogged down in the state court system, and therefore Colvin's case (Browder vs. Gayle), became the lightning rod which eventually made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1956 decided that the bus segregation system in Montgomery was unconstitutional. The case was named after the oldest of the four teens.

Now, Colvin and her family are calling on the Smithsonian Institution and its new National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington to give Colvin a more prominent mention in the history of the civil rights movement.

She says there is a section in the museum dedicated to Parks, which she doesn't want to take away. But Colvin says her family's goal is to get the historic record right, and compel officials to include this very significant part of history.

"A lot of people ask the same question, 'What did Rosa do that was so different?'" Colvin said.

"All we want is the truth, why does history fail to get it right?" Colvin's sister, Gloria Laster, said. "Had it not been for Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith there may not have been a Thurgood Marshall, a Martin Luther King or a Rosa Parks."

Laster hopes people don't get the wrong idea and see Colvin as "disgruntled, wanting 10 minutes of fame and looking for money."

"That's not the case," Laster said.

Colvin tells 1010 WINS that she wasn't even invited when the Smithsonian formally dedicated the museum, which opened to the public in September.

She and her family have written an op-ed piece, for publication in the Washington Post.

1010 WINS has reached out to the Smithsonian for comment.

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