You probably know that Civil Rights era standard,
We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome, some day!
The Civil Rights Movement was successful because of great leaders and because there were wonderful, courageous, steadfast followers who chose their leaders, and carried out the difficult, risky activities each and every day to make for nonviolent change.
One of those leader-followers was Claudette Colvin, a teenager who wanted equal treatment on Montgomery's busses. Almost a year before Rosa Parks became the safe person to galvanize a social movement around - well-respected, quiet, adult, and well known among both the Civil Rights circles and the African American elite - Claudette Colvin went limp as she was dragged off a city bus for refusing to give up her seat. She went to jail. She was convicted for fighting back, which she did not do, but it allowed her to be given a criminal record without opening the city to further lawsuits for the unequal treatment on the bus. She was a teenager, and prior to her arrest, not well known among the local leadership or NAACP. She wasn't considered safe enough to build a protest around. But that didn't stop Claudette Colvin. Eventually, she joined the Montgomery Improvement Association approved suitcharging the Montgomery bus system with a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, in the case that became known as Browder v. Gayle. (To read more about Claudette Colvin, see Phillip Hoose's biography, which includes interviews with Colvin).
Martin Luther King, Jr. first came into Civil Rights Movement leadership through the Montgomery bus boycott. His life, and the lives of many leaders, were threatened right after Browder v. Gayle was decided in favor of equality. His leadership was important. Yet he acknowledged how important it was for everyone to do their part, to help bring about equality.
This week, as we remember and give thanks for Martin Luther King Jr., let us also remember and give thanks for everyone who did what they could to bring about equality. As we face continued challenges to equality for all - racist, xenophobic, sexist, ableist, religiously intolerant, homophobic, and transphobic justified challenges - let us remember that creating a world of equality, peace, and freedom for all, a world where human rights are actively practiced and granted everyone, is up to us. Our work is not done, until all of us are free.