Try this thought exercise. How many TV shows about doctors can you recall? I can remember all the way back to Dr.Kildare. How many shows about nurses aides- without whose labor the US health care system would collapse? Unsung for sure.
Before Rosa Parks took her direct action against segregation on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the Black community organized, planned and considered how and when to make their case.
Claudette Colvin, an A-student in her high school, was engaged in the civil rights debate. When she refused to go to the back of the bus she was arrested. She might have become the face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but she was young and vulnerable. Now, a pregnant 15-year-old would be considered to have been sinned against, but then she was considered too much a bad girl to represent the cause.
Claudette Colvin had to leave the South, and her life’s work was the valuable and under-recognized direct care of the sick and elderly. She retired in 2004 and is still with us, her story is now beginning to be told.
Claudette Colvin Goes To Work
–By Rita Dove
Another Negro woman has been arrested and thrown into jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus and give it to a white person. This is the second time since the Claudette Colbert [sic] case… This must be stopped. — Boycott Flier, December 5, 1955
Menial twilight sweeps the storefronts along Lexington
as the shadows arrive to take their places
among the scourge of the earth. Here and there
a fickle brilliance — lightbulbs coming on
in each narrow residence, the golden wattage
of bleak interiors announcing Anyone home?
or I’m beat, bring me a beer.
Mostly I say to myself Still here. Lay
my keys on the table, pack the perishables away
before flipping the switch. I like the sugary
look of things in bad light — one drop of sweat
is all it would take to dissolve an armchair pillow
into brocade residue. Sometimes I wait until
it’s dark enough for my body to disappear;
then I know it’s time to start out for work.
Along the Avenue, the cabs start up, heading
toward midtown; neon stutters into ecstasy
as male integers light up their smokes and let loose
a stream of brave talk: “Hey Mama” souring quickly to
“Your Mama” when there’s no answer — as if
the most injury they can do is insult the reason
you’re here at all, walking your whites
down to the stop so you can make a living.
So ugly, so fat, so dumb, so greasy —
What do we have to do to make God love us?
Mama was a maid; my daddy mowed lawns like a boy,
and I’m the crazy girl off the bus, the one
who wrote in class she was going to be President.
I take the Number 6 bus to the Lex Ave train
and then I’m there all night, adjusting the sheets,
emptying the pans. And I don’t care or spit
or kick and scratch like they say I did then.
I help those who can’t help themselves,
I do what needs to be done. . . and I sleep
whenever sleep comes down on me.