Claudette – Kate LaDew

Claudette

In 1955, nine months prior to Rosa Parks, 15 year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. When the federal court case Browder v. Gayle, which aimed to prove state and local laws requiring bus segregation were unconstitutional, went to the Supreme Court, Colvin was the last to testify.  Three days later the Supreme Court issued an order to the state of Alabama to end bus segregation.

She remembered the little white boy her entire life.  Cutting in front of her and her mother at the general store.  Chanting ‘let me see, let me see,’  holding up his hands.  Her palms were the same color as his.  If they had taken off their shoes, the soles of their feet would be the same, too.  She noted this but didn’t dwell.  If it did not matter to him it could not matter to her.  When the other little white boys and white girls laughed, her mother turned and slapped her across the face in one motion.  ‘Don’t you know you’re not supposed to touch them?’ The little white boy’s mother agreed.

Every year, she and her mother drew outlines of their feet on brown paper bags and handed it to the white shoe salesmen.  Every year, he took the brown paper bags by their corner with his thumb and index finger, letting no other part of him touch where her mother’s thumb might have touched.  Where her index finger might have touched.  Where the sole of her foot was diagrammed like a bad luck charm.  A broken mirror, a hanging picture falling from the wall, spilling salt, opening an umbrella indoors, a cat the same color as her crossing your path.

Every year they watched from the front of the store by the window.  Waiting as the white mothers with their little white boys and little white girls all wiggled their little white toes, sliding little white feet into black patent shoes.  She and her mother waited until every white face left the store.  Waited until her mother was late for work, left to explain that this was ‘shoe day’ as the white lady her mother worked for nodded sympathetically and took two dollars from her wages.  Every year when the white shoe salesman walked out and noticed them still waiting, he slowly walked back and removed two boxes from a stack by the exit.  The shoes always fit.  That’s what her mother told her.  But the shoes always fit.

Every year the imprint of her mother’s slap grew darker.  She could see it even if no one else could.  It grew darker and spread, making her darker.  She went alone now to buy her shoes, holding out the brown paper bag to the white shoe salesman, watching as his white palms almost touched her white palms.  Almost, but not quite.  She was now darker than the brown paper bag and wondered if that was the difference.  A hanging picture falling from the wall, a black cat crossing your path.  Something dangerous.  Claudette watched and waited.  The white shoe salesman held the brown paper bag as if it were alive.  It was empty and she had a whole world inside her, but it didn’t matter.  Not now.  Not yet.

Kate LaDew is a graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a BA in Studio Art.  She resides in Graham, NC with her cats, Charlie Chaplin and Janis Joplin.

 

 

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