In Plain Sight: The Best Way to See People

Claudette Colvin’s Her-story From the Background to the Foreground

Sam McKenzie Jr.
8 min readJan 15, 2018


Right at chest level is where I held the sign with also a wide and welcoming smile. The sign between my hands read, “MS. CLAUDETTE COLVIN.” To meet her was a big deal to me.

While arranging her travel, I hadn’t talked to her directly. There was a gatekeeper who screened and handled her affairs. So, as I stood near baggage claim, far away from the gates, I had no idea if Claudette Colvin would show.

Soon enough, a lady in a black coat and a black hat walked up to me and shook my hand.

It was a few days before MLK Day in January 2007. I was in Buffalo, NY as a part of my job to support MLK Day volunteer projects.

That year, the Buffalo, NY affiliate of the HandsOn Network organization decided to replicate a public art project for their MLK Day of Service.

The public art project, A Seat for Social Justice, used salvaged bus seats as canvases for social justice art.

Buffalo, NY: Volunteers redesign bus seats into social justice art for MLK Day of Service January 2007

Claudette Colvin had accepted our invitation to do a Q&A session as the highlight of the MLK Day of Service.

Buffalo NY: Ms. Colvin answers questions during the MLK Day of Service January 2007

Everyone knows a bit about Dr. King. But in case you’re wondering about Claudette Colvin, she is one of the unsung heroines of the civil rights era.

I personally came to know about Claudette Colvin not from school but from self-study. When Rosa Parks died in October 2005, I dove into research about Rosa Parks for the A Seat for Social Justice public art project.

So, for me, the figure in the foreground, Rosa Parks, led me to the figures in the background like Claudette Colvin. And the background is absolutely critical to the facts and our understanding. The background gives…