Winning author tells story of civil rights pioneer

AP News
Posted: Nov 19, 2009 5:44 PM

Maine author Phillip Hoose said winning a National Book Award for his chronicle of a young civil rights pioneer was all the more moving because she took the stage with him when he accepted the honor.

Hoose won the young people's literature award for "Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice" at the 60th annual National Book Awards, held Wednesday night in New York.

He based his book on the true story of Claudette Colvin, who as a 15-year-old schoolgirl was dragged off a bus in Montgomery, Ala., for refusing to give up her seat to a white woman. She made her stand against racism and prejudice months before a similar incident made Rosa Parks a national symbol for the civil rights struggle of the 1950s, which led to landmark court decisions and new legislation to right the wrongs.

A few minutes before the winner was announced, Hoose asked the 70-year-old Colvin, who had joined him at the ceremony, if she would accept the award with him if he won.

"When she stood, there was sort of an audible gasp. There was a wave that went through the room when people realized she was with me, that that person in history was there in that room," Hoose said in a telephone interview Thursday from New York.

For the book, Hoose told the story of Colvin's bold act March 2, 1955, when she was physically removed from the bus, handcuffed and taken to jail for refusing to give up her seat.

Partly told in Colvin's voice, the book relates the indignity the teenage girl felt when she had to heed the bus driver's orders on a trip she routinely took to and from school every day. She was charged with violating segregation laws, disorderly conduct and assault. Two charges were later dropped, but she had to pay a small fine for an assault conviction, for fighting back against the officers who dragged her off the bus.

The following year, Colvin was one of four black female plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of segregated public transportation. A federal court ruled in their favor, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision.

Still, Colvin's saga has been little more than a footnote to history while Parks, the nine black students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School, Martin Luther King Jr. and others went on to become celebrated symbols of bravery and dignity in their campaign for civil rights.

In accepting the award, Hoose thanked Colvin for sharing her story with him and future generations.

Hoose, 62, has written nine books and was a finalist for a prestigious National Book Award in 2001 for "We Were There, Too! Young People in U.S. History."

"Having experienced both, I can tell you that winning sure feels better than losing," he said.

The Portland resident also has written about the elusive, and possibly extinct, ivory-billed woodpecker and about Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. He is working on a new book, and won't divulge the details other than to say it's about a bird.


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