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Claudette Colvin, who refused to give up bus seat to white woman in 1955, has arrest record expunged

Colvin, who was 15 at the time, refused to budge when a bus driver asked her and other students to give up their seats on March 2, 1955.

Claudette Colvin, who refused to give up bus seat to white woman in 1955, has arrest record expunged
Cover Image Source: Claudette Colvin, Civil Rights Activist speaks onstage during the 2020 Embrace Ambition Summit at Jazz at Lincoln Center on March 05, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Tory Burch Foundation)

A Montgomery Juvenile Court judge has expunged civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin's juvenile record 66 years after she refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus to a white woman. According to NBC News, Colvin—who was 15 at the time—refused to budge when a bus driver asked her and other students to give up their seats on March 2, 1955. A police report said the then-teen put up a struggle as officers removed her from the bus, kicking and scratching an officer. Although she was initially convicted of violating the city's segregation law, disorderly conduct and assaulting an officer, only the assault charge stuck after she appealed.



 

In October, Colvin filed a petition to have the record of the arrest cleared. Signing the order for her record to be destroyed on November 24, Montgomery Court Judge Calvin Williams reportedly explained that the decision represented "a measure of statutory right and fairness to the said Claudette Colvin for what has since been recognized as a courageous act on her behalf and on behalf of a community of affected people." In a press conference on Tuesday, Colvin—now 82—said she was "not really celebrating" because of the 66 years it took to get the expungement, but she joked that "that really means that I'm no longer, at 82, a juvenile delinquent."



 

"My reason for doing it is I get a chance to tell my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, what life was like living in segregated America, in segregated Montgomery," she said. "The laws, the hardship, the intimidation that took place during those years and the reason why that day I took a stand and defied the segregated law." Speaking to PEOPLE, Colvin's attorney Phillip Ensler said: "I am so grateful that after all of these decades Claudette's name has finally been cleared."



 

"Our hope is that she is able to feel a sense of peace and relief. So many in Montgomery and those who believe in justice, freedom and equality throughout the world are moved by this monumental decision," Ensler added. In an affidavit attached to the petition to expunge her records, Colvin explained why she refused to move on that fateful day. "History had me glued to the seat," she said in the affidavit. “Sitting there, it felt to me as though Harriet Tubman's hand was on one shoulder pushing me down and Sojourner Truth's hand was on the other."



 

Colvin revealed that she took that city bus by chance that day because school was let out early. According to the affidavit, she usually took a special bus designated only for Black children. She also said she was thinking of Black History Month and what she learned in class when she refused to give up her seat to the white woman. Colvin was sentenced to probation pending good behavior, the affidavit said, but was never told when her probation ended. The trailblazer revealed that the notorious bus arrest besmirched her name in Montgomery as she was fired from jobs "over and over again" after her bosses "found out that I was 'that girl' who had sat on the bus."



 

"I was notorious and employing me was a liability," Colvin said, adding that the arrest also left her family terrorized. After she moved to New York, her family would worry when she came home to visit because "they were afraid of the consequences of having her there," the affidavit stated. Speaking on his decision, Williams told reporters: "It's really a full circle moment for me to sit on the bench, when there were no judges of African American descent on the bench to right a wrong that was perpetrated on her at the time."



 

Leah Nelson, an investigator in Colvin’s case for expungement said: "A measure of justice was served. And it's important to note that it's a very late measure of justice. There's no way to give Ms. Colvin back what was taken from her. But it matters that the Court is holding itself accountable publicly. And I hope we'll see more of that in Alabama." According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Colvin went on to serve as plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, which ended segregation on Montgomery city buses after the Montgomery Bus Boycott.



 

Nine months after Colvin's arrest in 1955, Rosa Parks—a 42-year-old seamstress—gained worldwide fame following her arrest on a Montgomery city bus for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. Parks, who had more than 15 years of experience as an activist, only faced a charge of violating city segregation laws. Speaking of Parks on Tuesday, Colvin said the two of them had "a good relationship" as they knew each other through the NAACP youth group. "E.D. Nixon said that they wanted Mrs. Parks to be the face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott because she would draw out more Black adult participants," Colvin said. "But the movement was there. The young people was ready to protest."

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