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Claudette Colvin was arrested in '55 for refusing to give up her bus seat. Now, she's fighting for a clean record.

Colvin, whose case took place nine months before Rosa Parks's, is looking to leave behind a legacy for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Claudette Colvin was arrested in '55 for refusing to give up her bus seat. Now, she's fighting for a clean record.
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Content Warning: Racist and ableist terminology

At 15 years old and pregnant, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person in 1950's Montgomery, Alabama. At the time, Jim Crow law relegated all Black folks to seats at the back of the bus, while white folks were permitted to use seats in the front. Colvin was consequently arrested for her civil disobedience. Now, a legal team backing the civil rights pioneer, aged 82, is looking to get her record expunged. The team plans to file a request with a Montgomery County court to clear Colvin's record, CNN reports.


She was charged with two counts of violating the city's segregation ordinance as well as one felony count of assaulting a police officer. As a teenager, she was convicted guilty of all counts in juvenile court, although the segregation convictions were overturned on appeal. The police arrest report from 1955 reads, "There were two colored females sitting opposite two white females, that refused to move to the back with the rest of the colored. Claudette Colvin, age 15, colored female, refused. We then informed Claudette that she was under arrest." According to Colvin herself, she "resisted" and was "defiant" when the police officers arrested her on the bus. The police report claims she kicked and scratched an officer when they put her in the police vehicle.


"People said I was cr*zy," Colvin said in an interview with CNN. "Because I was 15 years old and defiant and shouting, 'It's my constitutional right!'" Her motivations to fight for a clean record are rooted in the desire to see society progress and not regress. She explained in court filings, "I want us to move forward and be better. When I think about why I'm seeking to have my name cleared by the state, it is because I believe if that happened it would show the generation growing up now that progress is possible and things do get better. It will inspire them to make the world better."


Typically, juvenile court motions are shielded from the public. However, Colvin's legal team released the details of her case due to its "unique public interest and historical significance." Her attorney, Phillip Ensler, stated that the expungement of her conviction was "long overdue justice." He shared, "People think it was just about a seat on a bus but it was about so much more than that." Gloria Laster, Colvin's younger sister, added that she wants to set a good example for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. "This is going to be her legacy to them," Laster said. "I sat down on the bus so that you can stand up and take your rightful place as an American. And that's what she wants for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This is what she's doing this for."


In support of the civil rights pioneer, the Montgomery County district attorney will also file a motion. District Attorney Daryl B. Bailey affirmed, "I believe that the charges that were [originally] brought, were brought on bogus laws. It was totally unlawful what the state, and law enforcement, did to this woman at the time." Colvin's case, which came nine months before Rosa Parks's, received little attention at the time as she was not considered "acceptable to a white" community. Parks was older, married, and lighter-skinned. Nonetheless, history has set the record straight. It is once again time to correct historical injustices.


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