She Wouldn't Give Up Her Seat. 65 Years Later, a Clean Record

Claudette Colvin, 82, has arrest wiped for making move as a teen that Rosa Parks did months later
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 26, 2021 1:23 PM CDT
Updated Dec 16, 2021 9:50 AM CST
She Came Before Rosa Parks, Wants '55 Arrest Record Erased
In this Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009, file photo, Bronx resident Claudette Colvin talks about segregation laws in the 1950s in Alabama while having her photo taken, in New York.   (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

(Newser) Update: A judge in Montgomery, Ala., has finally granted an elderly great-grandmother her wish to have an arrest from her teen years scrubbed from her record. "I'm no longer a juvenile delinquent at 82," Claudette Colvin said Thursday on CBS Mornings. "My record was expunged." Colvin was arrested at the age of 15, nine months before Rosa Parks' arrest, after refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery. Judge Calvin Williams, a Black judge who wasn't even alive when Colvin was arrested, is the one who cleared Colvin's record for good, and he surprised her with an in-person meeting on Friday. "[I want to], on behalf of myself and all the judges in Montgomery, offer my apology for the injustice that was perpetrated upon you," he told her. Our original story from Oct. 26 follows:

Months before Rosa Parks became the mother of the modern civil rights movement by refusing to move to the back of a segregated Alabama bus, Black teenager Claudette Colvin did the same. Convicted of assaulting a police officer while being arrested, she was placed on probation yet never received notice that she'd finished the term and was on safe ground legally. Now 82 and slowed by age, Colvin is asking a Montgomery judge to end the matter once and for all by wiping away the record, reports the AP.

"I am an old woman now. Having my records expunged will mean something to my grandchildren and great grandchildren. And it will mean something for other Black children," Colvin said in a sworn statement. Colvin left Alabama at age 20 and spent decades in New York, but relatives always worried what might happen when she returned for visits since no court official ever said she had finished probation, according to her attorney, Phillip Ensler. "Her family has lived with this tremendous fear ever since then," he said. "For all the recognition of recent years and the attempts to tell her story, there wasn’t anything done to clear her record."

Parks, a 42-year-old seamstress and activist with the NAACP, gained worldwide fame after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man on Dec. 1, 1955. Nine months prior, on March 2, 1955, a bus driver called police to complain that two Black girls were sitting near two white girls and refused to move to the back of the bus. One of the Black girls moved when asked, a police report said, but 15-year-old Colvin refused. In interviews, Colvin has pointed out Parks was older, married, and lighter-skinned, suggesting she was seen as "more respectable," as the Guardian puts it.

(Read more civil rights movement stories.)

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