Claudette Colvin has finally had her juvenile court records expunged 66 years after the iconic civil rights activist refused to give up her seat to a White passenger during a bus ride in Alabama. The judge also ordered Colvin’s records to be sealed and destroyed, CNN reported.
Colvin’s refusal to give up her seat and her subsequent arrest came nine months before Rosa Parks more famously and similarly defied segregation laws in Montgomery when she was also arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a White bus rider. Colvin, now 82, was 15 years old when she was arrested.
Colvin’s legal team filed a motion asking the juvenile courts to seal, destroy and expunge her records in October. That petition was granted by an Alabama family court judge in November. Montgomery County Juvenile Judge Calvin Williams reportedly gave the green light for Colvin’s records to be sealed for good cause and fairness as her act of civil disobedience has “since been recognized as a courageous act on her behalf and on behalf of a community of affected people.”
For refusing to give up her seat to the White passenger, Colvin was dragged out to the street, arrested, and jailed. She was convicted of violating the city’s segregation law, disorderly conduct, and assaulting an officer, but only the assault charge remained after she appealed. And though Colvin was subsequently placed on probation for assaulting the officer, her legal team said she never received notice that she had finished the term.
Colvin’s case came nine months before Parks’, but Parks’ case received more attention. She became that powerful symbol of the civil rights movement. Colvin was apparently passed over because she was a teenager who also became pregnant out of wedlock, Face2Face Africa reported. Her skin color might also have prevented her from being the face to challenge segregation laws. Colvin also told CNN Parks gained more publication partly because she was perceived as more “acceptable to a White” populace.
Colvin left Montgomery for New York soon after her arrest in search of anonymity. In New York, she didn’t make it known to people about her role in the civil rights movement, but she would later return to her home city to testify in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that found bus segregation to be unconstitutional.
“People said I was crazy,” Colvin said in reference to refusing to give up her seat. “Because I was 15 years old and defiant and shouting, ‘It’s my constitutional right!’”
Colvin, in her motion, said she wanted society to move forward, not retrogress. “I want us to move forward and be better,” she said. “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.”
The 82-year-old’s legal team and relatives also told CNN Colvin had filed the motion to have her records expunged because she wanted to relocate to Texas with her family.