Claudette Colvin, civil rights pioneer, has criminal record cleared 66 years later
Claudette Colvin's arrest occurred nine months before activist Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. Three of Colvin’s friends moved; she stayed put. She later told a traffic patrolman, “I paid my fare and it's my constitutional rights.”
Claudette Colvin was 15-years-old when she was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give her seat to a White woman on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Now, 66 years later, a juvenile record connected to her arrest has been expunged.
The arrest occurred nine months before activist Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. Three of Colvin’s friends moved when told to by the bus driver; she stayed put. She later told a traffic patrolman, “I paid my fare and it's my constitutional rights.”
“I want my grandchildren to know that their grandmother stood up for something when she realized that she was an American at a very early age, and she wanted equal rights, just as those other students and all of the other bus audience and all of the other people in Montgomery,” Colvin told CBS News in an interview released Thursday. “That's what I want my grandchildren to know.”
Colvin was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace, violating the county’s segregation ordinance, and assaulting a police officer — a charge which she still refutes. She was convicted of all three counts. While the first two charges were overturned on appeal, she was placed on an “indefinite probation” for the assault charge. She was never informed that her probation ended.
“So she thought she's been on probation this entire time,” attorney Phillip Ensler said in an October interview with CNN, when Colvin, 82, petitioned Montgomery County to seal, destroy and expunge her record. Judge Calvin Williams granted the request and in a later meeting filmed by CBS apologized to Colvin “on behalf of myself and all the judges in Montgomery.”
Colvin was also a plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, a 1956 case in which a 2-1 ruling by an Alabama district court found that “the enforced segregation of Black and white passengers on motor buses…violates the constitution and laws of the United States.”