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An Alabama woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus to a White woman has finally had her record expunged.
In 1955, at age 15, Claudette Colvin was charged with three crimes for her act of defiance against White supremacy and systemic racism, which occurred nine months before Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to move from a bus seat for a White patron.
Ms. Colvin, now 82, was charged with disturbing the peace, breaking the then-segregation law, and assaulting a police officer. The first two charges were eventually dismissed on appeal, but assaulting an officer stuck with her for over six decades.
According to Ms. Colvin, “In segregated law, a colored person couldn’t sit across the aisle from a White person. They had to sit behind the White person to show that they were superior and the colored people was inferior.” When a White woman entered the bus and sat down near her, Ms. Colvin was asked to move — and refused.
Courageous act leads to change in law
“I said I could not move because history had me glued to the seat,” she recalled. “And they say, ‘How is that?’ I say, ‘Well, it felt as though Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder, and Sojourner Truth’s hand was pushing me down on the other shoulder.’”
Eventually the bus driver found a police officer, who arrested Ms. Colvin. She claims she was manhandled by the law enforcement officer, and then put in jail for several hours for the alleged crime.
The incident — and Ms. Colvin herself — was instrumental in striking down Alabama’s bus segregation law. She was one of four plaintiffs in the landmark case Browder v Gayle in 1956, which ended segregation on public transportation in Alabama.
Judge grants record expungement
Ms. Colvin later moved to New York, where she worked as a nurse aide. In October 2021, she filed paperwork to have her record expunged, which was granted a month later.
The judge who presided over Ms. Colvin’s request, Montgomery County Juvenile Judge Calvin Williams, agreed that all Ms. Colvin’s records relating to the arrest would be destroyed. The records were sealed, and the judge noted he granted the relief for “what has since been recognized as a courageous act on her behalf and on behalf of a community of affected people.”
In an interview with CBS Mornings, she said, “My record was expunged. And my name was cleared. And I’m no longer a juvenile delinquent at 82.”
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