A Woman Who Refused to Give Up Her Bus Seat to a White Person in 1955, Finally Had Her Juvenile Record Expunged

Civil rights activist Claudette Colvin’s juvenile record has been wiped, 66 years after she refused to give up her bus seat to a white woman in Alabama. 

On March 2, 1955, Colvin was 15 years old when a bus driver requested her and other children to give up their seats. The act of defiance took place nine months before Rosa Parks’ bus boycott. 

Colvin was detained and charged with breaching the city’s segregation ordinance, disorderly behavior, and striking an officer after she refused to budge, according to the Associated Press. Although the first two charges against her were dropped, the assault charge stayed on her record. 

In October, Colvin, now 82, submitted a petition to have the arrest record expunged. 

On Nov. 24, Montgomery County Juvenile Judge Calvin Williams signed an order expunging her records, according to his office.

Williams granted the petition for a good cause “for what has since been recognized as a courageous act on her behalf and on behalf of a community of affected people,” he wrote in the order.

Williams told NBC News: “It’s really a full-circle moment for me to sit on the bench when there were no judges of African American descent on the bench to right a wrong that was perpetrated on her at the time.”

“I appreciate the Judge’s decision to do it and that means that I’m no longer, at 82, a juvenile delinquent,” Colvin said in a press conference Tuesday.

“My reason for doing it is because I get a chance to tell my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren what life was like in segregated America … The hardship and intimidation that took place in those years and the reason I took a stand to defy the segregated law,” she said.

Colvin explained why she refused to move on that fateful day in an affidavit attached to the petition to clear her records.

“History had me glued to the seat,” she said in the affidavit. “Sitting there, it felt to me as though Harriet Tubman’s hand was on one shoulder pushing me down and Sojourner Truth’s hand was on the other.”

Colvin reported that she caught the city bus that day by happenstance because the school had been dismissed early. According to the affidavit, she usually rode a special bus that was only for Black children. 

When she refused to give up her seat in the colored part of the bus, she said she was thinking of Black History Month and what she had learned in class. 

According to the complaint, Colvin was sentenced to probation pending good behavior, but she was never notified when her probation would finish. 

Her infamous bus arrest not only impacted her life but also tarnished her reputation in Montgomery. 

She said in the affidavit that she was fired from jobs “over and over again” after her bosses “found out that I was ‘the girl who had sat on the bus.”

“I was notorious and employing me was a liability,” she said.

Her arrest also terrified her relatives. Her family worried for her even after she relocated to New York because “they were terrified of the implications of having her there,” she added in the affidavit. 

Colvin fought for civil rights for the rest of her life. 

She was one of four plaintiffs in the 1956 Supreme Court ruling Browder V. Gayle, which outlawed segregation on Alabama buses.

“A measure of justice was served. And it’s important to note that it’s a very late measure of justice,” Leah Nelson, an investigator in Colvin’s case for expungement, told NBC News. 

“There’s no way to give Ms. Colvin back what was taken from her. But it matters that the Court is holding itself accountable publicly. And I hope we’ll see more of that in Alabama.”

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