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Claudette Colvin: Civil Rights Pioneer Has Record Cleared

Image source, Getty Images

Civil rights activist Claudette Colvin, who in 1955 at age 15 refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white person, has had her record expunged.

“My name was cleared,” Ms Colvin told CBS News, the BBC’s US partner. “I’m no longer a juvenile delinquent at 82.”

Ms Colvin was convicted of assaulting a police officer while being arrested in Alabama and put on probation.

After a petition from Ms Colvin, an Alabama judge last month ordered the records to be destroyed.

In March 1955, Ms Colvin sat aboard a crowded city bus in Montgomery with three classmate in the section reserved for black people.

A young white woman boarded and moved towards the back of the bus, hoping to take a seat, Ms Colvin told CBS. At the time, a black person and a white person could not sit in the same row, and all the seats were already taken.

The bus driver asked the four students to move and stand in the aisles. Ms Colvin refused, saying she had paid her fare and that it was her constitutional right to remain where she was.

“I said I could not move because history had me glued to the seat,” she said.

In 2018, Ms Colvin told the BBC: “Whenever people ask me: ‘Why didn’t you get up when the bus driver asked you?’ I say it felt as though Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing me down on the other shoulder. I felt inspired by these women because my teacher taught us about them in so much detail.”

The bus driver flagged down a traffic patrolman. She faced three charges: disturbing the peace, breaking segregation law and assaulting a police officer. The first two were dropped by the court, but the assault charge stayed.

Seeking to have her criminal record expunged earlier this year, Ms Colvin challenged the fact that her probation period for the assault charge never officially ended.

In November, Montgomery County Juvenile Judge Calvin Williams granted the motion to clear Ms Colvin’s record for “what has since been recognised as a courageous act on her behalf and on behalf of a community of affected people”.

Ms Colvin was the first person to be arrested for challenging Montgomery’s bus segregation policy. Her case occurred nine months before civil rights legend Rosa Parks famously did the same, which became a pivotal moment in the US civil rights movement.

Ms Colvin ended up testifying in the landmark case that effectively ended segregation on buses in 1956.

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