An unsung hero of the civil rights movement filed legal documents at a court in Montgomery, Ala. on Tuesday (Oct. 26) to request the expungement of her arrest records.
Claudette Colvin, 82, was a teenager in March 1955 when a bus driver called the police because she refused to move to the rear of the bus, according to The Associated Press. The police said Colvin kicked and scratched an officer who ordered her to give up her seat.
Colvin was convicted of violating Montgomery’s segregation law, disorderly conduct and assaulting an officer. She appealed and was ultimately sentenced to probation only on the assault charge.
Decades later, Colvin wants the unjust stain removed from her record. Her attorney, Phillip Ensler, asked the court to seal all legal documents concerning the case and all records erased.
“I am an old woman now. Having my records expunged will mean something to my grandchildren and great grandchildren. And it will mean something for other Black children,” Colvin said in a sworn statement, according to the AP.
In December 1955, nine months after Colvin’s arrest, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a White man. Parks, a 42-year-old seamstress and NAACP activist, gained notoriety for the role she played in sparking the civil movement.
According to The New York Times, Colvin moved to the Bronx, N.Y. after her conviction. She later returned home during the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott.
She told the Times that, back then, Black leaders thought Parks should be the face of the movement because her complexion was lighter than Colvin’s, a decision that they believed would elicit White sympathy.
“My mother told me to be quiet about what I did, She told me: ‘Let Rosa be the one. White people aren’t going to bother Rosa — her skin is lighter than yours and they like her,’” Colvin said in a 2009 interview.
Ensler said Colvin was a plaintiff in the lawsuit against racial segregation on Montgomery’s buses but it’s “murky” whether she’s still on probation.
“My conviction for standing up for my constitutional right terrorized my family and relatives who knew only that they were not to talk about my arrest and conviction because people in town knew me as ‘that girl from the bus,’” she said.