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Civil rights pioneer tying to clear her record

Claudette Colvin

By Carol Ozemhoya

Minutes before the White bus driver told Claudette Colvin in 1955 to give her seat to a White woman, she had been looking out the window, thinking of a Black boy from her neighborhood in Montgomery, Ala., who had been sentenced to death. She remembers thinking of her English teacher’s lesson about understanding and taking pride in her history, reports the New York Times.Get off, several White passengers told her. Colvin, who was 15, stayed put, and was promptly arrested.“History had me glued to the seat,” she recalled six decades later.Colvin, who refused to give up her seat on a segregated Montgomery bus on March 2, 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks, filed a petition on Tuesday to have her juvenile arrest record expunged, saying in an affidavit that justice from the court system was overdue.“I’m not doing it for me, I’m 82 years old,” Colvin said in an interview on Tuesday. “But I wanted my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren to understand that their grandmother stood up for something very important, and that it changed our lives a lot, changed attitudes.”While Parks’s story is well known, Colvin’s role in the Montgomery bus boycott and the broader civil rights movement has been overlooked. And yet the significance of her defiance that day was widely recognized among the emerging leaders of the movement, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who met bus company officials after her arrest. Colvin would later serve as the star witness in the landmark case that effectively ended bus segregation.Colvin filed her petition in family court in Montgomery County, where her case was processed in 1955. The petition says that clearing Colvin’s record “serves in the interest of justice and further, acknowledges her integral role in the civil rights movement.”She was initially convicted of violating the city’s segregation law and of disorderly conduct and assaulting an officer. But she appealed and was sentenced to probation only on the assault charge, which may have been for “something as small as accidentally stepping on an officer’s toes,” said her lawyer, Phillip Ensler.“The struggle continues,” Colvin said on Tuesday. “I just don’t want us to regress as a race, as a minority group, and give up hope. Keep the faith, keep on going and keep on fighting.”The judge who is handling her case, Calvin Williams, said in an interview on Monday that he was aware of its historical significance. He is the first Black judge to serve in Alabama’s 15th Judicial Circuit Court.“It’s somewhat of a full circle, historically, that an African American judge such as myself can sit in judgment of a request such as this to give Ms. Claudette Colvin really the justice that she so long deserved,” he said.Judge Williams will issue a ruling in the coming weeks, but he already knows what it will say.“We will order those records destroyed,” he said.