Claudette Colvin was 15-years-old when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 2, 1955. Colvin is asking for her record to be expunged.
Colvin and her lawyers filed a motion with the Montgomery juvenile courts on October 26. The motion filed was to have her arrest for violating a segregation law destroyed and erased. The Jim Crow Era law required Black people to give up their seats if the white section of the bus was full.
The teenager refused to give up her seat and was arrested nine months before Rosa Parks. Parks is credited mainly for sparking the Montgomery bus boycott during the civil rights movement. Colvin told the police officer that she’d paid her fare and was not giving up her seat. She said it was her constitutional right to sit where she was. The officer yelled to the bus driver that he had no jurisdiction. Even so, she was arrested, handcuffed and spent three hours locked in a jail cell.
“One of them said to the driver in a very angry tone, ‘Who is it?’ The motorman pointed at me. I heard him say, ‘That’s nothing new . . . I’ve had trouble with that thing before.’ He called me a ‘thing.’ They came to me and stood over me and one said, ‘Aren’t you going to get up?’ I said, ‘No, sir.’ He shouted ‘Get up’ again. I started crying, but I felt even more defiant.”
“I kept saying over and over, in my high-pitched voice, ‘It’s my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare, it’s my constitutional right!’ I knew I was talking back to a white policeman, but I had had enough.”
“There were two colored females sitting opposite two white females that refused to move to the back with the rest of the colored,” said the police report. “Claudette Colvin, age 15, colored female, refused. We then informed Claudette that she was under arrest.”
Colvin also revealed what the police said to her once she was inside the police car. The teenager was tormented by the officers with racist and derogatory harassment.
“All ride long they swore at me and ridiculed me,” she recalled. “They took turns trying to guess my bra size. They called me ‘n****r b***h’ and cracked jokes about parts of my body.”
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Colvin was given indefinite probation as a sentence, and the 82-year-old has been on probation ever since her arrest. She said history moved her to stay seated that day in Montgomery in 1955.
“History had me glued to the seat,” she said. “Harriet Tubman’s hand was pushing me down on one shoulder, and Sojourner Truth hand was pushing me down on another shoulder. And between these two historical women, iconic women, I could not move. I was paralyzed in that seat.”
Colorism may have played a part in Colvin’s erasure of being the first person to challenge the Jim Crow bus ordinance. The decision was made by the NAACP to promote Rosa Parks as launching the civil rights bus boycotts because she was an adult and also light-skinned, according to Colvin.
Colvin wants to be an example to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and wants her record cleared, as it should be.