Civil rights activists Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. may soon have their criminal records expunged in the state of Alabama, nearly 70 years after they were arrested for violating segregation laws.
According to the Associated Press, Parks, a seamstress, was accused of violating segregation laws when she refused to sit in the back of the bus without giving up her seat to a white man in 1955. After being arrested and fined $10, she opted not to pay.
Park’s courageous actions resulted in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which King helped orchestrate the movement. King faced more significant consequences in 1956, including a $500 fine and violating a law that banned boycotts, the Associated Press reported.
King and Parks became civil rights pioneers in black history as they were determined to dismantle racial segregation against all black Americans. However, Civil Rights Attorney Fred Gray said that Parks and King never had their convictions cleared despite their monumental contribution to history. According to AP, Gray, who represented both Parks and King, also served as an activist and preacher in Alabama.
“We might just decide to file a lawsuit on his behalf to have that record expunged,” Gray said of King’s record, also noting the same for Parks and others.
Additionally, civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin had faced similar obstacles when requesting her arrest records to be dismissed in 1955. Colvin also had a conviction for non-compliance with racial segregation laws. The civil rights activist reportedly assaulted an officer and was labeled unruly regarding her arrest. While she left Alabama to live in New York, Colvin never received a notice citing her probation had ended, AP reports.
Though it has been nearly 70 years since Colvin’s historic protest against segregation, her counterparts King and Parks’ convictions remain intact in Montgomery, Alabama. Nonetheless, bids have been issued along with petitions to have Parks and King’s past convictions erased from the record.
According to NBC News, Montgomery County DA Daryl Bailey serves as the chief prosecutor in Alabama’s capital. Bailey said he supports the bid for Parks and King’s records to be dismissed but needs additional information before responding in the court.
After Colvin started the expungement process, she said her “mindset was on freedom.”
Philip Ensler, an attorney representing Colvin, said he would support any bid that would expunge convictions from past activists during the civil rights movement. However, Colvin’s case would be different since she initially assaulted an officer and was unruly during her arrest. She said that portion of her record could make the process challenging to remove, NBC News reports.
“That would take a hundred years, maybe 200 years to go through the court system,” she said. “You could never finish it.”
In Birmingham, Alabama, protesters detained in 1963 were offered pardons for the sentence, but many refused to accept the offer.
Montgomery County Circuit Clerk Gina Ishman stated that expunging court documents would remove convictions from defendants’ records. Still, historical documents, including police and court records from Colvin, Parks, and King, would remain archived.