82-Year-Old Black Woman Seeks End to Probation From 1955 When She Refused to Move on Bus

Before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin, a Black teenager convicted of assaulting a police officer after she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in 1955 in Alabama.

Now, the 82-year-old Colvin is asking the court to officially terminate her probation and expunge her record. Colvin said she has never received notice that she finished her probation and it has followed her her whole life.

As a 15-year-old high school student on March 2, 1955, Colvin and another Black girl were sitting too close to two white girls, and Colvin refused to move when asked to move to the back of the bus. Her refusal prompted the bus driver to call the police.

When police officers removed Colvin from the bus, she was kicking and scratching an officer, the police report said, leading to an assault charge. The case was sent to juvenile court and a judge found her delinquent, so they placed her on probation "pending good behavior." It ended there, with Colvin never hearing another word about it, she said.

Fifty-five years later, Colvin and her lawyer, Phillip Ensler, are requesting expungement from the Montgomery County court system.

"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,'" Colvin said.

Although Colvin moved out of the state, "relatives always worried what might happen when she returned for visits since no court official ever said she had finished probation," according to Ensler.

"Her family has lived with this tremendous fear ever since then," Ensler said, adding that even though Colvin had told her story many times, nothing was ever done to clear her record.

The Associated Press attempted to reach out to the chief court clerk in Montgomery County but said it did not hear back. However, the AP reported that Montgomery County's chief prosecutor said he agreed with the request to clear Colvin's record, removing any doubt that it would be approved.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Claudette Colvin
FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009, file photo, Bronx resident Claudette Colvin talks about segregation laws in the 1950s in Alabama while having her photo taken, in New York. Months before Rosa Parks became the mother of the modern civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat and move to the back of a segregated Alabama bus, Black teenager Colvin did the same. Convicted of assaulting a police officer while being arrested, Colvin was placed on probation yet never received notice that she'd finished the term and was on safe ground legally. AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File

Currently living in Birmingham before a move to stay with relatives in Texas, the octogenarian Colvin will make her request to a juvenile court judge oddly enough since that's where she was judged delinquent and placed on what, for all practical purposes, amounted to a lifetime of probation, Ensler said.

With Colvin never getting official word that she'd completed probation, her relatives assumed the worst — that police would arrest her for any reason they could.

Ensler said it's "murky" as to whether Colvin is actually still on probation, but she never had any other arrests or legal scrapes. She even became a named plaintiff in the landmark lawsuit that outlawed racial segregation on Montgomery's buses. Still, Colvin said, the trauma endured, particularly for relatives who constantly worried that police were out to get her.

"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.