“History had me glued to the seat,” she recalled six decades later.

Ms. 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.

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.

Get off, several white passengers told her. Ms. Colvin, who was 15, stayed put, and was promptly arrested….

One police officer kicked her while another dragged her backward off the bus and handcuffed her, according to “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice” by Phillip Hoose, which won a National Book Award in 2009. On the way to the police station, the officers took turns guessing her bra size, Mr. Hoose wrote.

“I’m not doing it for me, I’m 82 years old,” Ms. 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 Mrs. Parks’s story is well known, Ms. 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 with city and bus company officials after her arrest. Ms. Colvin would later serve as the star witness in the landmark case that effectively ended bus segregation.

Ms. Colvin filed her petition in family court in Montgomery County, where her case was processed in 1955. The petition says that clearing Ms. Colvin’s record “serves in the interest of justice and further, acknowledges her integral role in the civil rights movement….”

Ms. Colvin moved to the Bronx after her conviction, but returned to Montgomery at the peak of the bus boycott that Mrs. Parks had subsequently sparked. Black leaders at the time believed that since Mrs. Parks had lighter skin, she would be a better face of the movement and more likely win sympathy from white people.

“My mother told me to be quiet about what I did,” Ms. Colvin told The New York Times in 2009. “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….’”

Ms. Colvin has said that she came to terms with her “raw feelings” about her place in history a long time ago. “I know in my heart that she was the right person,” she told The Times in 2009, referring to Mrs. Parks.

Ms. Colvin would end up testifying in federal court in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that effectively ended bus segregation in 1956. The lawsuit was filed by Fred D. Gray, a legal force during the civil rights movement.

Mr. Gray was once again by Ms. Colvin’s side on Tuesday. He said in an interview on Monday that “there should never have been a record in the first place.”

“In her case and in all these other persons that I have represented, the records should be expunged in all of them,” Mr. Gray said….

“The struggle continues,” Ms. 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.”

www.nytimes.com/2021/10/26/us/claudette-colvin-arrest-record.html

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