Black Wall Street PA

Claudette Colvin: The Civil Rights Activist Who Started It All

Colvin’s arrest was widely publicized throughout the Montgomery community. She was recognized as the young girl who refused to give up her seat on a crowded bus. While many viewed her as a troublemaker, she was not. She was a high school student dedicated to civil rights for Black Americans. Colvin became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council. She formed a close relationship with her mentor, Rosa Parks, the secretary of the local NAACP chapter.

Now 82, Colvin said she would not have done anything differently despite having an arrest record. She and three classmates were “sitting in the section allowed for colored people” when a White woman boarded the bus and walked towards the back to find a vacant seat. During that time, Black and White passengers were not allowed to sit in the same row.

“In segregated law, a colored person couldn’t sit across the aisle from a White person,” she said. “They had to sit behind the White person to show that they were superior and the colored people were inferior,” Colvin said.

The woman stood in the aisle and refused to sit next to a person of color. The bus driver looked in his mirror and said, “I need those seats.” Three female classmates moved to the back, but Colvin didn’t.

“I said I could not move because history had me glued to the seat,” she recalled. “And they say, ‘How is that?’ I say, ‘Well, it felt as though Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder, and Sojourner Truth hand was pushing me down on the other shoulder.’” When more white passengers boarded the bus and refused to sit next to Colvin, the bus driver flagged a transit police officer to remove her from the bus. The transit police officer informed the bus driver that he did not have the power to arrest her. Colvin remained seated.

She goes on to say, “And he asked me why I was sitting there. And I was even more defiant. And I said, ‘I paid my fare and it’s my Constitutional rights.'”

Moments later, a second officer boarded the bus and “manhandled” her to remove her from the bus, she said. Colvin was arrested, spending hours in a local jail. She was later charged with three criminal counts, including disorderly conduct, breaking segregation law, and assault and battery against police officers. Though the first two counts were dropped, the assault against police officers remained on her criminal record for more than 66 years.

“They said I clawed the policeman and I kicked the police. I didn’t do all of that,” Colvin said.

Despite living with her criminal record for many years, they were recently expunged by an Alabama judge in December.

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