It Took 66 Years to Set Her Arrest Record Straight

It Took 66 Years to Set Her Arrest Record Straight

( – Never heard of Claudette Colvin? Don’t worry, not many have. What about optics, in the political sense? That’s where politicians and others in the public eye concern themselves with how the public perceives a situation. In 1955, the two of them met in Montgomery, Alabama.

Who Is Colvin?

First, let’s start with the name Rosa Parks, one of the most noted and celebrated names of the civil rights movement. On December 1, 1955, she was seated in the first row of the “colored section” on a bus where the white area had no seats left.

At one point, a white man boarded the bus but had nowhere to sit. So, he spoke to the bus driver, which set events into motion. The driver told the four people seated in the colored section to vacate the seats and stand; three obeyed and Ms. Parks refused. The rest, as they say, is history.

However, nine months before that evening, something similar, yet more audacious, happened to Ms. Colvin on a public bus when she was just a 15-year-old schoolgirl. She had been studying what was then called Negro history month at her black-only segregated school, and the lessons inspired something within her.

Having spent her recent days learning about people like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth while living in the era of Jim Crow laws, she had also learned about the United States Constitution. She also knew a young man named Jeremiah Reeves had been arrested and convicted of raping a white woman — though he said it was consensual — and was put to death via electrocution in an Alabama prison in 1958.

With all these things running through her head, when Colvin was told by a bus driver to get up and give her seat (in the Colored section no less) to a white woman who didn’t want to stand; she said no. The police came and ordered her off the bus, but she told them that she had paid her fare and it was her Constitutional right to sit where she was.

The police officers decided she needed a little more persuading, and each one grabbed one of her arms and yanked her off of the bus and into one of their patrol cars.

Why Isn’t Claudette Famous?

As Ms. Colvin later recalled it, according to an article on the National Public Radio (NPR) website, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and similar groups believed Rosa Parks would make a better face for their movement. She was an adult, had the right hair, and looked like a middle-class woman. It is unclear if she was trying to imply that those factors would make her a more sympathetic figure in the eyes of the white community of the era.

Now, in 2021, Judge Calvin Williams of Montgomery performed a service for her with a grateful heart by expunging all incidents from her juvenile arrest record.

It’s hard to argue that the names and faces associated with the civil rights movement are more important than the successes it spawned. But, it’s nice to look back and give some credit where credit is due.

Copyright 2021,