Civil rights attorney Fred Gray has filed a case to expunge the arrest record of civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin — and he’s considering similar efforts to clear the names of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks as well.
Jay Reeves of the Associated Press reported that Gray spoke on behalf of Colvin in Alabama State Court last week, asking a judge to “remove records stemming her from arrest and conviction after she refused to move to the back of a bus in compliance with racial segregation laws in March 1955 in Montgomery.”
Colvin was a 15-year-old student at the time of her arrest. She is now 82.
“My mindset was on freedom,” Colvin said, reflecting on her protest at the time.
According to Reeves, Phillip Ensler, an attorney representing Colvin, said, “he would support a bid to expunge the court records of other activists from the civil rights movement. But Colvin, who was convicted of assaulting an officer during her arrest and declared delinquent, isn’t sure that such an effort would be possible since there was so much injustice for so long.”
“That would take a hundred years, maybe 200 years to go through the court system,” Colvin told the AP. “You could never finish it.”
In addition to his work with Colvin, Gray is also considering similar efforts to help remove 1950-era convictions and arrest records for Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., which remain on the books today in Montgomery.
“Parks, a Black seamstress and activist, was convicted of violating racial segregation laws after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955,” Reeves said. “King, who helped lead the resulting Montgomery Bus Boycott, paid a $500 fine after being convicted in 1956 of violating a law banning boycotts.”
Both Parks and MLK became legends in the Civil Rights Movement, but the courts didn’t look upon them quite as favorably at the original time of their arrests. Parks notably refused to pay her $10 fine while efforts to reverse the conviction of King, who was an up-and-coming pastor at the time, were unsuccessful.
“We might just decide to file a lawsuit on his behalf to have that record expunged,” Gray said, adding that the same action was under consideration for Parks as well.
Reeves reported that Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said that “he would generally support a move to expunge the arrest records of King and Parks, but he’d need to see details of any such request before responding in court.”