Eleven years before Rosa Park took her famous seat on that Birmingham bus, Irene Morgan Kirkaldy refused to move, sparking a landmark supreme court case.
One summer morning in 1944 Irene Morgan boarded a Greyhound bus in Gloucester, Va, where she took her seat in the ‘colored’ section and settled in for her four-hour trip to Baltimore, Md. A short period before her trip Morgan suffered a miscarriage and was committed to recovering, not making history. After a few stops Morgan and another African-American passenger seated beside her were told to give up their seats for a white couple who boarded the bus.
After refusing to move, Morgan was arrested, “I can’t see how anybody in the same circumstances could do otherwise, I didn’t do anything wrong. I’d paid for my seat. I was sitting where I was supposed to,” recalled Morgan. Morgan was later convicted in a Middlesex County Circuit Court on October 18, 1944.
Supported by a team of NAACP lawyers that included Thurgood Marshall and Spottswood Robinson III, her case was taken to the Supreme Court and finally appealed in a landmark case which declared state Jim Crow laws requiring segregation in situations involving interstate transportation is illegal.
Morgan’s heroic actions in a time of unspeakable oppression led to the very first Freedom Ride, in which 16 civil rights activists rode buses and trains across the south to test the effects of the Supreme Court decision.
“The decision of June 3, 1946, outlawed segregation in interstate travel, but June the 4th was pretty much the same as June 2,” said Robin Washington, who produced a documentary on the Journey of Reconciliation.
Although overlooked and unhailed, Irene Morgan Kirkaldy represents a true triump in African- American history.