Guest Author - Toni Collinson
Irene Morgan was an important yet largely unknown figure of American civil rights. She was a mother of two living in Gloucester County, Virginia. In July 1944, she was riding on a bus in the section for ‘colored people’. As she was unwell, she refused to move when asked to by a white couple who had boarded. Because of this simple action, she went from being a law-abiding mother of two, to a criminal in the eyes of the law. The sheriff was contacted to sort out the situation.
Morgan waited for the sheriff to arrive. When he attempted to arrest her, she fought the arrest, even kicking him the groin and scratching him. After being arrested and jailed, she was charged with resisting arrest and violating the segregation laws of Virginia.
A $100 fine was issued for resisting arrest, which Morgan agreed to pay. However, when a $10 fine was issued for violating the segregation laws of Virginia Morgan refused, arguing that it was unlawful to segregate interstate travel. Not only did Morgan refuse to pay, she requested help from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and ultimately took her case all the way to the US Supreme Court. On June 3, 1946, Irene Morgan was finally vindicated after the US Supreme court found it unlawful to segregate interstate travel. It took 2 long years after being unjustly arrested before Morgan finally received justice.
Even though the ruling was made that segregating interstate travel was unlawful, the Southern States still refused to abide by the ruling, arresting or ejecting African-American customers who did not follow the segregation rules. It was 11 long years before the American Civil Rights Movement was in full force, ultimately ending bus segregation.
Irene Morgan, in the simple action of refusing to give up her bus seat, helped pave the way for further non-violent protest in years to come. She saw that what was happening was unjust, and made a brave move by standing up to help future generations avoid this type of treatment. She truly was a civil rights hero, and was awarded the ‘Presidential Citizens Medal’ in 2001 by President Bill Clinton.
Irene Morgan passed away on August 10, 2007 at the age of 90. Her contribution to society has left a large mark, showing people that they have the ability to overcome many unjust obstacles that they may face in the present and future. Morgan has given society an important lesson that we must not forget.