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Irene Morgan Kirkaldy: Another Rosa Parks Story

Irene Morgan, later Kirkaldy, was another important predecessor to Rosa Parks in the fight to end segregation in the U.S.

In 1944, she was arrested and jailed for refusing to surrender her seat on a Greyhound bus to a white person. The bus driver stopped in Middlesex County, Va. and promptly summoned the sheriff, who attempted to arrest her. She tore up the arrest warrant, kicked the sheriff in the groin and fought the deputy who attempted to drag her off of the bus.

At first being convicted of violating the segregation laws, Ms. Morgan appealed her case in the state courts. After exhausting appeals there, she and her lawyers appealed on constitutional grounds all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices agreed to hear her case in 1946. Argued by William H. Hastie, former governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands who later became a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and co-counseled with Thurgood Marshall. They won the case for her when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that Virginia's state law enforcing segregation on interstate buses was illegal.

Her legal team used an innovative strategy to brief and argue the case. Instead of relying on the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, they decided to show that segregation on interstate travel violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Morgan's case inspired the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation when 16 activists from the Congress of Racial Equality rode on interstate buses through parts of the South to test the enforcement of the Supreme Court's ruling.