1961 September 22

ICC Bans Segregation in Interstate Travel Facilities


The ruling by the Interstate Commerce Commission on this day was a belated response to the Freedom Rides (May 4, 1961), which challenged racial segregation in bus travel in the South earlier in the year. The ruling covered facilities, such as bus stations and restaurants, rather than just actual travel itself, and would take effect in five weeks, on the first day of November 1961.

The struggle to end racial discrimination in interstate travel was a long one. On June 3, 1946, in Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Virginia state law requiring segregated bus travel. The Court, however, ruled that the law was unconstitutional under the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution, and not the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Nonetheless, the decision was an important step for the Court on the road that led to Brown v. Board of Education, declaring segregated schools unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause on May 17, 1954.

Irene Morgan’s victory inspired the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, the first freedom ride, which began on April 9, 1947, and which challenged segregated bus travel in the states of the Upper South. The 1950 Supreme Court decision in Henderson v. United States, decided on June 5, 1950, was an important early civil rights case that desegregated only railway dining cars.

And finally, the 1961 Freedom Ride (May 4, 1961) challenging segregated buses in the sought was one of the iconic events of the civil rights movement.

Watch a documentary on the Freedom Rides crisis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66_kqSG6aHI

Read: Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2006)

Learn more: Hugh Davis Graham, The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Development of National Policy, 1960 – 1972 (1990)

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