1944 July 6

Irene Morgan Arrested for Challenging Segregation on Interstate Buses: Supreme Court Case Lies Ahead


Irene Morgan was an African-American woman who boarded a Greyhound bus in Virginia bound for Baltimore, Maryland. In Saluda, Virginia, on this day she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat in the white section of the bus, in violation of the state’s Jim Crow laws. With William H. Hastie (who became a noted African-American attorney and judge, see March 26, 1937) as her attorney, she took her case to the Supreme Court. In Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, on June 3, 1946, the Court ruled 6–1 that the Virginia law segregating buses was unconstitutional, in violation of the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Notably, the Court did not base the decision on the Fourteenth Amendment, a ruling that would have had much broader implications. 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.

The decision prompted the first freedom ride, officially the Journey of Reconciliation that began on April 9, 1947, and challenged segregation in interstate bus travel in the states of the Upper South. That event provided a model for the famous 1961 Freedom Ride that began on May 4, 1961, and was one of the iconic events of the civil rights movement.

Read about Irene Morgan: Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders (2006)

Learn more about Irene Morgan Kirkaldy at the Maryland Hall of Fame:

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