1944 October 18

Irene Morgan Convicted of Integrating Virginia Bus; Inspires Later Freedom Rides


Irene Morgan, an African-American woman, was convicted on this day of refusing to give up her seat on a segregated Trailways Bus in Virginia. On June 3, 1946, in an appeal of her conviction, the Supreme Court declared the Virginia law on segregated buses unconstitutional, in Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia. 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.

Nonetheless, interstate bus travel remained racially segregated in practice. Morgan’s case inspired two freedom rides. The first, the Journey of Reconciliation, began on April 9, 1947, and challenged segregated bus travel in the Upper South. The second and more famous was the Freedom Ride that began on May 4, 1961, which challenged segregation in the Deep South, encountered extreme violence, and is one of the iconic events in the history of the civil rights movement.

Read about Morgan’s challenge: Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2006)

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

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