She [didn’t] see herself as a hero. She saw something that had to be done, and she rushed in, like all heroes.”
Irene’s daughter, Brenda Bacquie
Eleven years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Irene Morgan refused to give up her seat on bus on July 16, 1944. Irene boarded a Greyhound bus to return home to Baltimore. The bus became crowded and the driver ordered Irene to give up her seat. When she refused, the driver drove to the nearest jailhouse where Irene was placed under arrest, but she did not go down without a fight.
He put his hand on me to arrest me, so I took my foot and kicked him,” she stated, “He was blue and purple and turned all colors. I started to bite him, but he looked dirty, so I couldn’t bite him. So all I could do was claw and tear his clothes.”
She agreed to plead guilty to resisting arrest, yet she would not plead guilty to violating the laws of Virginia pertaining to segregation. Irene lost the case, but again she refused to go down without a fight. She appealed to the NAACP. The NAACP and Thurgood Marshall presented the case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virigina, which became a landmark decision for civil rights. On June 3, 1946, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation violated the Constitution’s protection of interstate commerce, yet the South refused to enforce the court’s ruling. Activist rode buses throughout the South calling themselves the Journey of Reconciliation. Their rally song, “You Don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow”, included the following line, “Get on the bus, sit anyplace, ‘Cause Irene Morgan won her case.’
Irene was honored by President Clinton with the Presidential Citizens Medal. It stated,
When Irene Morgan boarded a bus for Baltimore in the summer of 1944, she took the first step on a journey that would change America forever.”
Now, just to get things straight, I am not in any way, shape, or form discrediting the actions of Rosa Parks. What both women did were courageous regardless of who refused to move from their seats first. What matters is that they took a stand for what was right and refused to be removed. There are many individuals who said no when told to be move elsewhere. Their stories are a few among many. I have chosen Irene Morgan for the mere fact that I have never heard her name in history books or in any documentary. I want people to know what she did in order for her story to be heard and shared.
Next post, I will begin her ancestry story.
Until the next post.