Morgan v. Virginia Historical Marker
General Puller Highway and New Street
This historical marker commemorates an important court case in the history of the civil rights movement.
Irene Morgan Kirkaldy
Irene Morgan near the time of her arrest and court challenge.
Backstory and Context
With the guidance of her lawyer, Spottswood Robinson III, Irene decided to plead guilty to resisting arrest, however she plead not guilty to violating the Virginia segregation law. Spottswood argued that the segregation law violated the interstate commerce clause of the United States constitution. They lost the case and Morgan was fined $10, however the case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court by Thurgood Marshall, a lawyer with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The landmark decision on June 3, 1946 struck down Jim Crow segregation laws involving interstate transportation. Stating that segregation did in fact violate the Constitution's protection of interstate commerce. Many areas in the South refused to enforce the ruling, which led to a group of civil rights activist testing the ruling in 1947 with the support of the Congress of Racial Equality. In 1961, following another court decision that outlawed segregation in bus terminals and other facilities used in interstate travel, several hundred activists once again tested the court decision by demanding equal service in buses and trains across the United States. The 1961 activists would become known as Freedom Riders.
Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia was an important landmark in the Civil Rights movement and a spark for future court rulings. Irene is quoted saying "I didn't do anything wrong. I'd paid for my seat. I was sitting where I was supposed to." In 1955 Rosa Parks followed her example in Montgomery, Alabama in what would become widely and historically known. Irene was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for her actions that day, although it is important to note that this medal and recognition came almost half a century later.
Before Rosa Parks, There Was Irene Morgan on a Virginia Bus / Not getting up for white couple led to high court. SFGate. August 4, 2000. http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Before-Rosa-Parks-There-Was-Irene-Morgan-on-a-2745586.php.
Woo, Elaine. Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, 90; won early battle against bus laws. Los Angeles Times. August 14, 2007. http://articles.latimes.com/2007/aug/14/local/me-kirkaldy14.