On this day 150 years ago, Confederate general Robert E. Lee‘s Army of Northern Virginia, numbering approximately 75,000 confident, veteran soldiers, began to slowly shift west from its positions around Fredericksburg. The idea was to move north into Pennsylvania, maybe capture the state capital and so embarrass the Lincoln administration. Any kind of victory on Northern soil, meanwhile, might bring a favorable end to the war.
And so began the Gettysburg Campaign.
It wasn’t exactly a case of freedom on the move (as Colonel William S. Christian happily attested). A better example of that would have been fifty-one years ago on this day, when the famous Freedom Riders boarded a bus in Washington, D.C., and rode it through the Deep South to protest segregation. As an NPR News report put it last year:
By 1961 the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that segregating interstate travel facilities like buses and bus terminals was unconstitutional. But most places in the South continued to violate the law. So a group of young people, mainly college and university students, decided to draw attention to it.
Actually, the Supreme Court had ruled on the issue of segregating interstate travel facilities all the way back in 1946—on this day in 1946, in fact—in the case of Morgan v. Virginia. By a vote of 7-to-1 (Justice Robert H. Jackson was busy at Nuremberg) the Court ruled it unconstitutional that two years earlier, on a crowded Greyhound bus bound for Baltimore, twenty-seven-year-old Irene Morgan was arrested for taking an open seat three rows from the back—but still in front of some white passengers. She later was tried, convicted, and fined ten dollars, which she refused to pay.
Irene Morgan, in other words, was the original Freedom Rider.
PS: While we’re at it, a happy birthday to Jefferson Davis, who was Kentucky born, and who, on this day in 1881, published The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, his two-volume defense of himself against people in the habit of charging, “Pooh, he stinks in my nostrils,” etc.
Freedom Riders from 1863; Freedom Riders from 1961