On this day in 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Irene Morgan, who—in one of those classic but still largely unknown moments in civil rights history—refused to move to the back of the bus. In this case it was an interstate Greyhound bus, and the Supreme Court ruled only that segregation on interstate public transportation was unconstitutional. That left room for Rosa Parks a few years later.
Our entry has been completely revised and expanded in the last year or so and includes plenty of legal background and primary sources, such as the court’s ruling and the Virginia law it struck down. My favorite part, however, is the description of Morgan’s actual actions, which, unlike Parks’, were not planned. They were not designed to fit some larger movement strategy. Morgan was not trying to bring a good case and herself be a good defendant. She was just being herself.
Oh, was she!
When asked by a bus driver to move to the back, our entry notes, “Morgan failed to comply.”
“I refused to move,” she told an interviewer years later. “And that’s when he [the bus driver] got off the bus, got the sheriff, and the sheriff said, ‘I’m going to arrest you.’ And I said, That’s perfectly all right.” When the sheriff produced a warrant, Morgan suggested that it could be no such thing; he didn’t even know her name. “So I just took it and tore it up and just threw it out the window,” she said. “So then he put his hands on me, you know, to arrest me.” She kicked him in the genitals. “I started to bite him but he looked dirty, so I couldn’t bite him,” she said, recalling that by then “he was turning all colors.”
Morgan received a Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001 from President Bill Clinton and the next year the Oliver W. Hill Freedom Fighter Award (named, of course, for this man).
See Morgan talk about that day here.