Irene MorganNovember 6, 2006
The story of Irene Morgan has been told before—most comprehensively for an Adventist audience here. However, it is good to remind ourselves periodically of our history.
“Eleven years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, a young woman named Irene Morgan rejected that same demand on an interstate bus headed to Maryland from Gloucester, Virginia. Recovering from surgery and already sitting far in the back, she defied the driver’s order to surrender her seat to a white couple. Like Parks, Morgan was arrested and jailed. But her action caught the attention of lawyers from the NAACP, led by Thurgood Marshall, and in two years her case reached the Supreme Court.
Though the lawyers fervently believed that Jim Crow – the curious pseudonym for racial segregation – was unjust, they recognized the practice was still the law of the land, upheld by the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. Instead of seeking a judgment on humanitarian grounds or the equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, they made the seemingly arcane argument that segregation in interstate travel violated the Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause.
On June 3, 1946, that strategy paid off. In Irene Morgan v. Virginia, the court ruled that segregation in interstate travel was indeed unconstitutional as “an undue burden on commerce.” But though that the decision was now law, the southern states refused to enforce it, and Jim Crow continued as the way of life in the South. Yet there were those determined to do something about it.”
Extract taken from: http://www.robinwashington.com/jimcrow/journey.html
Interestingly this account—and most others—leaves out the fact that Irene Morgan was a Seventh-day Adventist.
Washington Post article
A compendium of newspaper accounts
You Don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow! documentary website.
Presidential Citizens Medal website
You can read a copy of the US Supreme Court’s decision here.
Listen to Bayard Rustin sing “You don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow” here. Rustin co-wrote the song with George Houser. The song refers to Irene Morgan’s win in court on June 3, 1946, as the impetus for the first Freedom Ride in April 1947.
Known as the Journey of Reconciliation, riders engaged in direct protest by intentionally violating the segregated seating patterns on Southern buses and trains. Along the way, they were beaten, arrested and fined. Further information on the Freedom Ride can be found here & here.
Irene Morgan changed the world. Let us not forget one Seventh-day Adventist woman who sat down (!) for what she believed in.