Irene Morgan

November 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.

To summarize:
“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.
Other accounts:
Washington Post article
A compendium of newspaper accounts
Wikipedia entry
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.

The Association of Adventist Women has chosen its Adventist Women of the Year for 2006. You can read about the awardees–women who also changed their world–here.



  1. Thanks Hobbes,

    That re-telling is good for the soul.

  2. Well done! I particularly appreciated this post on the life of Irene Morgan. We definitely need to emphasize the contributions of women in Adventist history.

  3. […] Hobbes’ Place An Exploration of Adventist History and Culture « Candace Goodbye & Thanks, Irene August 19th, 2007 Johnny’s Cache pointed me towards a recent Adventist Review news article on the death of Irene Morgan Kirkaldy on August 10, 2007. In 1944, Morgan–11 years before Rosa Parks–as a young SDA woman, refused to surrender her seat to a white couple while on an interstate bus. I have previously presented her story in much greater depth here. […]

  4. Hobbes,
    What a great post on a worthy woman!

  5. Thanks for this great piece in Black American History. I recently watched a program where Ms. Morgan described the events of this historical day. What’s not told in this article is how she fought with authorities on this day. She described the events of that day on this program. Thanks again.

  6. hi Irene I so you name and read about you and I thought that probubly no one at my school has herd about you that you would be a good choise and what you did was realy interestin.

  7. i think this is amazing suff

  8. still amazing

  9. hey i read this and its very good….i choose to do mii blk history report on i rene morgan i think shes a wise choice to do your blk history report on…

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