July in Gloucester county, Virginia, 1944, 27- years- old Irene Morgan boarded an interstate bus to Baltimore. The mother of two was on her way to a check up, having recently suffered a miscarriage. She paid her Us$5 fare and sat at the back where black passengers were confined under segregation laws.
But when the driver asked her and another passenger to give up their seats for a young white couple, Morgan refused. She was arrested – but not before putting up a fight with deputy sheriff. Morgan was jailed for resisting arrest and violating Virginia’s segregation law.
In 1946 her case was heard and the court delivered a landmark ruling abolishing segregated interstate transportation. Morgan’s lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, Special Counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, claimed that segregation on interstate travel threatened free movement across state lines and contravened the interstate commerce clause of the US constitution.
In 1960, the Supreme Court decided to apply the Morgan ruling to interstate bus terminals.
Morgan, who had gained a degree in communications from New York’s St John’s University in 1985, aged 68, and a master’s from Queen’s College when she was 73, finally came to public attention in 1995 when she feature in a documentary about civil rights. Gloucester County honoured her during its 350th anniversary celebration in 2000 and Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001. She died in 2007 aged 90.