This Day (Freedom Riding Edition)

Published:June 3, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the famous Freedom Riders, a small group of activists who boarded a bus in Washington, D.C., and rode it through the Deep South to protest segregation. As a recent NPR News report put it:

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.

IMAGE: Freedom Riders from 1961