This Day (Turning All Colors Edition)

Published:June 3, 2015 by Brendan Wolfe

Front page of Washington Afro American announcing Supreme Court decision in Morgan v. Virginia (1946)

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.


1 Comment on “This Day (Turning All Colors Edition)”

  1. Hasana Matthews

    This story reminded me of the dirty looks that my mother was given (she was caucasian) carrying myself and my younger sister on a city bus (we are multi-racial). The life my mother (caucasian) endured because of her love for my father (African-American) not only saddened me but it made me very proud to be who I am today. I am thankful for the strong and VERY courageous African-American women of those times as it is because of them that I was able to ride the bus with my mother and not experience any problems of the same. However, I would assure anyone, had my mother been in the same predicament, she not only would have kneed the man in his genitals but she would have bit him whether he was dirt looking or not (yes, that’s my mom and I am so proud of her). I always try to explain to individuals that there is nothing a momma bear wouldn’t do for her cubs – my mother was living proof as she had four beautiful multi-racial children and we survived most of the storms.

    NOW if we can only make public transportation a more enjoyable experience for everyone in the world – not just based on race but based on all variables in life. The economy would do so much better than it has in decades! Great article/read!

    Very Respectfully,

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