Honoring Irene Morgan

by Charlie Koenig - Posted on Oct 17, 2012 - 01:59 PM

Photo: Brenda Morgan Bacquie, daughter of civil rights pioneer Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, unveiled the highway marker in front of Saluda’s historic courthouse commemorating  the Supreme Court case that declared segregation on interstate transportation was unconstitutional. Among the dignitaries taking part in Saturday morning’s program was Benjamin Jealous, national president and CEO of the NAACP, at left. Also taking part in the unveiling were numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, cousins and other relatives of the woman who refused to give up her seat on a Greyhound bus. Photo by Charlie Koenig

Brenda Morgan Bacquie, daughter of civil rights pioneer Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, unveiled the highway marker in front of Saluda’s historic courthouse commemorating the Supreme Court case that declared segregation on interstate transportation was unconstitutional. Among the dignitaries taking part in Saturday morning’s program was Benjamin Jealous, national president and CEO of the NAACP, at left. Also taking part in the unveiling were numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, cousins and other relatives of the woman who refused to give up her seat on a Greyhound bus. Photo by Charlie Koenig

The second-floor courtroom of Saluda’s historic courthouse was filled to capacity on Saturday morning, as people came from far and wide to pay tribute to Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, both for the private woman herself and the very public stand she took that forever altered Jim Crow segregation and paved the way for the civil rights victories of the 1950s and ’60s.

The courtroom itself played a big part in the story that was told during the 2½-hour ceremony. In this room that contains plaques and portraits commemorating Middlesex County’s Confederate soldiers, history of a different kind played out some 68 years ago.

It was on this spot in 1944 that a 27-year-old Irene Morgan was found guilty of refusing to give up her seat on a Greyhound bus to a white passenger. With the help of the NAACP, the case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, with that body ruling that segregation on interstate transportation was unconstitutional.

Photo: NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Jealous
 was one of Saturday’s featured  speakers. 
Photo by Charlie Koenig

NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Jealous was one of Saturday’s featured speakers. Photo by Charlie Koenig

Saturday’s ceremony was held to unveil a new state highway marker commemorating the landmark case, and the event attracted a number of dignitaries including Benjamin Jealous, national president and CEO of the NAACP, and Kwame Lillard, president of the African American Cultural Alliance, as well as several other men and women who, like Lillard, traveled on buses throughout the South in 1961 to challenge the southern states’ segregation laws. These Freedom Riders trace their origins and inspiration to Irene Morgan and they were on hand as a show of respect for her courage.