I’m sure many of us are familiar with the story of Rosa Parks, the brave woman who refused to give up her seat to a white man in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, but how many of you have heard of Irene Kirkaldy?
Irene Kirkaldy was traveling on a Greyhound bus from Gloucester, Virginia to Baltimore , Maryland in 1944. She had recently suffered a miscarriage and had gone to Virginia for a doctor’s appointment. She settled into the rear of the greyhound bus and hoped to have a quiet ride back to Baltimore where she would see her husband. Jim Crow laws required that African-Americans in the south (including Maryland) be seated in the back of the bus and give up their seats to any white patrons.
Shortly into the trip, a white couple boarded the overcrowded bus and the bus driver demanded that Kirkaldy and her seatmate give up theirs seats to the whites, Kirkaldy refused.
“I refused to give up my seat because I had my ticket. I paid my fare and I didn’t feel that it was right for him to tell me that I would have to get up and give my seat for another person who had just gotten on the bus.”
The bus driver drove to a local jailhouse, but when the police officer came and issues a warrant for Kirkaldy’s arrest, she tore up the warrant and threw it out of the window. The police officer attempted to drag Kirkaldy off the bus and manhandled her, but Kirkaldy fought back. Despite her efforts, she was taken to the local jailhouse where she notified her mother who posted a steep $500.00 bail. When Kirkaldy went to trial she was charged with resisting arrest and violating Virginia segregation laws, she pled guilty to resisting arrest, but not to violating segregation.
When the NAACP took her case to the supreme court it became an example of the injustice of imposing segregation on Interstate travel and commerce, this was the first civil rights case brought before the court that challenged segregation and Jim Crow on public transportation.
The court ruled in favor of Kirkaldy 6-1 and on June 6, 1946, Morgan V. Virginia became a landmark. Unfortunately, the law that made it unconstitutional to segregate interstate travel was not enforced, but it was a huge stepping stone that would lead to more advances in the civil rights movement in later years.
All this occurred before the Freedom Rides and before Rosa Parks, Irene Kirkaldy’s decision not to conform to the status quo changed history and brought African-Americans closer to equality.
Irene Morgan Kirkaldy passed away in August 10, 2007