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Rosa Parks rightfully holds a place in history for resisting the racist Jim Crow laws in Alabama when she refused to give up her seat to a white person in 1955. However, Irene Morgan Kirkaldy deserves just as much praise for her actions eleven years prior to Parks’ more famous stand.

Irene Morgan, as she was known at the time, was heading back to her Baltimore home in July 1944 after visiting her mother in Virginia. While in the state, she was asked to give up her seat to a white woman. Morgan refused to do so and when a sheriff’s deputy came to arrest her, she reportedly fought and kicked the officer. In a retelling of the moment, Morgan said she was set to bite the officer but said he appeared dirty.

She pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and paid a $100 fine but would not pay a $10 fine for violating Virginia’s bus segregation law. The mother of two fought the charges in the state’s highest court. With the help of the NAACP and attorneys William Hastie and Thurgood Marshall, the case was sent to the U.S. Supreme Court for an appeal.

The legal team was able to argue that Morgan’s arrest violate a little-known clause in the U.S. Constitution regarding the transport of commerce across state lines. The case was ruled in Morgan’s favor on June 3, 1946, although Southern states though the change wasn’t enforced on any real level. However, Morgan’s case helped lay the groundwork for the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and similar paths of peaceful resistance employed by the SCLC and other like-minded groups.

Morgan, known by many in the Seventh-Day Adventist community, remarried Stanley Kirkaldy and relocated to Long Island, New York. At 68, she earned a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University, and at 73, she received a master’s degree from Queens College.

Morgan Kirkaldy passed in 2007.

PHOTO: Public Domain

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