Originally published Jan. 15, 2005

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Staff Editor

Before Rosa Parks’ definitive act of civil disobedience in 1955, Irene Morgan bucked Jim Crow and, with the help of Thurgood Marshall, took her case to the Supreme Court and won. As a young man in Harlem of the 1940s, Stanley Kirkaldy experienced the golden age of jazz firsthand, and he has had a love affair with the music ever since.

“I heard ‘em all — Yardbird Parker … the Prez , Lady Day,” remembered Kirkaldy, now 80, during a phone conversation from his nursing home in Hempstead, N.Y. However, his love of jazz was overshadowed a few years later when he met the love of his life, Irene Morgan, on a blind date during a sultry summer day in New York in 1949. They were married in October of 1950. But six years before she met Kirkaldy, Morgan had a date with destiny.

In 1944, the 27-year-old widowed mother of two boarded a Greyhound bus in Gloucester, Va., headed north on what was then Route 17, bound for her Baltimore home. She took a seat next to a young mother with an infant, about midway in the “Colored” section, where she was forced to sit by law. But just a few miles down the road, Morgan and her seatmate were ordered to get up to make room for a Whitecouple boarding the bus. Morgan wouldn’t move.

“She was sitting where Negroes at that time were supposed to sit. She paid for her seat. She just thought that wasn’t right she refused to do it,” said Kirkaldy, who celebrated the couple’s 54th wedding anniversary last October.

Kirkaldy says his wife Irene, now 87, has been feeling poorly and “is in seclusion by doctor’s orders.” Morgan didn’t feel well on that humid July morning 60 years ago either: She was still recovering from an illness. Yet, she put up a prodigious fight in defiance of Jim Crow, 11 years before Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery, Ala. bus boycott and the most recent chapter of the American Civil Rights Movement.

After Morgan refused to relinquish her seat, the driver directed the bus to the town of Saluda, stopping outside the jail, where a sheriff’s deputy boarded the bus with a warrant for Morgan’s arrest: She ripped it up and threw it out the window. That act of bold defiance must have embarrassed the deputy and forced him to act at his own peril.

“When I refused to give up my seat, then they said, ‘We’ll have you arrested.’ Well, I said, `That’s perfectly all right’; but when he put his hands on me, well, then that’s when I kicked him,” said Morgan during a television interview in 2001.

That deputy staggered off the bus and another came on and attempted to put his hands on Morgan, but she fought him also. One account claimed the second deputy threatened to hit Morgan with a nightstick, to which she replied, “We’ll whip each other.”

 

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor