Irene Morgan-Kirkaldy

Quick Look at Morgan-Kirkaldy

We've all heard of Rosa Parks, and some of us have even heard of Claudette Colvin, but Irene Amos Morgan-Kirkaldy was truly the first woman to refuse to give up her seat for a White passenger on a bus, and she laid the foundation for the people to come after her.

Early Life

Irene Amos Morgan-Kirkaldy was born on April 9, 1919, in Baltimore Maryland. She was one of eight children to her parents Robert and Ethel Amos. Morgan dropped out of high school during the Great Depression to help her family work. She took a job at an aircraft company, and here, Morgan met a dock worker, Sherwood Morgan. Irene and Sherwood later married and had two children, a son, and a daughter. Later, Morgan went to Gloucester County, Virginia to spend time with her mother after a miscarriage.


On July 16, 1944, Morgan was on her way back to Maryland for a doctor's appointment. She bought a "colored" ticket for a Greyhound bus and after boarding, she headed to the "Colored" section in the back. About 45, minutes into the trip, a White couple boarded the bus, and the bus driver came to the back and told Morgan and the woman sitting next to her to move so that the White couple had a seat. After Morgan refused to give up her seat, the bus driver drove to the next town to have Morgan arrested. When they arrived, Morgan got an arrest warrant from a White officer, which she tore up in his face, and kicked him after he attempted to remove her from the bus with force. Eventually, multiple officers came on and removed her, and she was arrested in Saluda, Virginia. The police officers charged Morgan with violating Virginia's Jim Crow transit laws and resisting arrest. The case was taken to Virginia's Supreme Court, and she pled guilty and paid a $10 fine for her charge of resisting arrest, but she refused to plead guilty for her second charge, violating Virginia's Jim Crow transit laws. In court, Morgan was represented by William H. Hastie and Thurgood Marshall. Unfortunately, she lost this case, so she decided to take it to the Supreme Court, On June 3, 1946, they decided Virginia should not have enforced their state laws on interstate buses. The Supreme Court's ruling made it so that segregation laws were not to be enforced on interstate public transportation. Even after this, many southern states refused to enforce this new law, and as a result, in 1947, a group of African American Civil Rights activists rode trains and buses across states in the South. They called this The Journey of Reconciliation, and while traveling, they sang a rally song that went, "You don't have to ride Jim Crow. Get on the bus, sit anyplace, cause Irene Morgan won her case!" After Morgan and her family moved to New York City, her husband died in 1948. About a year after this, she married Stanley Kirkaldy, a dry-cleaning business owner.


In 1981, Morgan-Kirkaldy won a college scholarship from a radio scholarship. She attended St. Johns University, and in 1985, at 68, she graduated with her bachelor's degree in communications. Later, in 1990, at 72, she earned a Master's degree in urban studies from Queens College.


In 1995, Morgan-Kirkaldy's story was told in an episode of "P.O.V.," and in the year 2000, Gloucester County, Virginia recognized and honored her during their 350th anniversary. she was awarded the Presidential Citizens medal in 2001 by President Bill Clinton. At the age of 90, in 2007, she passed away from Alzheimer's Disease. In 2010, she was posthumously inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.

Morgan Kirkaldy was an extremely brave woman, and she made it possible for many change-makers to come.