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‘Morgan v. Virginia’ marker is dedicated

The new highway marker honoring Irene Morgan was unveiled Saturday by family members at the historic courthouse in Saluda. Above, National NAACP president Benjamin Jealous applauds the unveiling. The Middlesex NAACP and the Middlesex County Museum and Historical Society Inc. sponsored the program. (Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Larry S. Chowning

Several hundred people attended the unveiling of the “Morgan v. Virginia” historical state highway marker last Saturday at the historic Middlesex Courthouse in Saluda.

The marker recognizes Gloucester County native and civil rights pioneer Irene Morgan, who in 1944 refused to give up her seat on a Greyhound bus to a white passenger. The bus was headed from Gloucester to Baltimore.

Morgan’s action resulted in her being arrested by then Middlesex Sheriff Beverley Segar, and she later was found guilty by then Middlesex Judge Catesby Jones.

With the help of state and local NAACP representatives, Morgan eventually successfully appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1946 “that it was unconstitutional to enforce segregation laws on interstate carriers.” This decision “helped set a precedent for later battles the NAACP waged against segregation,” states the marker.

At the two and a half-hour unveiling program, historian Robin Washington told the story that Morgan was already sitting near the back of the bus in the black segregated section when she was asked to move further back to accommodate a white couple.

When she refused, the bus driver called ahead to Saluda, the county seat of Middlesex County, to have the sheriff waiting to arrest her. She fought with the sheriff and had to pay a fine for resisting arrest. However, she refused to pay the fine for not abiding by the Jim Crow law to go further to the back of the bus.

“She traveled down George Washington Memorial Highway and we should never forget how she changed the world and that highway,” Washington said.

Benjamin Jealous, President and CEO of the National NAACP, attended the unveiling and said Morgan inspired an entire generation to stand up for what they believe is right. “She experienced a miscarriage of justice, but she gave birth to a generation who made America what it is supposed to be,” he said.

Janine Bacquie, who represented the Morgan family, said she and others used to say to Morgan, “You took us from the outhouse to the White House.” Now, Bacquie added, “We are standing in her courthouse.”

Bacquie said that Morgan was not a person to seek publicity. She was a quiet lady who cared about her community and the people around her. She fed homeless people whom she would invite into her home. She was a successful businesswoman who ran a maid service business and laundry cleaning business.

“The power of one is very important,” said Bacquie. “She was able to make us all understand that one positive action can change an entire mind set.”

The unveiling dedication was sponsored by the Middlesex Chapter of the NAACP and the Middlesex County Museum and Historical Society Inc.

posted 10.17.2012

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