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NAACP seeks to honor civil rights leader

Click on the image above to watch an audio slideshow of the celebration.
Local African American leaders have proposed that civil rights pioneer Irene Morgan be memorialized with a highway marker in Saluda near the site where she was arrested in 1944 for failing to move to the “colored” section at the back of a bus.

Morgan was convicted in Middlesex General District Court of violating a state statute requiring segregation of the races on all public vehicles, and was fined $10 for the misdemeanor. Morgan was traveling from her mother’s home at Hayes Store in Gloucester, where she had been recovering from surgery, to Baltimore, Md.

Her case was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by a team of NAACP attorneys.

In September 1946, the nation’s high court ruled that Virginia’s segregation law could not apply to “interstate” public vehicles or passengers that were traveling across state lines.

“We should honor one of our greatest, local civil rights pioneers,” said Duane Ward, president of the Middlesex Chapter of the NAACP. “Irene Morgan decided to invoke her civil right to be treated as an equal. She requested the basic need of a seat on a bus, but [also] expressed a strong desire for her basic rights as an American citizen.”

Duane Ward, president of the Middlesex Chapter of the NAACP, presents a 1946 photo of a gathering to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court victory for Irene Morgan. Scroll down for an audio slideshow.
The historic marker was proposed on Saturday, Feb. 28, during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) at Lebanon Worship Center near Saluda.

During his address, featured speaker Rev. Dr. Fred Carter, pastor of Shepherdsville Baptist Church at Ark in Gloucester, proposed a highway marker memorializing Morgan and said her portrait and a plaque should also be placed in the Historic Middlesex Courthouse.

“This congregation and all other good people who know the immense value of what occurred within walking distance of where we sit should insist that a Virginia Historical Highway Marker be placed at the corner where she was arrested, and the place that she was tried. 

“We should offer the County of Middlesex the honor of having a plaque placed on the walls of the courthouse memorializing her pivotal contribution to a new day, and a new sense of justice and harmony in Virginia and the nation. Irene Morgan should be commended by all of the citizens of Middlesex working together in harmony.”

Morgan’s landmark decision pre-dated the more-famous case of Rosa Parks, who in 1955 refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. A young Martin Luther King Jr. helped organize a bus boycott in support of Parks.

Parks’ case resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down segregation on public transportation within state lines.

Morgan’s case stopped segregation of passengers who were traveling between states.

The four attorneys who argued Morgan’s case included Spottswood Robinson, who successfully argued against segregation in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. Robinson would become the first African American to serve as Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Circuit Court. The other attorneys were Bill Hastie, Oliver Hill and Thurgood Marshall, who was the first African American to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

The NAACP was founded on February 12, 1909 in Springfield, Illinois, “partly in response to the continuing horrific practice of lynching and the 1908 race riot in Springfield,” states the NAACP website.

At Saturday’s celebration, Dr. Alvin C. Lomax, who taught at St. Clare Walker High School from 1955 to 1961, reflected on the progress that has been made in civil rights. “I’m glad to see people are still interested in improving the quality of life for others,” he said.

posted 03.04.2009

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