July 16th, 1944

Black Woman Arrested in Virginia for Refusing to Give Up Bus Seat

On July 16, 1944, 27-year-old Irene Morgan was traveling by bus from Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland, when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger.

Ms. Morgan, a black woman, purchased a ticket that day in Gloucester, Virginia, and boarded a Greyhound bus, taking a seat in the assigned black section. About thirty minutes after the bus departed, however, Ms. Morgan and the passenger sitting beside her were asked to give up their seats for a white couple who had boarded the bus. When Ms. Morgan refused and advised the passenger beside her to do the same, the bus driver drove to the local jail in Middlesex County, where a deputy sheriff boarded the bus to present Ms. Morgan with a warrant for her arrest.

Under Virginia law at that time, racial segregation was mandatory on state sponsored transportation. However, as Ms. Morgan was traveling on an interstate bus, she was adamant that she not be removed from her seat. Ms. Morgan was physically dragged from the bus, then detained in the Saluda City Jail and convicted of violating the state segregation law.

Ms. Morgan appealed her conviction, and lawyers Thurgood Marshall and William H. Hastle argued her case before the United States Supreme Court in March 1946. Less than three months later, in Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, the Court reversed Ms. Morgan’s conviction and held that state segregation laws were unconstitutional as applied to interstate bus travel.