Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, 90, Rights Pioneer, Dies

NY Times Obituary:

Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, whose defiance of white supremacy while traveling through the Upper South in the summer of 1944 led to a Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated seating on interstate bus lines, died Friday in Hayes, Va. She was 90.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, said her granddaughter Janine Bacquie.

Irene Morgan’s fight against segregation took place a decade before the modern civil rights movement changed America. Taken up by the N.A.A.C.P. and argued before the Supreme Court by Thurgood Marshall, later the court’s first black justice, it proved a forerunner to Rosa Parks’s storied refusal to yield her seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala.

Mrs. Morgan, a worker in a plant that made World War II bombers and the mother of two small children, was returning to her home in Baltimore aboard a Greyhound bus in July 1944 after a visit to her mother in Gloucester County, Va.

When the bus grew crowded, the driver told her to give her seat to a white person. Mrs. Morgan refused, and when a sheriff’s deputy tried to take her off the bus in Saluda, Va., she resisted.

“He put his hand on me to arrest me, so I took my foot and kicked him,” she recalled in “You Don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow!” a 1995 public television documentary. “He was blue and purple and turned all colors. I started to bite him, but he looked dirty, so I couldn’t bite him. So all I could do was claw and tear his clothes.”

Mrs. Morgan was arrested and pleaded guilty the next October to resisting arrest, paying a $100 fine. But she refused to pay a $10 fine for violating a Virginia law requiring segregated seating in public transportation.

Irene Morgan’s Wikipedia entry.

How Did Elvis Get Turned Into a Racist?

I think I missed the “Elvis is a racist” memo.

It was what he believed, it was what his music had stood for from the start: the breakdown of barriers, both musical and racial. This is not, unfortunately, how it is always perceived 30 years after his death, the anniversary of which is on Thursday. When the singer Mary J. Blige expressed her reservations about performing one of his signature songs, she only gave voice to a view common in the African-American community. “I prayed about it,” she said, “because I know Elvis was a racist.”

And yet, as the legendary Billboard editor Paul Ackerman, a devotee of English Romantic poetry as well as rock ’n’ roll, never tired of pointing out, the music represented not just an amalgam of America’s folk traditions (blues, gospel, country) but a bold restatement of an egalitarian ideal. “In one aspect of America’s cultural life,” Ackerman wrote in 1958, “integration has already taken place.”

It was due to rock ’n’ roll, he emphasized, that groundbreaking artists like Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, who would only recently have been confined to the “race” market, had acquired a broad-based pop following, while the music itself blossomed neither as a regional nor a racial phenomenon but as a joyful new synthesis “rich with Negro and hillbilly lore.”

No one could have embraced Paul Ackerman’s formulation more forcefully (or more fully) than Elvis Presley.