Irene Morgan

Irene Morgan

Irene Amos Morgan Kirkaldy (April 9, 1917) was an African-American civil rights activist. More than a decade before Rosa Parks' landmark case, Morgan refused to give up her seat on a Greyhound bus. After her arrest for this act of defiance, Morgan sought NAACP counsel and her case made its way to the United States Supreme Court in Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 328 U.S. 373 (1946). 

In a landmark decision, the Court declared interstate transport racial segregation to be unconstitutional. Morgan’s case inspired the Journey of Reconciliation and paved the way for future civil rights activism, including the Freedom Rides. Morgan died at the age of 90 at her home in Hayes, Virginia from complications with Alzheimer's disease.

The granddaughter of slaves, Irene was born on April 9, 1917 in Baltimore, Maryland to Robert and Ethel Amos. The sixth of nine children in a Seventh-day Adventist family, she had a modest upbringing and worked odd jobs as a teenager to help her family during the destitute times of the Great Depression. After dropping out of high school, Irene married Sherwood Morgan, Sr. and the couple had a son and daughter. For a short time, she worked on the production line for B-26 Maruaders at Glenn L. Martin, an aircraft manufacturer and defense contractor and her husband worked as a dockman. In 1945, the family moved to New York and in 1948, at the age of 32, Sherwood died leaving Irene alone with two young children. About a year later, she married dry-cleaning business-owner Stanley Kirkaldy. Together, the couple ran cleaning and child-care businesses in Queens.

In the 1980s, Irene got to fulfill her lifelong dream when she received a college scholarship upon winning a radio contest. In 1985, at the age of 68, Irene earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from St. John’s University. Five years later in 1990, at the age of 72, she received her master’s degree in urban studies from Queens College.

Irene moved to Virginia in the last years of her life and passed away in her home on August 10, 2007 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.