Wednesday, August 7

The Back of the Bus

Image = Wikipedia
By Grant Davies

On this day (-23), - that's July 16th for you math wizards - in 1944, an African American lady was riding a bus. A white couple boarded along the way and found no seat available. The friendly bus driver offered the black lady's seat to the white people. However the black lady, who was seated in the "colored" section near the back of the bus refused to move. She explained, "this is my seat, why should I?" The rest is, as we say, history.

As to the bus driver, this was a problem he hadn't encountered before. Not knowing what else to do, and sizing up the lady's attitude (which was decidedly uncooperative), he pulled over when he reached the town and called the sheriff.

The sheriff boarded the bus and issued the lady a warrant, which she immediately tore up and threw out the window. So he made a painful decision, he grabbed her. Naturally, she did what anyone would do. She kicked him in the Brussels sprouts.

That act can get you locked up in Saluda, Virginia, and that's precisely what happened to Irene Morgan on that day.

Irene Morgan? Saluda, Virginia? Wait..we're not talking about Rosa Parks? Umm, no we are not. History had to wait eleven more years for Rosa to do the same thing (minus the kick in the sprouts) in Montgomery, Alabama.

There were others who did substantially the same thing before Irene. Exactly ninety years to the day, July 16, 1854, a black schoolteacher was assaulted by a carriage driver in Manhattan for trying to ride to church in his conveyance. But she had a good lawyer, a guy named Chester A. Arthur (who later went on to ruin his career by becoming President of the USA) who got a judge to rule that "Colored persons if sober, well behaved, and free from disease" had the same rights as other people to ride. Just in New York, though. Because as it turns out he was a state judge, not a federal judge. Oh well, ya take what ya can get sometimes.

There were others too, but smart lawyers wait for the right case to take to the Supreme Court and Rosa Parks was that case. So she went down in the history most people know.

But readers of this blog know better, or at least more. And there is a lot more to know, too. Irene's case made history by winning a judgement based on the "commerce clause" of the Constitution. That victory set the stage for many more afterward.

And in a different time she might well have become one of the great kickers in NFL history, too. After all, how many people have that kind of foot/eye coordination when being rushed by some big goons?

The inspiration, and virtually all of the information found in this story was gleaned from the excellent book, "Here is Where", by Andrew Carroll. 

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