August 12, 2007
Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, a black woman whose refusal to give up her bus seat to white passengers triggered a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision more than a decade before Rosa Parks gained recognition for doing the same, has died. She was 90.
Kirkaldy died Friday at her daughter's home, said Fred Carter, director of Carter Funeral Home in Newport News.
Kirkaldy, born Irene Morgan in Baltimore in 1917, was arrested in 1944 for refusing to give up her seat on a Greyhound bus heading from Gloucester to Baltimore, and for resisting arrest. Her case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by an NAACP lawyer named Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first black justice on the high court. The case resulted in a 1946 decision striking down Jim Crow segregation in interstate transportation.
At the time, the case received little attention, but it paved the way for Parks' famous stand on a local bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955.
Kirkaldy also inspired the first Freedom Ride in 1947, when 16 civil rights activists rode buses and trains through the South to test the law enunciated in her Supreme Court case.
In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian honor in the United States.
Kirkaldy was not in search of fame or notoriety, friends and family members said.
"She really didn't think that she was such an extraordinary person," said Kirkaldy's granddaughter, Janine Bacquie. "She felt she had to do what was right. She just wanted to live her life and love her family."