Rosa Parks is widely renowned for her immense contribution in civil rights. Her activism towards equality between the whites and the ‘colored’ African-American in the United States is undoubted. Her activism is strewn all over for all to appreciate.
Her iconic exploits were very instrumental in the Montgomery bus boycott and the movements that followed. Parks is famed for her mobilization skills that saw hoards of African-American citizens take up a spirited fight to reform the American race relations in the public sector. The United States Congress honored Parks as the ‘first lady of civil rights’ and ‘mother of the freedom movement’. Sadly, in the fight against racism, ten years before, lies the name Irene Kirklady.
It is difficult to dismiss that Parks’ prominence in civil rights activism has been given wider historical coverage and acclaim as compared to the lady who ‘inspired her’. The Adventist review reports that, Kirklady is a freedom fighter a nation nearly forgot and whose contribution to the struggle has been reduced to a mere footnote or omitted in the pantheon of civil rights heroes . Irene Kirklady single-handedly took up a fight against racial segregation earlier and ignited the spark that molded the flame in Rosa Parks. In all honesty, Irene Kirklady took up against racism when it was unfashionable to do so. This article does not seek to pit the two doyens of civil rights against either, but to illustrate why it can stand that, Irene Kirklady ‘inspired’ Rosa Parks.
Borrowing a leaf from Kirklady
Irene Kirklday , also known as Irene Morgan was a devoted table banger for racial equality in the United States of America. She is known for her courageous exploits in the anti-racist campaigns that took shape in America during the 20th century. Irene rose to stardom when she vehemently and pro-actively campaigned against what she termed a sense of “white supremacy complexes”.
Irene’s struggle was that of the empowerment of men and women of color to assume the same footing as the white counterparts. As a resident from Baltimore, Maryland, Kirklady was keenly aware of the inequalities that pervaded her community and the rest of the U.S. at large.
During her days, there was rampant class and racial discrimination so much that, citizens of color where overtly and covertly refrained from mixing and mingling with whites in public areas. Amongst an array of areas where interaction was prohibited were the bus terminals, trains and buses. The public transport system was tailor made to facilitate the institution of racism. Even State laws at the time were couched in a manner that promoted racist behavior. It is during one of those racist machinations that, Irene Kirklady sought to challenge the status quo, stamping her authority that she is equally entitled to those privileges that the white American enjoyed. This became the Virginia bus incident of 1944 on the calendar of groundbreaking events that ignited the spark for African-American revolution against racial segregation.
The Virginia Greyhound interstate bus fracas
In one of her frequent journeys using public transport, Irene Kirklady deliberately refused to give up a seat which was purported to be a haven for the whites only. The driver of the bus in which she boarded described the seat as part of the “white only” section.
Since such conduct was punishable according to the Federal laws , Kirklady was apprehended by the State police for refusing arrest by a sheriff acting on the bus driver’s instruction. Irene went on to be trialed for flouting federal law and regulations governing public transport and facilities. This later became the classic case of Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, which on appeal, rendered unconstitutional, the racist laws that applied on the utilization of public facilities. In this racist provoking precedence, the then Irene Morgan was represented by William H. Hastie the first African American to serve as Governor of United States Virgin Islands as a federal judge.
On the Appeal bench sat Thurgood Marshall, the first ever African-American Supreme Court Justice in an American judicial makeup. During the trial session, Irene Kirklady remarkably stressed the idea that, “If something happens to you which is wrong, the best thing to do is to have it corrected in the best way you can”. While the decision of the Court faced passive resistance in a number of States, the judgment created an ample precedence to challenge the legality of State laws that fanned the institution of race. The Freedom Riders efforts of 1961 were one of the campaigns serving as a response to noncompliance with the Morgan judgment in the Deep South States.
The boldness of Kirklady
During the World War II, Irene Morgan, then married to Sherwood Morgan Snr, played a significant role. She put in her weight to the war stint whilst working at Glen Martin, an air manufacturer in Baltimore. There, she occupied a position on the production line, establishing herself as one of the brilliant minds that operated in the taskforce. Irene contributed to the production of the Marauder B-26 which became the talk of World War II aircrafts having unusual high speeds which were sometimes advantageous in the battlefields. It is for this courageous background of hers that she stands as an icon against racism.
Her post-trial influence
Kirlklady’s influence was felt soon after her acquittal when 16 activists went on to board various interstate buses in a mission to assess the enforcement of the Morgan judgment. Irene’s iconic personality therefore cuts across bravery and passion for civil and political rights. Put precisely, Kirklady was in it for equality and she was a trendsetter and arguably, a role model to Rosa Park. Kirklady died at 90, in the year 2007 having been only conferred a Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton in 2001. Amongst Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, Kirklday’s name was inducted in 2010. As a woman of great personal conviction, Kirklady diplomatically turned down an honorary degree from the Howard University stating that, “I didn’t earn it”. Even in death, she stands in a league of her own as the spark that ignited the revolutionary flame against racial bigotry.