Fighting Jim Crow Before Rosa Parks Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, who refused to give up her seat on a Southern bus more than 10 years before Rosa Parks, has died at the age of 90.
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Fighting Jim Crow Before Rosa Parks

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Fighting Jim Crow Before Rosa Parks

Fighting Jim Crow Before Rosa Parks

Fighting Jim Crow Before Rosa Parks

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Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, who refused to give up her seat on a Southern bus more than 10 years before Rosa Parks, has died at the age of 90.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

And Irene Morgan Kirkaldy has also passed. The name may not ring a bell but if it weren't for Ms. Kirkaldy, the civil rights movement might never have been.

In 1955, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. But that was more than 10 years after Kirkaldy had done the same. She lived in Baltimore with her husband and two young children. She'd gone to visit her mother in Virginia and was coming home on a Greyhound bus. Kirkaldy was sitting in the back, obeying the law. She wanted no trouble. But as a white couple boarded the overcrowded bus, the driver asked her to give up her seat anyway.

Having just suffered a miscarriage, Kirkaldy wasn't feeling well and refused to move. When a sheriff deputy tried to forcibly remove Kirkaldy from the bus, she fought back.

Here she is from a 2000 interview with NPR's Jacki Lyden in WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Ms. IRENE MORGAN KIRKALDY (Civil Rights Pioneer): When he put his hands on me, that is when I kicked him. He was - he had to hovel off the bus because he was in trouble. He got off the bus and then another one came. He said he was the deputy sheriff. So then, he did the same thing. He's going to put his hands on me and try to take me off the bus.

CHIDEYA: Kirkaldy eventually went to jail and paid $100 fine but she refused to pay a separate $10 fine for defying Virginia's Jim Crow laws. Instead, she took her case to court with the help of a young lawyer, Thurgood Marshall. He took the case all the way to the Supreme Court and won. But the resulting ban on segregated interstate busing didn't have much affect on municipal routes, setting the stage for Rosa Parks 10 years later.

Unlike Parks, Kirkaldy had never been an activist. Though her suit won the ire of countless hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, Kirkaldy did not waver.

Ms. KIRKALDY: They'd never frightened me. Nothing ever bothered me as far as I was concerned because I was too busy with my children and my life. And I just moved from that point on.

CHIDEYA: In her later years, Irene Morgan Kirkaldy moved to New York City, where she ran a daycare center and earned a master's degree in urban studies. She was 90-years-old.

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