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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
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Morgan V. Virginia (1946)
The Stone Court
In the spring of 1946, Irene Morgan, a black woman, boarded a bus in Virginia to go to Baltimore, Maryland. She was ordered to sit in the back of the bus, as Virginia state law required. She objected, saying that since the bus was an interstate bus, the Virginia law did not apply. Morgan was arrested and fined ten dollars. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP took on the case. They argued that since an 1877 Supreme Court decision ruled that it was illegal for a state to forbid segregation, then it was likewise illegal for a state to require it. The United States Supreme Court agreed: Irene Morgan, boarding a bus going from Virginia to Maryland, was ordered to sit in the back. She objected, saying the Virginia law did not apply to the interstate journey.

"As no state law can reach beyond its own border nor bar transportation of passengers across its boundaries, diverse seating requirements for the races in interstate journeys result. As there is no federal act dealing with the separation of races in interstate transportation, we must decide the validity of this Virginia statute on the challenge that it interferes with commerce, as a matter of balance between the exercise of the local police power and the need for national uniformity in the regulations for interstate travel. It seems clear to us that seating arrangements for the different races in interstate motor travel require a single, uniform rule to promote and protect national travel. Consequently, we hold the Virginia statute in controversy invalid."

The court did not rule that segregated transportation within the state was unconstitutional. The ruling, while another defeat for segregation in law, did not have an immediate impact. Buses still segregated its passengers until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s put an end to the practice once and for all.

-- Richard Wormser

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The Supreme Court was first located in New York, and then Philadelphia, before moving to Washington, D.C. in 1800.
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