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IRENE MORGAN

LOCAL HERO GETS PRESIDENTIAL HONOR CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEER IN GOOD COMPANY AMONG NATION'S TOP CITIZENS

By JUDITH HAYNES

Newport News Daily Press
January 9, 2001

Irene Morgan, an African-American woman arrested in Saluda in 1944 for refusing to move from her bus seat for white passengers, was honored Monday by President Clinton.

She and 27 other honorees - including baseball legend Hank Aaron, boxer and social activist Muhammad Ali, jurists Archibald Cox and Constance Baker Motley, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and AIDS activist and movie star Elizabeth Taylor - were given Presidential Citizens Medals for "exemplary deeds of service for our nation."

Morgan's defiance during her Greyhound bus trip predated Rosa Parks' famous refusal by a decade. Her conviction in Middlesex County for disobeying Virginia law eventually resulted in a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that racial segregation in interstate commerce was unconstitutional.

Morgan was traveling from Hayes Store in Gloucester County, where her mother lived, to her home in Baltimore. In those days, "colored people" weren't allowed to sit next to whites on buses. When the driver told her to move so a white couple could have her row, Morgan recalled, "I said, 'Well, no.' "

She willingly paid a $100 fine for resisting arrest. She kicked the Middlesex sheriff who tried to remove her from the bus.

"Sometimes, you are so enraged, you don't have time to be afraid," Morgan said last year, when she was honored in Gloucester as part of the county's 350th-anniversary celebration. That event, widely reported by broadcast and print news media, brought her national attention.

With the help of the NAACP and civil-rights lawyers Thurgood Marshall and Spottswood Robinson III, Morgan appealed her $10 fine and $5.25 court costs for refusing to give up her bus seat. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled against her, but in 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned - for the first time - a segregation law involving transportation.

Morgan, 83, whose married name is Kirkaldy, now lives in New York.

"Her position has always been that if you're right and you know you're right, you have a moral obligation to do something about it," said her daughter, Brenda Bacquie.

President Clinton said Morgan and the others honored on Monday "have risen to America's highest calling - active citizenship. In giving freely of themselves and their time, they have undoubtedly inspired others to do the same."

The other recipients, including three who were honored posthumously, are:

* Henry "Hank" Aaron, cited for playing baseball "with extraordinary grace and skill, despite encountering chilling discrimination." In 1974, he broke Babe Ruth's home-run record; his career record of 755 home runs remains unbroken. A front-office executive for the Atlanta Braves, Aaron runs the Chasing the Dream Foundation, which helps poor children pursue careers in sports and arts.

* Muhammad Ali, former heavyweight boxing champion. Convicted in 1967 of refusing induction into the Army during the Vietnam War, Ali retired from boxing in 1980 and has traveled the world as a goodwill ambassador. He was honored for his advocacy for peace, tolerance and compassion.

* Juan Andrade Jr., president and director of the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute, whose voter- registration campaigns signed up more than a million voters. He also was recognized for his work to increase Hispanic representation in government.

* Ruby Bridges, who, as "a small, brave child," integrated a Louisiana elementary school at age 6. She runs a nonprofit foundation that promotes education and racial reconciliation.

* Ron Brown, the first black American to serve as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and as commerce secretary. He died in a plane crash in 1996 while on a trade mission to the Balkans.

* Don Cameron, a former teacher who ran the National Education Association for 20 years. He was a driving force behind an effort by corporate executives to integrate technology in classrooms.

* Sister Carol Coston, "a tireless advocate for the poor and oppressed" and director of Partners for the Common Good, which has pooled $7.9 million from 99 religious institutions to address poverty.

* Archibald Cox, special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation and past chairman of Common Cause, a nonprofit lobbying group devoted to campaign-finance reform.

* Charles DeLisi, a Boston University biomedical engineering professor who conceived a project to sequence the human genome.

* Jack Greenberg, Columbia University law professor and lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who argued the Brown vs. Board of Education case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court's landmark 1954 ruling outlawed racial segregation in public schools.

* David Ho, a longtime HIV/AIDS researcher whose groundbreaking work "has ensured that thousands of people with AIDS live longer and healthier lives."

* I. King Jordan, the first deaf president of Gallaudet University and "tireless advocate for people who are deaf or hard of hearing." Jordan also was cited for playing an important role in the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

* Anthony Lewis, a columnist for The New York Times since 1969 and Pulitzer Prize winner for national reporting in 1955 and 1963. He was honored for being "a staunch defender of freedom of speech, individual rights and the rule of law."

* Constance Baker Motley, a civil-rights attorney appointed to the U.S. District Court in New York in 1966, the first black female federal judge. * Helen Rodriquez-Trias, pediatrician and founder of the Latino Commission on AIDS in New York.

* Rep. Edward Roybal, D-Calif., founder of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and advocate of legislation for the rights of Hispanics, the elderly, poor and disabled.

* Robert Rubin, former Treasury secretary, who presided over Clinton's economic policy from 1995 to 1999.

* Former Sen. Warren B. Rudman, co-author of the famous Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law and chairman of a special oversight board that looked into Pentagon investigations of Gulf War veterans' health ailments.

* Charles Ruff, a former Watergate special prosecutor, U.S. attorney, corporation counsel for the District of Columbia and counsel to the president. Ruff died in December.

* Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Holocaust survivor, and founder and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, which is devoted to religious freedom and human rights worldwide.

* Eli J. Segal, chairman of the Welfare-to-Work Partnership and former Clinton aide.

* Former Rep. John F. Seiberling, author of legislation that tripled the Land and Water Conservation Fund and banned mining in public parks. He is credited with preserving more than 69 million acres of wilderness in 27 states.

* John Sengstacke, publisher and editor of the black-owned Chicago Defender and founder of the National Newspaper Publisher Association. Sengstacke died in May 1997.

* The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, the civil-rights leader who brought the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. into efforts to integrate public facilities in Alabama and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

* Elizabeth Taylor, actress and co-founder of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, who has focused national attention on the disease.

* Marion Weisel, wife of Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel. She wrote and narrated a documentary on the 1.3 million children who died in the Holocaust.

* Patrisha A. Wright, director of Washington affairs for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.


Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia

The U.S. Supreme Court did not directly address the issue of racial discrimination in its June 3, 1946, ruling in the Irene Morgan case.

At the time, 18 states prohibited racial separation on public carriers. Ten, including Virginia, required separation on motor carriers.

It was against the law in Virginia for whites and blacks to sit next to each other on intrastate and interstate buses. If a driver failed to enforce the law, he could be found guilty of a misdemeanor.

Morgan, who is black, was convicted of refusing to move from a Greyhound bus seat when a white couple wanted to occupy her row. The Virginia Supreme Court upheld her conviction.

That decision was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which said state laws requiring separation of blacks and whites on interstate motor carriers were an undue burden on interstate commerce.

"Seating arrangements for the different races in interstate motor travel require a single, uniform rule to promote and protect national travel," the court said, noting that a "crazy-quilt" of state laws could result in a constant shifting of passengers, depending on where the bus was.

The decision later was expanded to include train travel, but it did not affect intrastate buses.


About 'Jim Crow"

A 1995 documentary, "You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow!," made for New Hampshire Public Television, describes the Irene Morgan case and test rides made by 16 men after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1946.

The title of the documentary also is the title of a song written by civil rights leaders Bayard Rustin and George Houser, two of the co-founders of the Congress of Racial Equality. Rustin and Houser were among the passengers who made the test rides.

"Jim Crow" is an expression that originated with an early 1800s minstrel show called "Jump Jim Crow." It came to be a derogatory term for blacks and a descriptive phrase for laws of racial segregation.

Beginning in the decade after the Civil War, southern states passed laws prohibiting "colored people" from mixing with whites in public transportation, schools, parks, health-care institutions, cemeteries, theaters and restaurants. They had to use separate telephone booths, bathrooms and water fountains.

The lyrics of Rustin and Houser's song say, "You don't have to ride Jim Crow ... 'cause Irene Morgan won her case."

While the Supreme Court ruling was based not on equal rights, but on the impracticalities of moving passengers around, depending on which state the bus was traveling through, it was a major victory in the struggle against segregation.

Rustin served 22 days on a chain gang after his arrest during the test rides. His account is available on the Web at www.idsonline.com/sdusa/ chain.html.

"We Challenged Jim Crow," a report on the rides written by Rustin and Houser, is at www.idsonline.com/sdusa/ jimcrow.html.

For a video of the documentary, "You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow!," send $23 to: Wombat Media, Suite 615, 293 Turnpike Road, Westborough, MA 01581. (UPDATE: 2704 E. Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55812) The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Judith Haynes can be reached at (804) 642-1734 or by e-mail at jhaynes@dailypress.com


BLAZING THE TRAIL TO EQUALITY WOMAN'S DEFIANCE IN '44 STRUCK DOWN FIRST JIM CROW LAW
BYLINE: JUDITH HAYNES
Newport News Daily Press


To understand the importance of what Irene Morgan did - and why she will be honored Saturday in Gloucester - requires some time travel:

Go back to before the 1963 civil rights March on Washington and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Before Freedom Riders were firebombed and beaten in the South in 1961.

Before Rosa Parks, a black woman who is often called "The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement," refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955.

Go back a full decade before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

It was 1944 when Morgan, a young black mother of two children, got on a Greyhound bus at Hayes Store in Gloucester County, took a seat in the back, and headed for home in Baltimore. Recovering from surgery, she had brought her children to stay temporarily with her mother in Gloucester. A few miles up the road, the driver told her to move because a white couple wanted to occupy her row.

"I said, 'Well, no,' " she recalls today. "That was a seat I had paid for."

In those days, "colored people" in the South weren't allowed to sit next to whites on buses. State laws specifically forbade it in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.

"It wasn't a good era," says Morgan, now 83.

Defiance could mean death, but she insists she wasn't afraid to defy convention and the law.

" Sometimes you are so enraged, you don't have time to be afraid," says Morgan.

She was jailed in Saluda for refusing to move and for resisting arrest.

Her courage resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 3, 1946, that racial segregation on interstate motor carriers was unconstitutional. It was the first time the Supreme Court had overturned a "Jim Crow," or segregation, law involving transportation.

Some people describe Morgan, whose married name is Kirkaldy, as a shy person. They say that's why she has never gotten the recognition she deserves.

But "modest" is a better description.

"She was rather feisty. She's still feisty," says nephew Herman Gregory of Gloucester.

Her daughter, Brenda Bacquie, remembers missing the first several months of fifth grade because her mother organized a school boycott in their Baltimore neighborhood, where blacks were shunted to an inferior school.

"Her position has always been that if you're right and you know you're right, you have a moral obligation to do something about it," Bacquie says.

But when Morgan is asked where her courage came from that day on the bus, she says simply, "I can't understand how anyone would have done otherwise."

In fact, however, most people - black and white - did otherwise in those days.

A New Hampshire Public Television documentary, "You Don't Have To Ride Jim Crow," describes the reunion of an interracial group of men who rode interstate buses in the upper South in 1947 to test the Supreme Court ruling in Irene Morgan vs. Commonwealth of Virginia.

They traveled in teams, pretending not to know each other. On one bus, a black team member, Conrad Lynn, was challenging the status quo in the front of the bus. Another black team member, Wally Nelson, was sitting in the back with other black passengers.

The passengers near Nelson muttered that Lynn should know better.

"If we had any guts, we'd be up there with him," Nelson told them.

"No one said anything after that," Nelson says in the documentary.

Civil rights pioneer Bayard Rustin, who co- founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, was one of the team members. He was arrested in North Carolina for sitting in a bus seat outside the "Jim Crow" - or "colored" - section.

The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld his 30- day sentence, and on March 21, 1949, he surrendered to begin serving his time at a state prison camp. With eight days off for good behavior, he labored 22 days on a chain gang.

Rustin and CORE co-founder George Houser, a white man, organized the 1947 test rides after the Morgan ruling, which was expanded to include interstate train travel. They also co- wrote a song, "You Don't Have To Ride Jim Crow," which includes in its lyrics, " 'cause Irene Morgan won her case."

But during two weeks of test rides in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky, 12 men were arrested. Women were not allowed on the rides, for fear of raising the issue of sex as well as of race.

"We believe that the great majority of the people in the upper South are prepared to accept the Irene Morgan decision and to ride on buses and trains with Negroes," Rustin and Houser wrote in 1947 after the test rides, called a Journey of Reconciliation. "One white woman, reluctantly taking a seat beside a Negro man, said to her sister, who was about to protest, 'I'm tired. Anything for a seat.' "

One of the NAACP lawyers who took the Morgan case to the U.S. Supreme Court, after the Virginia Supreme Court had ruled against her, was Thurgood Marshall, later to triumph with Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 and to become the first black justice on the Supreme Court in 1967.

Marshall called the Morgan ruling "a decisive blow to the evils of segregation," although the court didn't directly address racial discrimination. Rather, it said segregation was a burden on interstate commerce, because it required bus companies to rearrange passengers as they crossed state lines.

"An interstate passenger must, if necessary, repeatedly shift seats while moving in Virginia to meet the seating requirements of the changing passenger group. On arrival at the District of Columbia line, the appellant would have had the freedom to occupy any available seat, and so to the end of her journey," the court said. "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."

Morgan also was represented by famed civil rights lawyer Spottswood Robinson III of Richmond, later a federal appeals court judge, who took her case in 1944.

In a letter to her dated July 19, 1944, he said the president of the Virginia State Conference of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had advised him that she was "recently involved in certain difficulties in connection with a bus incident."

Morgan says she willingly paid a $100 fine for resisting arrest, because she did kick the Middlesex County sheriff who tried to remove her from the bus in Saluda.

He doubled over, she says, because where she kicked him was "more painful than if I had kicked him in his leg." And, she did scratch the deputy who took her to jail.

About two hours later, her mother bailed her out. Morgan wouldn't pay a $10 fine and $5.25 court costs for refusing to give up her seat.

"Well, you have to make it a better world for your children coming up," she says today. "There's still a lot of things like that going on. It's an ongoing battle."

Judith Haynes can be reached at (804) 642-1734 or by e-mail at jhaynes@dailypress.com. Daily Press researcher Amanda Haskins contributed to this article.




A ceremony honoring Irene Morgan will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Colonial Courthouse in the Court Circle on Main Street, Gloucester.

Representatives from four organizations will formally announce scholarships in her name: * Jann Alexander, president of the Newport News Chapter of The Links Inc.

* Marie McDemmond, president of Norfolk State University.

* Shirley Pippins, president of Thomas Nelson Community College.

* Norman Scott, president of Rappahannock Community College.

"The main thing is that her name will live on," Alexander said.

Newport News Links will provide an ongoing full scholarship to Thomas Nelson Community College. It is designed to include people like Morgan, who dropped out of high school but later earned a GED (General Educational Development) certificate.

Morgan eventually also earned a bachelor's degree in communications and - when she was in her 70s - a master's in public administration. She had a career operating a day care center in New York, where she lives.

Norfolk State University has awarded a full scholarship for the 2000-2001 school year, in Morgan's name, to Alfred Corbin Jr. He graduated from Gloucester High School in June.

Thomas Nelson Community College will give a $1,500 President's Scholarship award to a full-time student who has completed at least 15 hours at TNCC, with a cumulative grade average of 3.0, and who has taken a leadership role in improving his or her community.

The award is for the 2000-2001 school year. Applicants must write an essay on "how a citizen such as Irene Morgan can change a community."

At Rappahannock Community College, applicants for the Morgan scholarship must write an essay on her strength and achievement. The chosen student must have demonstrated qualities that exemplify her determination and valor.

The Rappahannock scholarship, which will be for the 2001-2002 school year, now stands at $1,000, but might be increased by donations.


< JIM CROW

A 1995 documentary, "You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow!," made for New Hampshire Public Television, describes the Irene Morgan case and test rides made by 16 men after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1946.

The title of the documentary is also the title of a song written by civil rights leaders Bayard Rustin and George Houser, two of the co-founders of the Congress of Racial Equality. Rustin and Houser were among the passengers who made the test rides.

"Jim Crow" is an expression that originated with an early 1800s minstrel show called "Jump Jim Crow." It came to be a derogatory term for blacks and a descriptive for laws of racial segregation.

Beginning in the 1870s, after the Civil War, southern states passed laws prohibiting " colored people" from mixing with whites in public transportation, schools, parks, health-care institutions, cemeteries, theaters and restaurants. They had to use separate telephone booths, bathrooms and water fountains.

The lyrics of Rustin and Houser's song say, "You don't have to ride Jim Crow ... 'cause Irene Morgan won her case."

While the Supreme Court ruling was based not on equal rights, but on the impracticalities of moving passengers around, depending on which state the bus was traveling through, it was a major victory in the struggle against segregation.

Rustin served 22 days on a chain gang after his arrest during the test rides. His account is available on the Web at www.idsonline.com/ sdusa/chain.html.

"We Challenged Jim Crow," a report on the rides written by Rustin and Houser, is at www. idsonline.com/ sdusa/jimcrow.html.

For a video of the documentary, "You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow!," send $23 to: Wombat Media, Suite 615, 293 Turnpike Road, Westborough, MA 01581 (UPDATE: 2704 E. Superior St., Duluth, MN 55812)


< MORGAN'S CASE

Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia

The U.S. Supreme Court did not directly address the issue of racial discrimination in its June 3, 1946, ruling in the Irene Morgan case.

At the time, 18 states prohibited racial separation on public carriers. Ten, including Virginia, required separation on motor carriers.

It was against the law in Virginia for whites and blacks to sit next to each other, on intrastate and interstate buses. If a driver failed to enforce the law, he could be found guilty of a misdemeanor.

Morgan, who is black, was convicted of refusing to move from a Greyhound bus seat when a white couple wanted to occupy her row. The Virginia Supreme Court upheld her conviction.

That decision was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which said state laws requiring separation of blacks and whites on interstate motor carriers were an undue burden on interstate commerce.

"Seating arrangements for the different races in interstate motor travel require a single, uniform rule to promote and protect national travel," the court said, noting that a "crazy- quilt" of state laws could result in a constant shifting of passengers, depending on where the bus was.

The decision later was expanded to include train travel, but it did not affect intrastate buses.



An Appreciation
Civil rights giant never wavered

By Robin Washington
Boston Herald
July 11, 1999

Perhaps this may sound like blasphemy, but Jim Farmer could have played a part in a Monty Python movie.

Specifically, he would have relished the role of the challenging knight in "The Holy Grail" who, upon losing limb after limb in swordplay with the protagonist, continues to taunt, "C'mon. It's just a scratch!"

In the last decades of his life, Farmer did lose two limbs as well as his eyesight, to disease, not blades.

But I can clearly hear his infectious laughter shrugging it off, "C'mon. It's just a scratch!"

Indeed, as testament of his endurance he wore his trademark eyepatch - a needless affectation that did nothing to improve his total blindness - like a battle ribbon.

Farmer died Friday in Fredericksburg, Va., after years of failing health.

He was the last of the 1960s' four giants of the civil rights movement - the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., NAACP chief Roy Wilkins and Urban League leader Whitney Young were the others.

To those who knew him, his laughter will be remembered and appreciated as much as his tireless efforts to fight racial injustice.

"I can remember how he laughed when he was relating to me his own fear during the Freedom Ride," said George Houser, who co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality with Farmer in 1942.

"It was by no means humorous but he just did not take himself too seriously."

Even after Farmer's name became a household word, he maintained that self-effacing outlook. When told that the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a pacifist group at which he started his career, was considering naming rooms in its headquarters after its past leaders, he said, "Well, make mine a bathroom."

Yet modesty and humor were not the only human emotions he would readily concede.

Asked his feelings about Martin Luther King's advance to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement after the 1963 March on Washington - to which Farmer had been invited to speak but chose instead to remain at a local protest in Louisiana - he said, "Of course I was jealous. I was a helluva speaker! If I had been there I would have given a much better speech than King."

Though history did not have it that way, I am convinced he would have.

And we all would still have been laughing with him.

APPRECIATION
Nelson's life dedicated to freedom and peace


By Robin Washington

Boston Herald
May 26, 2002

America lost nearly a century's worth of peace and freedom this week.

To be exact, 93 years.

After a long struggle with cancer, Wallace Floyd "Wally" Nelson of Deerfield died Thursday, ending a lifelong campaign for peace and civil rights that began March 27, 1909, in a sharecropper's shack in Altheimer, Ark.

A participant on the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation - the first interracial freedom ride of whites and blacks to challenge southern segregation - Mr. Nelson was involved in countless demonstrations against war and injustice.

In later years, he was nationally known as a leader of the war tax resistance movement and an absolutist pacifist, though he shunned titles and characterization.

More important are the actions that supported his beliefs.

"He had such deep convictions and really lived them. Everything he believed, he practiced," said George Houser of Pomona, N.Y., now one of only three surviving participants on the historic trip.

In a two-week journey through the upper South, eight white men and eight black men defied local Jim Crow laws to force the states to abide by a 1946 Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregation in interstate transportation.

"He was a great companion who believed in complete freedom. I'll miss him a lot," Houser said.

Born into the sharecropping family of Lydia and Duncan Nelson, Mr. Nelson once described his childhood on a Southern plantation as virtual "slavery."

After spending most of his teen years working, Mr. Nelson received his introduction to activism when he joined an older brother in Batavia, Ohio, and returned to school. Though it was integrated, it was only nominally so, and he and another brother led a protest to open up extracurricular activities to black students.

After graduation, he moved to Chicago, where he was exposed to various movements, including socialism and communism, but found his true calling in pacifism, joining nonviolent sit-ins sponsored by the fledging Congress of Racial Equality.

At the start of World War II, he entered Ohio's Wesleyan University and registered for the draft as a conscientious objector.

Though he was granted the status and admission to an alternative Civilian Public Service work camp, he walked away from it, opting instead to serve a prison term, where he promptly went on a hunger strike in protest of conditions and race relations.

While at a local jail, he met a reporter for the African American Cleveland Call and Post doing a story on conditions there.

"I was just bowled over. Not romantically, just his ideas," said Juanita Nelson, his wife of 54 years.

After his prison term, the couple moved to Cincinnati, where they co-founded Peacemakers, a group advocating the refusal to pay taxes used for war.

To live their ideals, the Nelsons dedicated themselves to a subsistence lifestyle, never earning enough money to reach the threshold of taxable income.

"I remember Wally would deliver fresh eggs," Juanita Nelson recalled.

"One time, the IRS followed him and asked people, 'How many eggs did you buy from Mr. Nelson?' " she laughed.

The couple also continued race-relations activism, moving to Georgia for a short while to join Koinonia Partners, an interracial farming community. Joining at the height of Southern backlash against civil rights, they arrived after the other black families had fled.

"There were all these shootings, and all the rest got spooked. But we felt we should go down there," Juanita Nelson said.

After several years in Philadelphia, the couple decided to embark on a serious attempt at farming in which they would grow what they needed to eat and little more, allowing themselves near total independence from the country's economic system.

In the 1970s, they moved to Deerfield, where they began organic farming and built their own house on a cooperative land trust, shunning both electricity and running water.

Mr. Nelson was particularly fond of his outhouse.

"I like it because I built it," he said proudly in 1993, calling his life "a demonstration lifestyle."

"I guess a long time ago I got it out of my head I was going to save the world," he said.

"So I act to save Wally and his integrity. Sometimes it's in a situation that 's dangerous and sometimes not so dangerous. But I would hope that other people would be inspired to do what they ought to do."

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. June 2, at the Deerfield Academy in Old Deerfield, followed by a celebration of his life at Woolman Hill, also in Deerfield.

In addition to his wife Juanita, he is survived by two nieces, Lydia Nelson and Yasmine Suliman, and many other relatives.

There are also countless friends and admirers - many inspired exactly in the way he would wish them to be.


APPRECIATION: Rights pioneer's life spanned freedom ride, Black Power

By Robin Washington

Duluth News Tribune
March 12, 2005

In 1993, a week before the 35th anniversary of the March on Washington, I "found" the Rev. Nathan Wright.

He hadn't been missing, but much of his extraordinary career was lost to history, including his participation in the first freedom ride in 1947. Then, he joined a group of black and white men who rode buses and trains in integrated pairs to challenge Southern segregation. I was looking for survivors of that trip to film a public television documentary and hoped he'd join us. He said nothing for a moment, then, "I've been waiting (almost) 50 years for this call."

Moved, I asked what he was doing the following week.

"I'm going with you," he said.

Since the 1995 PBS debut of the documentary, about a million viewers have seen the story of Wright and his fellow civil rights pioneers. A small crowd was also introduced to him through the film at a screening by the St. Louis County Historical Society Feb. 20 -- two days before his death at 81 at his East Stroudsburg, Penn., home.

The youngest member of the protest trip that served as a model for the better-known freedom rides of the 1960s, Wright wondered if his life would end on a night bus ride from Knoxville to Nashville in which he sat directly behind the driver.

"They openly discussed the fact that they planned some mob action against me, " he recalled in 1994, telling of conversations between the bus driver and other whites about lynching parties that were supposed to gather.

"I could hear all this, and it was done in a calculated way for me to hear," he said, though he never knew if the antics were a cruel joke or if a mob failed to show up.

Though he considered the journey a hallmark of his career, the freedom riders attracted little attention in their day and no sweeping reforms resulted from their efforts. Instead, Wright noted, life continued as usual, with most blacks careful to distance themselves from the then-radical concept of taking to the streets to counter the evils of segregation. For most, Jim Crow would remain a way of life until the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56.

By then, Wright was a proven activist as well as a learned churchman. Born in Shreveport, La., he grew up in Cincinnati and served in World War II as a U.S. Army medic because of his pacifist convictions. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1947 and earned a doctorate from the Episcopal School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., in 1950. While serving at a Boston church, he recalled a young man walking in to tell him he was starting a Black Muslim mosque. "I said, 'Do you need anything?' " he said, and offered chairs, mailing lists, and meeting space to a then-unknown Malcolm X.

During the same time, Wright performed the wedding ceremony of Betsy and Louis Wolcott -- known today as Louis Farrakhan.

"He still calls me 'my minister," Wright said many years later of his ongoing relationship with the controversial leader.

Those words also could describe Wright, who in 1967 chaired the Black Power conference in Newark, N.J., which he termed a gathering of brilliant black leaders of disparate philosophies rather than a planning session for violent revolt. For his part, Wright remained personally committed to pacifism while acknowledging the rapid social change resulting from the unrest of the day.

"Violence is with us," he wrote in his 1968 book (one of 18), "Ready to Riot," in which he detailed the causes of the riots in Newark, N.J., and his own perilous journey through that destruction. But he also spoke of the violence to the human spirit of the downtrodden that leads them to commit acts of wanton aggression. Yet accentuating his spirituality and deep concern for humankind, he spoke of a third "form of violence, the final purpose of which is hope, peace, and fulfillment. It is the violence to our established attitudes that inevitably comes from change."

Throughout his life, Wright worked to shake up the world to bring about that change. At times -- such as on his terrifying night ride -- it meant putting his own safety on the line to challenge an injustice the world had yet to decry. I am humbled to have made the call for which he waited nearly half a century, but honored to have known a man who did so much good in that time.

ROBIN WASHINGTON is the News Tribune's editorial page editor and was executive producer of the PBS documentary "You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow!" about the 1947 freedom ride.


Philadelphia Tribune
December 30, 1997

Civil rights activist, E. Bromley dies

CINCINNATI -- Rev. Ernest Bromley, a war resister and one of the original Freedom Riders who spoke against racial segregation in the South, has died at 85.

Bromley, a Methodist minister, died Wednesday in a Boston hospital after a long battle with cancer. Funeral arrangements were incomplete Friday.

In April 1947, Bromley, then a North Carolina minister, was one of 16 original Freedom Riders who rode buses through the South protesting against segregation and testing new integration laws.

In 1948, Bromley and his wife, Marion, moved to the Cincinnati area and began working with Rev. Maurice McCrackin, an anti-war activist Bromley admired.

The Bromleys moved to a farm in Gano, Ohio, where they established Gano Peacemakers Inc. The Internal Revenue Service seized the farm after Bromley refused to pay taxes, protesting use of tax money to support the military and war activities. Bromley was jailed, but charges were later dismissed.

Bromley was with McCrackin, a Cincinnati minister, when both went to jail in 1963 for picketing in front of the home of the mayor of Selma, Ala., a city that was a focus of civil rights battles. Charges were later dismissed.

Bromley also organized rallies in the Cincinnati area protesting segregation and objecting to the Vietnam War. He organized one such rally in 1972 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, to protest the dedication of a building for former President Richard Nixon, who continued U.S. bombing in Vietnam.

Newspaper files show Bromley at numerous peace rallies, sometimes being carried to police cars to be taken to jail, or waving from a cell.

He was born in Maine and met his wife during World War II in New York, where she was secretary of the pacifist Fellowship of the Reconciliation. Mrs. Bromley, who died in 1994, was also active in civil rights demonstrations and was arrested for participating in 1950s efforts to racially integrate Coney Island, a Cincinnati amusement park.

The Bromleys sold their Gano farm and moved to Cincinnati in 1993.

Bromley is survived by a son, Daniel Bromley, and two sisters from Boston.



The film

RECALLING THE FIRST-EVER FREEDOM RIDES

Dave Zweifel
The Capitol Times
January 31, 1996



Unfortunately, the worst snowstorm of the winter dumped on Madison last Friday night.

Unfortunate because so many people were forced to miss a special screening of a marvelous and touching documentary called ''You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow.''

The Capital Times and the Evjue Foundation had arranged to have the producer of the video, a bright young man named Robin Washington, show and talk about it at the Madison Labor Temple.

More than 100 folks from all over the city were slated to attend. The group including dozens of students, but the buses that were to bring them had to be canceled and it was too treacherous for most families to venture out in their cars.

Nevertheless, we held the screening. Linda Lockhart of our staff, who had done most of the legwork to put it all together, wouldn't have it any other way. Besides, Washington, who lives in Boston, had to leave Saturday morning, so we could hardly do it at another time.

And even though only a dozen or so hardy people were able to get through the foot-deep drifting snow, I'm glad we were able to at least show the documentary to them.

''You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow'' is about the first-ever freedom ride that sought to wake up America about the rampant segregation on transportation systems in the South (''Jim Crow'' laws).

Blacks were forced to sit in the back of buses or in separate railroad cars. To sit elsewhere would result in their immediate arrest, or worse -- sometimes even death.

The freedom rides that gained national attention occurred in the early '60s when black and white members of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) boarded buses through the Deep South. A man named Martin Luther King Jr. was holding his marches at the same time.

But this freedom ride -- and few people are aware of it -- took place much earlier, in 1947, the same year that Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a Brooklyn Dodger baseball contract.

Some 16 men -- eight black, eight white -- boarded Greyhound and Trailways buses on June 3, 1947, for a ride across the northern part of the Old South, from Washington, D.C., to Louisville, Ky.

The 16 were members of what was then called the ''Fellowship of Reconciliation,'' the predecessor to what became CORE.

Earlier that year, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the Jim Crow laws violated the Constitution's interstate commerce provisions, that the Southern states couldn't hold bus and train passengers to different standards than other states.

The decision was the first real victory for equal rights and it came about because of a black woman named Irene Morgan, who several years before the more famous Rosa Parks also refused to move from her seat on a bus to make room for a white passenger.

She was arrested and succeeded in taking her case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Washington, who became aware of the '47 ride while going through some artifacts in a New York basement, located the surviving members of that original 16, now in their 70s and 80s.

He arranged to take them by bus during the summer of 1993 on the same route they traveled 46 years before. The documentary has them recount that historic freedom ride, pointing out everything from the bus stations where they were confronted by mobs, to jails and prisons where some of them were incarcerated for varying lengths of time.

All they did, of course, was put a black member in a seat next to a white in the front and, for good measure, sat a white in the back of the bus with the blacks.

The candid stories they tell, the photography, the lessons of history are incredible.

There are a couple of local connections in the documentary, to once again prove how small this world is.

Washington, who is the managing editor of the Bay State Banner, New England's largest minority newspaper, used retired federal Judge A. Leon Higginbotham as the narrator. The judge is a cousin of our own Dane County Circuit Judge Paul Higginbotham and his twin brother, County Board Supervisor Steve Braunginn. (I'm happy to report that the brothers made it through the snow drifts to see the documentary.)

And one of the surviving riders featured prominently in the film is George Houser, whose son, attorney David Houser, lives in Stoughton.

''You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow'' has appeared on several public television stations and Madison's WHA-TV will show it on Feb. 29 at 11 p.m.

You might want to tape it. It's a perfect tool to show today's generations what others went through not all that long ago.

Dave Zweifel is the editor of The Capital Times.

Judge Higginbotham

ROBIN WASHINGTON

Dec. 21, 1998
Retired U.S. Appeals Court Chief Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. was remembered as a tireless champion of civil rights by mourners overflowing the sanctuary of People's Baptist Church in Roxbury yesterday.
Higginbotham, of Newton, died at Massachusetts General Hospital Dec. 14 after suffering a series of strokes. He was 70.
His widow, Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, and four children were joined by civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, NAACP chairman Kwiesi Mfume and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in a service marked by humor and tears.
Karen Higginbotham told of her the lessons in empathy she learned from her father when visiting his chambers at Philadelphia's federal courthouse.
``We met every security guard, every person in housekeeping. And it was not, `I want you to meet my daughter, my sons.' It was, `Karen, Steven, Ken, I want you to meet Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So.' Those were the people that were really important to connect with,' she said.
Similarly, President Clinton also invoked the judge's compassion in remarks read by Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, a colleague of Higginbotham's at the time of his death.
``He made it his life's work to make sure that every human being is treated with dignity and equality,'' Clinton wrote of the man to whom he awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.
And in reference to Higginbotham's testimony against impeachment before the House Judiciary Committee just two weeks before his death, the President added, ``P.S.: I will never, underline, never, forget how he spoke up for me.''
Higginbotham will be interred at Oak Grove Cemetery in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard, at 1 p.m. today.