You are viewing an obsolete version of the DU website which is no longer supported by the Administrators. Visit The New DU.
Democratic Underground Latest Greatest Lobby Journals Search Options Help Login

Reply #229: Juliette Hampton Morgan (1917-1957) [View All]

Printer-friendly format Printer-friendly format
Printer-friendly format Email this thread to a friend
Printer-friendly format Bookmark this thread
Home » Discuss » DU Groups » Race & Ethnicity » African-American Issues Group Donate to DU
Brewman_Jax Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-20-11 11:51 AM
Response to Original message
229. Juliette Hampton Morgan (1917-1957)
Juliette Hampton Morgan was a Montgomery librarian, was a member of a small group of white liberal southerners who advocated racial justice in the 1940s and 1950s, a time of great social and political upheaval in Alabama. In her letters to the editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, in essays, and in private correspondence with friends, family members, and colleagues, Morgan made some of the most insightful observations in the historical record about Montgomery's racial crises. She wrote as a seventh-generation southerner, not as an outside agitator, and her work to eliminate racial segregation came with great personal sacrifice and at a high cost.

In 1930, after graduating from Sidney Lanier High School, Morgan studied English literature and political science at the University of Alabama. While she was working on her master's degree in 1935, her journalism professor, Dr. Clarence Cason-a man haunted by his ambivalence to the southern way of life-wrote a book of essays called Ninety Degrees in the Shade. In that book Cason observed:

Upon hearing adverse criticisms of conditions as they are, I feel a resentment and an impulse to defend my state and my people; but then I have to ask myself whether a deeper loyalty does not place me under a compulsion to wrestle with these disagreeable challenges until the truth which they contain has been separated from what is false or merely sensational about them. I wonder whether this is not the sort of thing that is taking place in the minds of many other southerners today.

A few days before the publication of his book, Dr. Cason committed suicide. he had concluded that he could not live with the ostracism that criticizing the southern way of life would inevitably bring. Cason's expression of his dilemma and inability to find a resolution left a lasting impression on Morgan.

She returned to Montgomery in 1936 and for the next decade taught English at Lanier High School, coached drama at Capitol Heights junior High School, worked in Neeley's bookstore on Perry Street, and served as a librarian for both the Carnegie and the Montgomery City public libraries. Away from work Morgan had many friends and enjoyed entertaining; loved literature, theater, and music; and lived at home with her mother and grandmother. In most ways Juliette Morgan was a typical genteel southern woman.

One thing-and it seemed a very small thing-that separated her from many of her friends was her inability to drive a car. Unlike most Montgomery whites, Morgan used the city buses to commute to work because disabling anxiety attacks prevented her from driving. It was while riding the buses and watching white bus drivers threaten and humiliate black men and women (who paid the same ten cent fare that Morgan did) that she began to seriously consider the cost of certain traditional southern practices. Segregation and racism became something more to her than a theoretical problem to discuss over coffee.

In 1946, Morgan's involvement with a Montgomery interracial women's prayer group brought her to an even more activist phase of her life. The prayer meetings had to be scheduled in black churches because no white congregation would risk hosting an integrated gathering, which violated the city's municipal code. After participating in the group, she began to put her convictions into action on the city buses. For years she had witnessed white bus drivers mistreat black men and women who paid the same 10-cent fare that she did. Although Morgan had been raised to accept the principles of white supremacy, she was outraged when she saw drivers refuse to pick black people up in the rain, throw their change on the floor rather than hand it to them, and call them ugly names.

One evening on her way home from the library, Morgan watched a black woman pay her fare and leave the bus to enter by the back door, as black people were required to do. Before the woman could re-enter, however, the driver pulled away. Morgan had seen actions like this before, but this evening she jumped up and pulled the emergency cord. When the bus stopped, she demanded that the driver open the back door and let the woman board. For the next several years, she disrupted service every time she witnessed an abuse. In 1952, three years before the start of the city's famous bus boycott, she wrote a letter to the Montgomery Advertiser warning white residents that African Americans were tired of remaining silent about Montgomery's segregation statutes and that things had to change.

Morgan's activism eventually threatened her position at the library. Her critiques of the city's segregation laws outraged many white residents, including some of her own friends, neighbors and colleagues. A few were so angry that they questioned her sanity. Former students, members of her church, shopkeepers, and people she had known all her life began to shun her. Under mounting pressure, Montgomery mayor William A. Gayle urged the library's board of trustees to fire her. Although they refused, the library director warned Morgan not to write any more provocative letters.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus, beginning the Montgomery Bus Boycott. On December 12, 1955, Morgan wrote the following letter to the editor published in the Montgomery Advertiser: "The Negroes of Montgomery seem to have taken a lesson from Gandhi... Their own task is greater than Gandhi's however, for they have greater prejudice to overcome. One feels that history is being made in Montgomery these days... It is hard to imagine a soul so dead, a heart so hard, a vision so blinded and provincial as not to be moved with admiration at the quiet dignity, discipline and dedication with which the Negroes have conducted their boycott."

As she continued writing to the Montgomery Advertiser, Morgan began to receive threatening letters and telephone calls, and the mayor demanded the library fire her. While library officials did not fire Morgan, they did tell her she couldn't write any more letters. She promised to comply. She was silent for more than a year. Even though whites opposed to integration were bombing black homes and churches, Morgan restrained from writing letters to the Montgomery Advertiser.

On January 5, 1957, Buford Boone, editor of the Tuscaloosa News, addressed a meeting of Tuscaloosa's White Citizens' Council and implored the leaders to stop supporting the violence. The complete text of his speech was published in the Tuscaloosa News, and Morgan finally broke her silence and wrote him a congratulatory note. With her permission, he published it. Her letter outraged Montgomery's own White Citizens' Council. A furious Mayor Gayle, a WCC member himself, vowed to remove her from the library. But the library trustees remained steadfast in their decision that firing Juliette Morgan would violate her First Amendment right of free speech. Their support provoked fury, and many white residents tore up their cards and boycotted the library. On July 15, 1957, someone burned a cross on Morgan's front lawn. She resigned the following day and that night apparently took her own life with an overdose of sleeping pills.

The large number of people who attended her funeral service on July 16 demonstrated the remorse felt by Montgomery residents. Many who had refused to support Morgan while she lived, and several who had shunned and criticized her, came to pay their respects. Five years later, on August 13, 1962, the Montgomery public library was peacefully integrated.

On March 3, 2005, Juliette Hampton Morgan was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in Marion, and eight months later the City County Library Board and the Montgomery County Commission voted unanimously to name the capital city's central branch on High Street the Juliette Hampton Morgan Memorial Library.

Her life is chronicled in the book titled Juliette Morgan and the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Mildred Perry Miller / - (add the dash at the end of the string in the address field to reach the article)
Printer Friendly | Permalink | Reply | Top

Home » Discuss » DU Groups » Race & Ethnicity » African-American Issues Group Donate to DU

Powered by DCForum+ Version 1.1 Copyright 1997-2002
Software has been extensively modified by the DU administrators

Important Notices: By participating on this discussion board, visitors agree to abide by the rules outlined on our Rules page. Messages posted on the Democratic Underground Discussion Forums are the opinions of the individuals who post them, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Democratic Underground, LLC.

Home  |  Discussion Forums  |  Journals |  Store  |  Donate

About DU  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy

Got a message for Democratic Underground? Click here to send us a message.

© 2001 - 2011 Democratic Underground, LLC