Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Windows and Mirrors: A Program about Diversity for Grades 4-5

Juliette Hampton Morgan

Adapted from a story provided on the Teaching Tolerance website.

Juliette Morgan was the only child of Frank and Lila Morgan of Montgomery, Alabama . Morgan attended the best schools and graduated near the top of her class in college and graduate school. She was a public school teacher and a librarian. Later in her life, she was the director of research at the Montgomery Public Library—a respected position for an upper class, white woman.

For six generations (over 120 years), the Morgans had been an extremely wealthy family. They had other people to do their laundry, cook their meals and do their yard work. Juliette was raised in a time and place where shops and restaurants displayed "Whites Only" signs. Most white people considered African Americans inferior to them. When Juliette was a little girl, she was used to African Americans doing work to keep her comfortable.

One thing about Juliette life separated her from her privileged friends. She had severe anxiety attacks. That meant she could not drive a car. So, to get to work, she rode the city buses in Montgomery . On those buses, she saw white bus drivers threaten and humiliate African American men and women who paid the same ten-cent fare she paid.

In 1939, 16 years before the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott, Juliette Morgan began writing angry letters to the local newspaper about the mean, unfair behavior she witnessed on the city buses. In her letters, she wrote that segregation was un-Christian and wrong, and the citizens of Montgomery should do something about it. The response was immediate: Juliette lost her job at a local bookstore.

One morning as she rode the bus, Juliette watched an African American woman pay her fare and then get off the bus to re-enter through the back door where black riders were supposed to sit. That was the custom, but, as soon as the woman stepped out, the white bus driver pulled away, leaving the woman behind even though she had already paid. Angry, Juliette Morgan jumped up and pulled the emergency cord to stop the bus. She demanded the bus driver open the door and let the woman come on board. The other passengers on the bus, African American and white, were frozen in surprise. In the days that followed, Juliette pulled the emergency cord every time she witnessed such an injustice.

News spread quickly. Bus drivers began to hassle Juliette Morgan. When she got angry, she would get off the bus and walk where she was going, even if it was more than a mile. White passengers made fun of her as she got off the bus. Her own mother told her she was making a fool of herself and tarnishing the family's good name.

Then, on December 1, 1955, an African American passenger named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus. Her action sparked a citywide boycott. Most African Americans refused to ride the segregated buses.

Juliette Morgan wrote another letter to the newspaper editor. She wrote in support of the boycott. She began to receive threatening letters and telephone calls. The city mayor demanded the library fire her. Although they did not fire Morgan, library officials told her not to write any more letters. She promised to remain silent. But it was hard. Because of the boycott, white people were bombing African American homes and churches.

In January 1957, Buford Boone, a white newspaper editor, told local racist whites that they were to blame for the continuing violence. Juliette Morgan wrote another letter, this time to tell Buford Boone how pleased she was. She wrote:

There are so many Southerners from various walks of life that know you are right.... They know what they call 'our Southern way of life' must... change. Many of them even are eager for change, but are afraid to express themselves—so afraid to stand alone.... I had begun to wonder if there were any men in the state—any white men—with any moral courage.

Boone asked Morgan's permission to print her letter in the newspaper. She was reluctant, because she had promised her bosses she would not write any more letters. But she felt a personal responsibility to encourage white people to confront racism. She hoped her letter would cause other white people to take a stand for justice. Buford's newspaper published her letter in January. By July, she had lost all her friends, and her job. Her own mother did not want to speak to her. Juliette Morgan died soon after that.

Fifty years later, white people in Alabama began to see that Morgan was right. She was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Montgomery City Council voted to rename the main public library after her. Juliette Morgan gave away her own privileges to help bring justice for all.