Little-known activist subject of library talk

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott of December 12, 1957, are synonymous. But, the name Juliette Hampton Morgan has languished in obscurity since long before Montgomery’s famous bus boycott.

In 1939, years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Morgan was writing letters to the editor of The Montgomery Advertiser opposing the abuses she witnessed on the city’s buses and by the city bus drivers.

Juliette Hampton Morgan was the subject of Tuesday’s Brown Bag Lunch at the Tupper Lightfoot Memorial Library in Brundidge.

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Head Librarian Theresa Trawick conducted the program on the Montgomery socialite who became an unlikely social activist.

Trawick said Morgan, who was the product of a privileged upbringing, was a leader against the social injustices around her and was scored for her actions by her family, her friends, her employers and much of the white community.

“Juliette Morgan was the daughter of a traveling dry good salesman and a liberated Southern belle whose circle of friends included, Zelda Fitzgerald and Tallulah Bankhead,” Trawick said. “Juliette grew up going to Sunday school picnics, horse shows, Confederate Memorial Day parades and taking lessons in piano and dance. She attended college, worked for the public library and taught in the public schools.”

Morgan attended the University of Alabama and was a student of journalism professor, Dr. Clarence Cason, whose published work criticized the Southern way of life. Fearing the ostracism that his work would create, Cason took his life.

When Morgan finished college and returned home to Montgomery, she was unable to drive because of disabling anxiety attacks and, therefore, rode the bus.

“That’s when she began writing letters to The Montgomery Advertiser about social injustices,” Trawick said. “In 1946, she joined a controversial interracial women’s prayer group and met middle-class, black working women who shared her passion of politics, music and religion.”

Trawick said, several years later, Morgan watched a black woman pay her bus fare.

“She left the bus to enter by the back door,” Trawick said. “But the bus pulled away, leaving her behind.”

Morgan had seen that kind of thing happen before, so she jumped up and pulled the emergency cord. When the driver stopped, she demanded that he open the back door and let the woman aboard.

”Juliette Morgan had launched a one-woman, non-violent protest against the discriminatory practices of Montgomery’s city bus drivers. In the days, that followed, she pulled the emergency cord often and demanded to be let off the bus every time she witnessed abuse.”

Morgan continued her fight against social injustices with words and actions. White people boycotted the library where she worked, teenage boys taunted her at work and a cross was burned in front of her house. But nothing silenced her. Some demanded that she be fired from her job at the library but the library trustees continued to support her right of free speech.

Morgan lost many friends. Former colleagues and students and even her mother became estranged. On July 15, 1957, she resigned her post at the library. The next morning, her mother found her unconscious in bed with an empty bottle of sleeping pills next to her. She, like her journalism professor, could take no more.

In 2005, Morgan was posthumously elected to the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. The Juliette Hampton Morgan Memorial Library in Montgomery is testimony to her legacy.

It was too little, too late, Trawick said.