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VOL. 133 | NO. 120 | Friday, June 15, 2018

Morris' Secret Helped Pass Civil Rights Cold Case Laws

By Bill Dries

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Charlile Morris, seated, shown last year with State Rep. G.A. Hardaway, left and State Rep. Johnnie Turner, right, died Thursday at the age of 97. In the last years of his life, he went public with a long-held family secret about the 1939 death of his brother, Jessie Lee Bond, in Arlington. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Charlie Morris was known for decades as a political operative who defined a brand of grassroots-style campaigning and political involvement in North Memphis. He and his late wife, Alma, operating out of a barber shop in a Quonset hut off Chelsea Avenue, endorsed candidates and worked for them at the polls – going door-to-door in their neighborhood in what was the most basic kind of political organizing.

And they were sought out by candidates whose signs still adorned their business years after the campaign was over.

Morris, the co-founder of the Kennedy Democratic Organization, died Thursday, June 14, at the age of 97.

In the last years of his life, he began talking publicly about the death of his brother, Jessie Lee Bond, who Morris and other family members said was lynched in Arlington in 1939.

Bond’s death is one of several cited in the creation of a state Civil Rights Crimes Information Reconciliation and Research Center to look into civil rights cold cases in which no one was ever charged.

That bill and one that allows lawmakers access to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation records on such cold cases were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam earlier this year. Morris’ testimony about the death of his brother to a joint legislative committee in Nashville was instrumental in the passage of the legislation.

Authorities said Bond died from drowning. But last year Morris said his aunt, who was with Bond at the time, told him and the rest of the family that Bond was shot and wounded and then castrated and thrown in the Loosahatchie River.

Bond was a sharecropper who asked for an invoice from the Wilson general store in Arlington after buying several items on credit. He got the invoice for $13.90, Morris said, and later was summoned to the store.

“Back then, they didn’t give you an invoice. They put it on the ledger,” Morris said. “Nobody had never asked for an invoice. At the end of the year, they would say you’ve got a little bit left over. In other words, you never got out of debt.”

“They shot at him and shot him. He ran out to the outhouse. They riddled the outhouse,” Morris said of what his aunt told him. “And when he staggered out of the outhouse, they threw him down and they castrated him and dragged him to the river.”

Morris’ aunt begged him to say nothing about the incident and Morris didn’t for decades, finally breaking his silence as Memphis Democratic state Rep. Johnnie Turner and state Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville pursued the cold case bills in the Legislature.

“When he spoke about the need for justice for his brother’s death, his words touched the entire room,” Turner said in a written statement. “I believe that his moving testimony played a major role in the passage of two bills this year by the General Assembly.”

His memories 78 years later were vivid. Morris said he was summoned from Manassas High School, where he was an 18-year-old senior, to his grandmother’s house in Eads.

“She had a .32 revolver and four bullets. I got to Eads and my grandmother’s house and she begged me not to go to Arlington,” Morris said. “I listened to her, but at that point I didn’t care about nothing but getting the people who killed my brother.”

He agreed not to confront anyone or share the story, but Morris said last year it affected him for a long time.

“I went to bed wanting to kill somebody. I’d get up wanting to kill somebody. I’d go to a job and my supervisor would say, ‘Good morning, Charlie.’ I would say, ‘What’s so damn good about it,’” Morris remembered. “I had an attitude that was affecting my life, that was affecting me.”

That changed when he came home to find a Bible open on his coffee table.

“That was my answer. The Lord said, ‘Let me take care of it,’” Morris said. “I began to get the hatred out of me. I began to pray that I could love everybody and treat everybody like I wanted to be treated. And you see me today. God has blessed me.”

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