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Former Sheriff and Mayor Pens Book About His ‘Legendary Life’

THE TENNESSEE TRIBUNE — Jim McCarter sat quietly in a packed room thumbing through a recently published book that he’d purchased at Novel Memphis minutes before the author’s 6 p.m. book talk and signing Thursday, March 28. While waiting on the former Shelby County sheriff and mayor William Noel “Bill” Morris to address the capacity crowd, an age-old photograph on page 181 in the book, “Bill Morris: A Legendary Life,” caught McCarter’s attention.

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By Wiley Henry

MEMPHIS, TN — Jim McCarter sat quietly in a packed room thumbing through a recently published book that he’d purchased at Novel Memphis minutes before the author’s 6 p.m. book talk and signing Thursday, March 28.

While waiting on the former Shelby County sheriff and mayor William Noel “Bill” Morris to address the capacity crowd, an age-old photograph on page 181 in the book, “Bill Morris: A Legendary Life,” caught McCarter’s attention.

“That’s my picture. I had to look at it closely,” said McCarter, who’d granted Morris permission to use the vintage photograph. “I showed the picture to Bill and he said he wanted to use it in the book.”

McCarter was pleasantly surprised that Morris had actually used the photograph.

Former Shelby County sheriff and mayor William Noel “Bill” Morris discusses his new book, “Bill Morris: A Legendary Life,” at Novel Memphis. (Photo by: Wiley Henry)

The black and white photograph captures the moment in time when a bundle – wrapped in a bedspread and containing an overnight bag, binoculars, suitcase, and the rifle that James Earl Ray had reportedly used to kill Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – was discovered at the entryway of Canipe’s Amusement Company at 424 South Main St.

Morris can be seen through the plate-glass window questioning the owner of the amusement company, Mr. Guy Canipe, which was next door to the boarding house and one street over from The Lorraine Motel on Mulberry where the shot rang out. 

McCarter said he was around 17 or so when the photograph was snapped in 1968, minutes after a young sheriff Morris made the scene. McCarter would eventually become Canipe’s son-in-law after marrying his daughter.

The aforementioned photograph along with the widely published photograph of Morris escorting the accused handcuffed assassin to court catapulted the young sheriff into the national spotlight. 

Even so, Morris employed the audience to read the book rather than provide too many details.

The book is loaded with historical accounts and information of Morris’ exploits in government – as sheriff during an era when pandemonium erupted over Dr. King’s death, and when he was the four-term Shelby County mayor. 

The book also includes Morris and community stakeholders, decision makers, pioneers and legends, including his pal Elvis Presley. Add to that Morris’ affiliations, civic involvement, and his role as an unofficial ambassador for the city of Memphis.

 “The last 60 years…there has been a lot of history,” said Morris, explaining his reasons for penning his autobiography. “Some of the history should be recorded differently than [what was covered in] the media.” 

Morris pointed out that the arduous writing project began several years ago in his mind before meeting his co-writer, Darrell B. Uselton, who transcribed 268 recordings before working with Morris on is 400-plus-page autobiography.

“It was a little over two years in the process and sometime before that,” said Uselton matter-of-factly, recalling the interview and the laborious writing process. In addition to the writing, the book is punctuated with more era photographs than the ones of Ray that made Morris a household name.

Just to give the audience even more of a peep into the book, Morris dropped a few names, including the infamous mayor Edward Hull “Boss” Crump. Crump – not Trump, he joked – built a political machine that dominated Memphis and Tennessee politics for decades.

“Mr. Boss Crump was one of the most marvelous persons I ever met,” he said. “He was good to me.”

The name Richard C. “Dick” Hackett kept coming up in Morris’ discussion about his work in government. He said he and Hackett had often traveled together to bring business to Memphis. 

“We were successful because we worked hard,” said Morris, crediting Hackett with working with him to bring industry and jobs to Memphis and Shelby County. “We believed Memphis could be better.”

As a result of their efforts, Morris added, “I think the community is working better than we ever had compared to Washington.”

“Bill Morris: A Legendary Life” is an important read for those with an appetite for history and compassion for one man’s enduring journey from Itawamba County, Mississippi, to Memphis, where his legacy is anchored. 

He eventually raised himself up from the depths of adverse poverty to become an important figure in the political and historic annals of Memphis and Shelby County.

“It’s the best I can do to tell the truth,” he said. “You can’t write an autobiography unless you tell the truth.”

This article originally appeared in The Tennessee Tribune

Art

Broadway Success of Black Artists Revealed in ‘Footnotes’

Caseen Gaines explores the question, how long will your star stay aloft?

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Footnotes/Google Books

 You can’t see where the roar is coming from.

But you can hear it, and that’s what matters. The role was made for you, you hit every line and note, the audience loved you – and now the roar of cheers and applause is yours. 

How long does the standing ovation last? How hard do they clap? And, in her new book “Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way”

Caseen Gaines explores the question, how long will your star stay aloft?

Growing up in an affluent Black neighborhood in Columbia, Tenn., Flournoy Miller had everything he could ever want – and when he was 9 years old, he wanted to be onstage. It was 1894, and his parents had taken him to see Sissieretta Jones, a famous soprano and one of the highest-paid Black entertainers of the day.

“Miller,” says Gaines, “was captivated.”

And yet, growing up, Miller knew that fame was a dangerous reach. Every Black entertainer seemed to know someone who was killed by white folks for no reason, but once Miller met Aubrey Lyles in 1903 and “the two hit it off right away,” the warning was ignored. 

Miller, in fact, was more determined than ever for fame, and the two developed a popular comedy act.

From the time he was a child, Noble Sissle loved to sing. Few things pleased him more than a chance to perform in church and, while it was expected that he would become a minister like his father, he grew more passionate about music.

When Sissle took a job in Baltimore, he met Eubie Blake, a talented pianist who grew up in a Godly house as a child and honed his talents at brothels as a teenager. They, too, became fast friends and eventual collaborators.

It’s a small world, and because they worked in the same industry, Miller and Lyles knew Sissle and Blake and there was mutual respect all around. They had kicked around the idea of working together on a show, but the idea didn’t coalesce until early 1921.

And, “with nothing but a handshake agreement..” says Gaines, “the quartet agreed to give it a shot.”

The nicest thing about “Footnotes” is this: you don’t have to be a theater-goer to enjoy it. You don’t ever have to have even seen a play. You can love this lively, sparkling book for no reason but just because.

Though it takes a while to get there and though it may not seem like it, the main subject of this book is the musical, “Shuffle Along.” Gaines seems to use this main feature as a backdrop as he wraps biographies, history, and everyday life around that century-old show to demonstrate how it came to be and why it was so important to Black culture. 

There’s racism in this tale, of course, but also determination and a sense of opulence and grandeur, at times. It can be a feel-good story, but one that hurts, too.

Shakespeare said, “The play’s the thing” and so is “Footnotes.” If you love Broadway, history, or books on culture, it’ll make you roar.

“Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way” by Caseen Gaines. c.2021, Sourcebooks $26.99 / higher in Canada 448 pages

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Book Reviews

Mothers that made us, author Anna Malaika Tubbs offers insight, perspective

THE THREE MOTHERS is an assessment of its subjects’ emotional, moral, physiological, psychological, and familial bearings. Further, it explores each subject’s aspirations and motivations, the inherent attributes that inform their existential impact as daughters, as mothers, as members of the movement; their pursuits for dignity, for commerce, for acceptance of and by black people. 

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Author and academician Anna Malaika Tubbs takes us on an extraordinary exploration of three matriarchs: Alberta King (Mother of Martin Luther King Jr), Louise Little (mother of Malcolm X), and Berdis Baldwin (mother of James Baldwin). While all of the subjects and their sons no longer live among us, their life lessons live on perpetually.
THE THREE MOTHERS (ISBN: 978-1-250-75612-1, Flatiron Books), is my personal pick for a Mother’s Day gift.
Tubbs, a student of life and learning, earned an undergraduate degree in Anthropology at Stanford University; an MA in Multidisciplinary Gender Studies at Cambridge University and will soon add a PhD in Sociology to her academic accomplishments, also from Cambridge.
The life partner of Michael Tubbs (former Stockton CA mayor now current economic advisor to Governor Gavin Newsom), and soon-to-be-mother of two, beckons us to this critically acclaimed reflection of three iconic women whose parental and personal sacrifices gave way to historical giants of untold proportion.
A portion of our conversation about THE THREE MOTHERS follows–
Sandra Varner (Talk2SV):  Was it always these three mothers that you chose to profile in the book?
Tubbs:  My relationship with these mothers, in that sense, has been relatively short. I didn’t know much about them when I started my PhD. I didn’t have them in my proposal. When I was applying for my PhD program, I was generally interested in telling black women’s stories that had been forgotten. And there were so many stories that we could have chosen.  Many (Black women’s) contributions are erased, not paid attention to, not given the credit they deserve; but I was very inspired by Margo Lee Shetterly’s HIDDEN FIGURES. I knew I wanted to be somebody who also found “hidden figures” and gave them the spotlight they deserved. When I started the PhD, I began to think of all the different layers of erasures I could address in one project.  Thoughts about the many different parts of this horrible problem of erasing stories that still persists–not giving somebody the recognition they deserve.
Assessing how many of those things could I challenge in one project? So I thought about the civil rights movement. I thought about this moment in history we’re in now, crucial to our understanding of the world that we cite over and over again, that we so often speak from the perspective of our male leaders. And we don’t really say much about others who were involved–it’s very male centered perspective. I knew I was going to do something around re-examining the civil rights movement. I also thought about roles in our society that are overlooked and not celebrated in the way I believe they should be.

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Activism

Civil Rights Before the Loving Decision

Loving v. Virginia was a landmark civil rights case in 1967 that recognized marriage as a fundamental right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which includes the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause.

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Not so recently in the United States, same sex marriages were illegal. In the last century, there were laws on the books that prohibited folks from different races marrying.  

Loving v. Virginia was a landmark civil rights case in 1967 that recognized marriage as a fundamental right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which includes the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause.

In 1958, Mildred Loving, a Black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were convicted and sentenced to a year in prison for violating the state of Virginia’s laws prohibiting their marriage.

That conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1968, ending discrimination in marriage based on race.

The Loving decision was a catalyst in 2015 to help abolish discrimination in marriage in same-sex marriages, which allowed for equality in the LGBTQ communities of all races including this author.

Before the Loving decision, Joan Steinau, a white woman, married Julius Lester, who at the time was a singer and a photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  Julius later became a writer.  

Joan and Julius were divorced in 1970.

Next month, Joan’s memoir, “Loving before Loving:  A Marriage in Black and White,” will be released. In the book, she recounts her marriage to Julius Lester before the Loving decision in the midst of the civil rights era as a wife, mother, and activist. 

In an interview with the Post, she said,   “Given both the erasure and distortion of Black lives as presented in the white-led media, the existence of a robust Black press . . .has been essential to the survival and thriving of Black community.”

Quoting the Chicago Daily Defender in her memoir, she said, “When one of its reporters asked President Truman, after he said school integration might lead to intermarriage, ‘Would you want your daughter to marry a Black man if she loved him?’ The president responded with a typical segregationist attitude of the time, ‘She won’t love anybody that’s not her color.’   It was important for the Black reporter to be there, because of course he assumed the possibility that naturally she could love anyone and pointed that out with his question.”

She added,  “That’s just one example of a long history of significant advocacy and reportage by hundreds of Black newspapers over the last 150 years. The Post News Group has jumped into the gap regionally to fill this important space, and I’m grateful for it. Until we have true representation of all experiences/perspectives at major media outlets, we will continue to need media targeted to excluded groups.

“My own history with Oakland/Berkeley dates to the 1980s when I began to visit from the East Coast and plot a way to move here. In 1991, my wife and I did settle in Berkeley. We immediately joined a predominantly Black church in Oakland and began creating a friendship circle. The diverse culture here was high on our list of reasons to move from our predominantly white area in New England. And it has been everything we hoped for.”

Joan Lester dedicates this memoir to her wife, Carole.  In addition to this memoir, she is a commentator, columnist and book author.

“Loving before Loving A Marriage in Black and White” by Joan Steinau Lester is available for pre-order now and on sale on May 18 on Amazon and at local bookstores.

For more information log onto JoanLester.com.

Wikipedia was a source for this story.

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