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James Morris Sr.
*James B. Morris Sr. was born on this date in 1890. He was a Black lawyer and newspaper businessman.
At the age of twelve, from Atlanta, Georgia, he began working in a little print shop in Covington, a suburb of Atlanta,"' "After completing his grammar school in Atlanta, Morris moved to Baltimore, where he attended high school and enrolled at Hampton Institute. "I worked the first year at Hampton. It was the custom then to work your first year to make enough money to attend school the second," Morris reported. At Hampton, he took a printing course and became so interested in the field that he declared it his major.
In 1911, he graduated from the printing department and immediately entered the academic program. During the summers, Morris and several classmates worked at Asbury Park, New Jersey. His roommate's father was a lawyer in Portsmouth, Virginia, and this influence convinced Morris to attend Howard University Law School after graduating from Hampton in 1912. Morris sought summer employment to provide income to pay tuition, room, and board. He secured a job on the Hudson River Day Line sightseeing boat that traveled up and down the Hudson River. He kept this job every summer throughout the Howard years. Of all his extra-curricular activities, Morris most enjoyed the debating society.
One of the society's guest speakers. Senator William E. Borah initially gave Morris the idea that the West was filled with opportunity and needed good lawyers. Borah suggested that several young Black law students consider setting up practice in the West. Morris graduated from Howard in June 1915 and worked as a dining car waiter with the Great Northern Railroad. Based out of Great Falls, Morris spent one year in Montana before coming to Des Moines, where another Howard graduate had established a prominent law practice. He passed the Iowa state bar examination on June 5, 1917, eight days before he entered the United States Army.
Stationed at Fort Des Moines, he completed the officer training program. On April 16, 1918, Morris married Georgine Crowe, a dress designer in Des Moines. One month later, he left for France and World War I, a lieutenant in the Iowa 366th Infantry. After suffering a leg wound, he was sent to Camp Upton, New York, to recover in May 1919. He was later transferred to Fort Des Moines and discharged on July 7, 1919. A close friend of Morris' was running for County Treasurer at the time and promised Morris that if he could deliver the Black vote, one of his first actions as County Treasurer would be to appoint a Negro deputy. His friend won and kept his promise.
In December 1920, Morris Sr. was appointed Deputy County Treasurer. He held the position until January 1924. Meanwhile, Morris ardently attempted to establish his law practice but, as he confessed, "There really wasn't much business for a Negro lawyer in those days." In late November 1922, he purchased the Iowa Bystander from Lawrence Jones. And after leaving his political job, he became more active in his law practice. Morris Sr. has several other achievements to his credit. In 1920-21, he served as state president of the Iowa chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mrs. Morris has served as president, and both are still active in NAACP affairs. Morris, George Woodson, S. Joe Brown, Charles Howard, and Mrs. Gertrude Rush helped found the National Bar Association in Des Moines in 1931.
All five re-grouped what was left of the older Negro Bar Association to provide a professional organization for Negro lawyers. At the time, the American Bar Association did not admit Negroes into its ranks. The NBA is still active, and Morris is the sole surviving founder. In 1955-56 Morris was a member of Iowa's advisory committee to the National Civil Rights Commission. Morris practiced law for over fifty years; in 1970, Des Moines appointed Morris to its Human Rights Commission. In May 1974, Morris and his wife will observe their 56th wedding anniversary. They had two children, a son who shares the law practice with his father and a daughter who is currently teaching at the University of Colorado medical school. James B. Morris died in 1978.