Charlie Morris

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN– A funeral service for Charlie Morris, 98, was held at the Golden Gate Baptist Church in Memphis on Monday. Several family members spoke at the memorial service about the man who never forgot about what happened to his half-brother.

For decades Morris had been telling people about the lynching of Jesse Lee Bond in Arlington, TN on July 17, 1939. In 2017 Morris finally got a chance to testify before a joint subcommittee of the state legislature.

“At the age of 97, he travelled to Nashville to tell our committee his story.  When he spoke about the need for justice for his brother’s death, his words touched the entire room,” said Rep. Johnnie Turner.

Jesse Lee Bond was a sharecropper and Sam Wilson, the landowner, shot him as he walked into the plantation store that day. Bond, 20, stumbled back out the door and took refuge in a nearby outhouse. Wilson followed him and riddled it with bullets until Bond fell outside dead. He was castrated and thrown in the Loosahatchie River. The coroner reported the death as a drowning.

Bond had bought $13.90 worth of seed from Wilson’s son a few days before and had insisted on getting a receipt. In those days, supplies were sold on credit, the amount put in a ledger, and the account was settled after crops were harvested. Too often, sharecroppers worked all year for next to nothing and the owners account book was how they were routinely cheated.  

The receipt Bond wanted was insurance. It was just a piece of paper but it cost him his life. Charlie Morris was 18 at the time. 

“Finally, something’s going to be done about the murder of my brother,” Morris said after he testified last year.

Turner said that Morris’s testimony led to the passage of two bills regarding cold civil rights cases.  The first bill established the Tennessee Civil Rights Crimes Information, Reconciliation and Research Center.

“The Center will transfer any information collected that may still be subject to possible criminal prosecution to the appropriate state and local law enforcement agencies,” Turner said.

The second bill allows members of the general assembly access to TBI investigative records involving Civil Rights Era crimes. 

“I am honored to have met Mr. Morris and it has been a privilege to help fulfill his dream of bringing information about Civil Rights cold case crimes to the surface,” Turner said.

In a TV interview for the series “America Divided” Morris was asked how we can get to justice. “The first step to equal justice is love,” he said.