Piece image

StoryCorps Griot: Charlie Morris and Sylvester Lewis

From: StoryCorps
Series: StoryCorps
Length: 01:46

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Charlie Morris remembers his brother's death in 1939, with his cousin Sylvester Lewis. Read the full description.

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In April, 1939, a young African American man was accused of stealing merchandise from a store in Tennessee. Shortly afterward, he was found dead in a nearby river.

That man’s name was Jessie Lee Bond. His death certificate says he drowned accidentally, but his family always maintained that after an argument with white shop owners, he was lynched — shot, castrated, and thrown in a river.

At StoryCorps, Charlie Morris (L), Jessie Lee’s brother, remembers the moment he learned what happened.

No one has ever been charged in Charlie’s brother’s death. But his story inspired a lawmaker in Tennessee to introduce a bill to the legislature that would create a task force to study unsolved civil rights crimes. That bill stalled in the state Senate.

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Piece Description

In April, 1939, a young African American man was accused of stealing merchandise from a store in Tennessee. Shortly afterward, he was found dead in a nearby river.

That man’s name was Jessie Lee Bond. His death certificate says he drowned accidentally, but his family always maintained that after an argument with white shop owners, he was lynched — shot, castrated, and thrown in a river.

At StoryCorps, Charlie Morris (L), Jessie Lee’s brother, remembers the moment he learned what happened.

No one has ever been charged in Charlie’s brother’s death. But his story inspired a lawmaker in Tennessee to introduce a bill to the legislature that would create a task force to study unsolved civil rights crimes. That bill stalled in the state Senate.

Broadcast History

NPR's Morning Edition, September 28, 2012.

Transcript

Charlie Morris (CM): I was at school and they called me to the office. And they told me that my brother had been murdered. And all I wanted to do was to get revenge.

So I went to my grandmother’s, and I had carried with me a .38 revolver. And I was crying, and she says, “Son, don’t do this.” She said, “I’ve got one grandson dead. I don’t want the burden of another grandson being dead.”

To be honest with you, I carried a burden of hatred on my shoulder for 10 years. I was just sick. I was aching. I’d go to the doctor -- the doctor couldn’t find anything. But one day the doctor said, “When you come next week bring your wife with you.”

So the next Thursday I carried my wife with me. And when we got in there, he started questioning her. I was having nightmares but she never told me. I was crying in my sleep -- I was calling for my brother.

And then I began to realize what was happening....
Read the full transcript

Intro and Outro

INTRO:

Time now for StoryCorps, the project recording stories that have shaped the lives of every day Americans.

Today, we hear from 91-year-old Charlie Morris.

He lost his brother, Jessie Lee, in 1939. Jessie Lee’s death certificate says he drowned accidentally.

But the Morris family always maintained that after an argument with white shop owners, Jessie Lee was lynched, shot, and thrown in a river.

Here, Charlie remembers the moment he learned what happened.

OUTRO:

That's Charlie Morris, at StoryCorps in Memphis, Tennessee.

No one has ever been charged in his brother's death.

But Charlie's story inspired a lawmaker in Tennessee to introduce a bill to the legislature -- creating a task force to study unsolved civil rights crimes. That bill stalled in the state Senate.

Learn more at NPR.org.

This interview will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Musical Works

Title Artist Album Label Year Length
Milo Fredrik Trilogi. Kora Records 2010 :20

Additional Credits

SC14, Ancestry.com & CTCA

Related Website

www.storycorps.org