In 1939, Jessie Lee Morris died. The official police record says he fell into a river and drowned, but Morris’ family has always maintained that he was lynched after an argument with white shop owners — shot and tied to a stake in the river.
No one has ever been charged with his death.
Decades later, his now-91-year-old brother, Charlie Morris, told StoryCorps in Memphis, Tenn., that he was at school when he was called down to the office and told that his brother had been murdered.
Morris says that all he wanted was to get revenge. He went to his grandmother’s house. He was crying and carrying a revolver. His grandmother begged him not to go.
“She says, ‘Son, don’t do this,’ ” Morris recalls. “She says, ‘I’ve got one grandson dead. I don’t want the burden of another grandson being dead.’ “
Morris says the hatred he carried for 10 years after his brother’s death was a burden.
“I was just sick. I was aching,” Morris says. “I’d go to the doctor, [but] the doctor couldn’t find anything.”
One day, the doctor asked Morris to come back to the office and to bring his wife. The next Thursday, they showed up together.
“When we got in there, he started questioning her,” Morris says. “I was having nightmares, but she never told me. I was crying in my sleep. I was calling for my brother.”
Morris says he began to realize what was happening. “And the doctor told me … ‘I’m the wrong doctor for you.’
“And when I began to forgive, there was all the answers to my illness. I didn’t have to go to the doctor anymore. I didn’t have those pains. But it did put a dent in my life for a long time.”
Morris’ story inspired a Tennessee state representative to introduce a bill that would require the study of unsolved civil rights crimes. The bill has been stalled in the state Legislature for nearly four years.
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.