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Finding Health After Letting Go Of Hate

Sep 28, 2012
Originally published on September 28, 2012 11:49 am

In 1939, Jessie Lee Bond died. His death certificate says he drowned accidentally, but his family has always maintained that he was lynched after an argument with white shop owners — shot and thrown into 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 Senate for nearly four years.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's Friday, which means it's time for StoryCorps, the project where Americans tell us stories that have shaped their lives. Today we hear from 91-year-old Charlie Morris. He lost his brother Jessie Lee in 1939. According to police records, he fell in a river and drowned, but the Morris family always maintained that after an argument with white shop owners, Jessie Lee was lynched, shot and tied to a stake in the river. No one has ever been charged in his death. Here Charlie remembers the moment he learned what happened.

CHARLIE MORRIS: 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 said, 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. Then I began to realize what was happening. And the doctor told me, he said, 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.

GREENE: That's Charlie Morris at StoryCorps in Memphis, Tennessee, and we should tell you there is a bill moving through the Tennessee legislature that would require an investigation into Jessie Lee's death and others like it. The interview you just heard will be archived along with all the others at the Library of Congress. The StoryCorps podcast is at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.