The Rev. John Burnett Morris Sr., 80, called Episcopalians to take activist path

Treating everyone fairly, regardless of race, was a tradition in John Morris' family.

Growing up in South Georgia, he knew that his great uncle, Charlton Wright, was shot to death in 1930 by a neighbor who was incensed by Mr. Wright's even-handed dealings with African-American customers and employees at his store in Brunswick.

So it should have come as little surprise when, three decades later, the Rev. Morris, by then an ordained Episcopal priest, left his first and the only parish in Dillon, S.C., to become an Atlanta-based civil rights activist.

In 1960 he co-founded and became the first executive director of the Episcopal Society of Cultural and Racial Unity, which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lauded in 1964 for its "great and significant work ... arousing the conscience of so many people on this question of racial injustice."

"John made a lot of Episcopalians mad in creating ESCRU," said NAACP President Emeritus Julian Bond of Washington, "but in doing so, he also made the Episcopal Church as a whole a major player in the civil rights struggle, creating a gateway for many Episcopalians to get involved and to lead."

ESCRU organized groups of clergy and laymen to take part in such protests as the Prayer Pilgrimage (in which the Rev. Morris was arrested), the march on Washington and the Selma-to-Montgomery march.

Not one to mince words, even when talking about his church superiors. the Rev. Morris denounced the Episcopal bishop of Alabama, Charles Carpenter, in 1960 for condemning civil disobedience as "just another name for lawlessness." Bishop Carpenter and other churchmen who resisted the equal rights movement, he said, were merely "chaplains for the dying order of the Confederacy."

The Rev. John Burnett Morris Sr., 80, died Tuesday at the Brandon Wilde retirement community in Evans of complications from Parkinson's disease. A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Jan. 8 at Emmaus House, 1017 Hank Aaron Drive S.W., Atlanta. Edo Miller & Sons Funeral Home in Brunswick is in charge of arrangements.

One notable Atlanta campaign the Rev. Morris led was the desegregation of the Lovett School. He suggested to the Rev. King and his wife Coretta that they apply for admission for their son Martin III, and the school swiftly rejected it.

"Dad and ESCRU kept the pressure on Lovett for four years," said his son, John Morris Jr. of Bethesda, Md. "They picketed the Lovett campus and, later on, the baccalaureate services of Lovett School at the Cathedral of St. Philip. Finally, Lovett ended its whites-only admission policy in 1966."

From 1968 to 1970, the Rev. Morris was a special assistant to the Southern Regional Council. Then from 1971 through 1980, he was a civil rights specialist for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and later for the Department of Education.

The Rev. Morris decided to leave government service in 1981 and live full-time in Atlanta. Semi-retired for a brief time, he opened a mail-order book business that he ran out of the family residence in north Atlanta. Named Julian Burnett Books for his grandfather, it specialized mainly in rare books on maritime history with a sideline in antique Bibles and books on Georgia history.

The Rev. Morris' first wife, Patsy Pratt Morris, was a nationally recognized crusader against the death penalty and a co-founder of the Atlanta chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She died in 1997.

Other survivors include his second wife, Wright Morris; a daughter, Ellen McCann of Lincoln, Mass.; another son, Christopher Morris of Haverford, Pa.; a sister, Anne Berlin of Clayton; and six grandchildren.

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