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Dr. Morgan E. Norris


The Mary Ball Washington Museum and Lancaster Public Library will present a special program February 15, 2010, honoring Dr. Morgan E. Norris, one of Virginia's civil rights pioneers.

The event is at 4 p.m. at the Lancaster Public Library in Kilmarnock, featuring a talk by Dr. James Norris of New York, who has written a new book about his father; Fight On My Soul; a colored doctor's battle against disease, discrimination, and ignorance in rural Jim Crow Virginia.

Morgan E. Norris, born around the turn of the 20th century, was a young county resident who lost his parents at an early age. As a young teen he left home and moved to Yonkers, New York, where his sister lived and worked.

As fortune would have it, he began working for a prominent Yonkers family, the Ellsworth Bunkers. Bunker, whose son would later become an important American diplomat, took an interest in young Morgan and encouraged him to pursue medicine.

It wasn’t easy for an African-American to become a doctor in those days, but Morgan was not to be denied. He went through medical school with honors and upon graduation, could have taught or practiced in a major city.

"Instead, Dr. Morris returned to his hometown of Kilmarnock, Virginia and began a small town medical practice where African-Americans had very few options when it came to health care. He established friendships with white physicians in the community, and with Mrs. Jessie Ball DuPont, who helped him establish health clinics where none existed before. He also built a school for African-American students, according to the African-American Historical Society of Lancaster County.

He confronted injustice head on when he met it. In 1939 – 19 years before Dr. King organized the Montgomery bus boycott – Dr. Morgan E. Norris organized a bus boycott in Lancaster County.

In that year the Lancaster County School Board, which provided free bus transportation for white students, imposed a fee on black students who rode the bus. Dr. Norris organized the black community to boycott the county school buses until black students were treated equally.

Confronted with a reasoned, logical opposition, powerful allies in the white establishment, and an economically crippling boycott, county political leaders quickly changed their policy and allowed all students to ride the bus at no charge.

When the Virginia Legislature enacted Jim Crow laws, prohibiting blacks and whites from attending public events at the same time, Lancaster’s black citizens found they were denied admission to the annual fair, a highlight of the summer. Again, not to be denied, Dr. Norris helped organize an African-American fair, on grounds west of Kilmarnock, that was said to be as successful as any in the Commonwealth.

Dr. Norris spent his entire adult life in Lancaster County, providing health care services for people who didn’t have it, enhancing education opportunities, and standing up for fairness and justice. He was a man respected by people of all races.