Honoring a living legend: Leona Morris
By: Stephanie Warren, the Amite Tangi Digest
African Americans have a long history of activism in America, from fighting for the right to vote to pushing for integrated public spaces. The history of African Americans is filled with the tales of inspiring individuals, many whom overcame great odds to leave their mark on history. This story is about a woman who definately left her mark on history. Ms. Leona Marie Morris, born October 24, ...., the year not known, as Ms. Leona exclaimed, "A lady never tells her age!" She is the daughter of the late Mr. Charley and Mrs. Katie Curry Morris of Roseland and she has resided in the same city since she was born. She is the youngest and only surviving child left of eight children, the oldest sibling born in 1884. She is a member of Big Zion A.M.E. Zion Church and has been a member since she was a little girl. She has served as secretary of the church for over 75 years. Ms. Morris graduated from Roseland School for the colored and O.W. Dillon High School in Kentwood. She always focused on her education and continuing education, and, passed the value of it on to many.
When she graduated high school, she continued her education at Grambling State University where she obtained a degree in Bachelor of Science in 1949. Grambling State University is located in Grambling Louisiana and it is a story of a village that raised a university. It is a story that began more than 140 years ago when newly freed slaves settled in Grambling to build a farming community and other self-help institutions including one that became Grambling State University. Street names, churches, historic marks and buildings make the community and the university a virtual living textbook of African American history. Ms. Morris then went on to obtain a Master of Education in Supervision and Administration in 1971 from Southern University. Ms. Morris began her career as an educator at the Roseland School for the colored before the Civil Rights Movement ended segregation in the schools. The African American students and the white students were now allowed to attend school together. The school then changed it's name from Roseland School for the colored to Big Zion Elementary School. She taught first grade, sixth grade, and eighth grade for seven years before she was promoted to Principal. Ms. Morris stated that she also coached a basketball team. Her girls' were the best and undefeated! The Big Zion Elementary School later closed down due to funding. The Tangipahoa Parish School Board allowed Ms. Morris and her students' to be housed at Westside Middle School while renovations were being made to Roseland Elementary School, a school the town already had which housed only the white students' until the school's were desegregated. After a year at Westside, Ms. Leona and her students returned to the newly renovated Roseland Elementary School where she remained until she retired 30 years later.
Ms. Morris stated as an educator, when the schools were desegregated she was very happy because children, whether white or black, were just another child to her and she enjoyed teaching. She stated when she attended school she did not mind that the schools were segregated because she knew what she was there for and she wanted to learn. Ms. Morris has been named by many the cornerstone of the Roseland community. She has touched and shaped so many lives and is without a doubt a true role model, teacher and leader. This is just a small tribute to her given all the wonderful and amazing things people have said about her. Throughout the years, she has received numerous awards for her excellent work as a leader in various positions that she has held. Awards such as the Presidential Citation from Gramling State University, one of the historically and predominantly black institutions awarded by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. Ms. Morris is truly an amazing woman who has lived her life to fullest and leaves her mark on other people's lives. She continues to do that each and every day God blesses her and awakens her in the morning. The African American struggle for desegregation did not arise because anyone believed that there was something magical about sitting next to whites in a classroom. It was, however, based on a belief that the dominant group would keep control of the most successful schools and the only way to get full range of opportunities for a minority child was to get access to those schools. When asked how the Civil Rights Movement changed her life, she stated, "It didn't change my life much at all because I always got along with everyone and I know how to treat people." In many ways, the drive to end segregated education and to put African American and white children in the same classrooms was the most radical and potentially far-reaching aspect of the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Leona would like for everyone to know that, "With God all things are possible, and she lets the life she lives speak for her."