The Itawamba County Times will host a homecoming and book signing for Fulton native Bill Morris this Thursday, Oct. 3, from 4-7 p.m. He will read selections from his recently-published autobiography, “Bill Morris: A Legendary Life.”
The City of Fulton will present Morris with a key to the city at 3:30 p.m., also at The Times. The event is free and open to everyone.
In his autobiography, Morris reflects on his years growing up in poverty in Itawamba County, his work at The Itawamba County Times and rising to political power in Tennessee.
Morris was elected as one of the youngest sheriffs in Tennessee history. While serving as sheriff, he ran the office with an open door policy. He transformed the corrupt, undisciplined department into one of the most respected in the country.
His discovery of how the mentally ill were incarcerated and treated led him to drastically change the department’s policy and partner with a local hospital for their care. He tackled illegal gambling, unlawful nightclubs and bootleg whiskey.
The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, placed Morris squarely in the middle of one of history’s darkest and most pivotal moments.
“The days following Dr. King’s death were tough,” Morris wrote in his book. “I had almost four years under my belt as sheriff, and my men were well trained. We could react with some degree of professionalism.”
Morris and his staff instituted new jail procedures while holding Dr. King’s assassin, James Earl Ray, and ensuring he made it to trial. The measures included not allowing the media to photograph the high-profile prisoner. He always maintained that “anyone you can photograph, you can shoot.” There were no cameras allowed on Ray that were not under Morris’ direct control.
He received national acclaim from law enforcement officials for his procedures including personal recognition from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
Throughout his book, Morris writes about many personal encounters and longtime friendships.
He dedicates one chapter to his close personal friendship with Elvis Presley. The two first met at Morris’ wife (then girlfriend) Ann’s high school graduation. After becoming friends, the two discovered that their families knew each other in Itawamba County.
He deputized Presley and the members of his “Memphis Mafia” in 1965. In his book, Morris reflects on how, throughout Presley’s life, he had a deep and abiding respect for law enforcement. In 1972, Presley gifted him with a Mercedes for Christmas.
Their friendship remained strong until the singer’s death on Aug. 16, 1977.
Morris served as sheriff of Shelby County from 1964 until 1970. He served as mayor of Memphis from 1978 to 1994. He retired from politics following an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1994. Three years later, he began his greatest challenge, caring for his wife, Ann, after she suffered from a major stroke. For the next 19 years, he was devoted to his wife’s well being, until her death in 2016.
In his autobiography he tells about overcoming poverty and rising in political ranks, Morris covers the gamut of a life well lived and much respected.