From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Morris, Charles Satchell, Sr.

(born: September 26, 1865  -  died: March 10, 1931) 

* IMAGE: Rev. Charles Satchell Morris, Sr., his wife Sadie E. Waterman Morris, and their son Charles S. Morris, Jr. The 1901 image is "From The New York Public Library" and is available online at the Digital Collections.

Charles Satchell Morris, Sr. was an orator, and an early civil rights activist and political activist. He was a highly respected Baptist minister who first trained as a lawyer. He served as secretary to Frederick Douglass. Morris' first wife was Annie Rosine Sprague (1856-1893), the granddaughter of Frederick Douglass. After Annie R. Sprague's death, Charles S. Morris, Sr. married Sadie E. Waterman and the couple had five children.

Charles S. Morris, Sr. was born in Louisville, KY. He attended the segregated schools in Louisville and was the valedictorian of his high school senior class. He went on to attend Howard University, and he was a political supporter of U.S. President William Henry Harrison. In return for his support, Rev. Morris was named to government jobs such as the inspector of immigrants in New York. Rev. Morris continued his education and was an 1898 graduate of the Newton Theological Institute Regular Department. The school was located in New Center, MA, and is now Andover Newton Seminary.

Newton Institute was a leader in the Missionary Movement and would have an impact on Rev. Morris' work in Africa and his campaign for African American ministers to become missionaries in Africa to help tame Africans with Christianity. Before traveling overseas, Rev. Morris married his second wife Sadie E. Waterman on July 7, 1898. The couple was married in the Centenary Church in Charleston, SC. Rev. Morris then took his first job as a minister at Myrtle Church in West Newton, MA. He resigned from the church to become a missionary in Cape Town, South Africa, in August of 1899. Within Rev. Morris' report on the Negro Baptist of America in South Africa, there was said to have been 1,200 baptisms.

On his return to the United States, Rev. Morris was named minister of the Abyssinian Church in New York (more information at church website). He was succeeded by Rev. Clayton Powell. Rev. Morris also served as the minister of Bank Street Church in Norfolk, VA. His last church was Fifth Street Baptist Church in Richmond, VA, where he served from 1926-1930 (picture and more information at church website). He also served as dean of the Virginia Theological Seminary and College in Lynchburg, VA (now Virginia University of Lynchburg, an HBCU). He was the first African American principal of Boydton Institute, a Christian school in Boydton, VA, established for the training of African American preachers and teachers. The school was in operation from 1879-1935.  

Rev. Morris was an advocate of race unity, and he was a colleague of Booker T. Washington. Rev. Morris was also an anti-evolutionist. More can be read about the anti-evolutionist views of Rev. Morris and other African American ministers in the title American Genesis: evolution controversies from Scopes to creation science by Jeffrey P. Moran. Chapter 3: Fighting for the future of the race: evolution for African American pedagogues and preachers.

Rev. Morris was also a colleague of Rev. John Chilembwe who was a U.S.-trained Baptist minister from Nyasaland (today Malawi, Africa). Rev. Chilembwe studied at the Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg, VA. In 1901, Rev. Morries accompanied Chilembwe back to Nyasaland to assist him in the building of his church. Rev. Chilembwe was also an activist who fought against colonialism. During WWI, in 1915, Rev. Chilembwe led an unsuccessful revolt and was killed. It was one of the first major African-led uprisings against colonialism. The British colonial government in Nyasaland blamed the revolt on the influence upon Chilembwe by his African American friends and their literature. Nyasaland gained its independence from British rule on July 6, 1964.  

Rev. Charles S. Morris, Sr. was born in Louisville, KY, and died in Richmond, VA. He is buried there in the Woodland Cemetery. He was the son of Benjamin D. Morris, Sr. and Elizabeth M. Satchell Morris. His parents married on August 20, 1862, in Wilberforce, Greene County, OH (Ohio Marriage Records, Ancestry). His mother, Elizabeth M. Satchell Morris, taught at Wilberforce University, Leland University, and the Louisville segregated public schools. His father, Benjamin D. Morris, was a steamboat steward/porter who was the son of Shelton and Evaline Morris.

Rev. Charles S. Morris, Sr. was the paternal grandson of Colonel Richard Morris and Fanny who was enslaved to Colonel Morris. Fanny and her six children gained their freedom as stated in Richard Morris' 1820 will. The family then moved to Louisville, KY. The family history is published in The Saga of the Morris Family by Ruth Morris Graham.

Rev. Charles S. Morris, Sr. was the maternal grandson of Rev. Charles and Amelia Satchell. Rev. Satchell, born in Virginia, was founder of the Baker Street Baptist Church in Cincinnati, OH, in 1846. He had been a minister at the Union Baptist Church in Cincinnati in 1838. Charles, Amelia, and their children was free and were enumerated in the 1840 and 1850 U.S. Census. Some sources indicate that Rev. Charles Satchell Morris, Sr. was the great-grandson of a woman who was a half-sister to U.S. First Lady Martha Washington. Though much has been written about the half-sister Ann Dandridge Costin who was enslaved to Martha Washington, it is not known how many enslaved half-sisters Martha Washington may have had.

"His [Rev. Charles Satchell Morris, Sr.] great-grandmother on his mother's side was a half sister to Martha Washington. Her husband was an Englishman by the name of Satchell." --Quote Source: Pastor Henry N. Jeter's Twenty-Five Years Experience with the Shiloh Baptist Church and Her Story, by Henry Norval Jeter, p.61. 

For more see Charles Satchell Morris in Pastor Henry N. Jeter's Twenty-Five Years Experience with the Shiloh Baptist Church and Her Story, by Henry Norval Jeter; see "Charles Satchell Morris in Newton Theological Institute," Boston Evening Transcript, 06/09/1898, p.9; see Rev. Charles Satchell Morris in "Personals and briefs," The Richmond Planet, 07/09/1898, front page; BlackPast, B. (2007, January 28). (1898) Rev. Charles S. Morris Describes The Wilmington Massacre of 1898.; "Voice from Africa," The Richmond Planet, 11/04/1899, front page; see Norrell family photo of Rev. Charles S. Morris and Frederick Douglass at Richmond Free Press webpage, 02/10/2017; see "Abyssinian during the pastorate of Charles Satchell Morris, 1902-1908" in Witness: Two Hundred Years of African-American Faith and Practice at the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, New York by Genna Rae McNeil; "Dr. Charles S. Morris, Sr. buried in Richmond, mourned by thousands," New York Age, 08/01/1931, front page and p.9; see Charles S. Morris death certificate, registered #1698(9), Commonwealth of Virginia (Ancestry).

See also "Mrs. Elizabeth S. Morris (obituary)," The Appeal (Minnesota), 01/12/1918, p.3; Lisa, Ackers. "John Chilembwe, the Lynchburg student who became the Father of Independence of the African County of Malawi," 08/19/2022, a Lynchburg Museum webpage; "Martha Washington's Black Sister," a Stories from American History blog; and the William Costin Wikipedia page.

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“Morris, Charles Satchell, Sr.,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 16, 2024,

Last modified: 2024-06-10 15:06:36