High Desert Mainstay Garner Morris Succumbs
By Eliz Dowdy
In the midst of the virus pandemic, high desert communities awakened to the news Saturday morning that longtime resident, activist, and encourager, Garner Cordell Morris had succumbed shortly after midnight at home.
Morris was born in a rural area near Batesville, Mississippi, in the Delta, close to the tri-state areas of Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. He was the oldest of thirteen children born to the Morris family, who were land owners in the area. He was blessed to experience life as an octogenarian, -a person who has lived eighty plus years-.
This is the fourth article this reporter has written about Morris and his family. When the California branch hosted their family reunion, I was privileged to meet many of the family members.
Morris related to me in an earlier discussion that adults in the community where he grew up emphasized the importance of education to him. They wanted life for their children to be better than it had been for them. That led him to attend one year of post-secondary schooling at Mississippi Valley College until the funding ran out. That is when he made the decision to join the Air Force in 1954. He would spend the next thirty years on active duty, where his specialty was avionics and air maintenance working on aircraft.
He met and married Thelma Ford who was teaching school in Batesville. The family arrived at George Air Force Base in 1963 where he worked on several aircraft including the F4 fighter. After retirement from the Air Force he went to work for Northup Grumman on the B52 bomber in systems safety-flight testing for seventeen years.
During that time, Morris was gaining a reputation as an activist, working to effect change in the communities where he lived. When they arrived in Victorville and found no suitable housing, they lived in San Bernardino. He was one of the charter members of the Victor Valley NAACP, and he took out membership for his wife and three children to increase the membership roster.
He served as Community Liaison for former San Bernardino First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, and joined the staff of current First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood during his first term.
He was honored by the DVL (Dreamers Visionaries & Leaders) Project in 2014 with a lifetime Achievement award.
With a long and illustrious residency in the Victor Valley, I asked several people who worked with Morris for comments. Evelyn Glasper served on the Executive Board of the NAACP for a decade, and her husband and Morris were close. She stated: “He knew everything that was going on in the community. He would call her husband Charley at 5:30 a.m. He really looked out for the community. He will be missed for sure.”
Bill Thomas, the president of the Victor Valley NAACP said, “I am currently traveling and was stunned to hear of his passing. Garner has been a mentor to me as well as a good friend. His guidance and insight helped me avoid many pitfalls. I relied heavily on his political instincts as it related to local politics. He was a Charter member and strong supporter of the Victor Valley NAACP. The members of the Branch extend their sincere condolences to his family. The high desert has lost one of its finest and he will be truly missed.”
One of the last works he did unilaterally for the community was the Isiah Roberts Memorial last fall. Roberts, an Air Policeman, was murdered fifty years ago on the base when he was leaving the scene of a domestic violence call. Through his ingenuity, Morris was able to bring together a cadre of the community to host a banquet in Roberts’ name, and begin the process of honoring a military person from the George AFB era annually. Gloria Roberts, surviving spouse of Isiah Roberts, said “Mr. Garner Morris was a true friend. My family and I have known Garner for over forty years. He has always been an instrumental part of our community. We both served on the board of the Victor Valley NAACP. Garner was known as “Mr. Victorville.” He knew every politician, city official, and key business owners in the surrounding areas of the high desert. Last year, Garner called me and said he wanted to put together a legacy dinner to honor my late husband. I felt very honored. He made sure this special event took place and it was a great success. What he did will be a forever special remembrance in my heart and in the hearts of my family.”
I had heard about Garner Morris, but met him when we served on the Black Heritage Committee back in the nineties. Once he discovered I was a writer for a Black owned and operated newspaper, he started calling me whenever something was going down, many times to enquire about why I wasn’t there. If the organizations were not issuing press passes, he paid for my attendance to assure I was able to get the information out to our readers.
Morris leaves a host of family to mourn his transition, including his wife of over sixty years, Thelma; son, Garner Cordell Jr., (grandchildren Alexia and Logan), daughters Phyllis Morris Green, retired Public Defender for the County of San Bernardino; Belinda, a mental health specialist; and Annie Jewell Kuykendall, of Detroit, Michigan