The Morton family in Birmingham, Ala.: Father Leo C., mother Imogene, children Leo E., Sharon, Anita and Alfred.
Sunday night, Chancellor Leo E. Morton received the 2012 Henry W. Bloch Human Relations Award from the Jewish Community Relations Bureau | American Jewish Committee.
Morton, 67, is the first African-American leader of UMKC. The Human Relations Award was given to Morton to honor his commitment to justice, his service to the community, his civic leadership and vision and his devotion to the city. The chancellor had a front row seat on history growing up in Birmingham, Ala., in the 1950s and ’60s. Here’s a version of his remarks:
I don’t mind telling you that I have struggled with this message. I guess the first reason is that I really had to think about the past and in order to move forward you have to let go of some elements of the past – I have a very short memory about negative stuff and, in this case, it’s some of the negative stuff that you want me to talk about.
The other reason is that in front of this group you really want to say something that will make a difference. In fact, that’s really important to me because one of my prayers – every day – is that God will bless me to be a blessing to others.
So, given that prayer, if I had to give a title for this message, I think you’ll see that it would be – But for the grace of God.
You see, my story is not the story of a man who lifted himself up by his own bootstraps. Looking back at my life I have jokingly said – the only thing that I can take credit for is picking the right parents. Of course you know that God gave them to me and put me in the situations throughout my life that would prepare me to do the work He needed me to do.
To tell my story I think would be helpful if I would tell it in two parts: my world up to 10 years of age, my world after that, and then what I think we can learn from my experiences to help us today.
Many academics theorize that most of your character is formed by 10 years of age and the development is affected by what goes on in the world around you.
What you need to understand about my world at that time was that it was small, segregated, all black and filled with family, community, church and education. Now let me paint the picture.
My earliest memories were at my grandparents’ home on my mother’s side: Eugene Pima Edge from Georgia and Lona Gatherite Mitchell-Edge – 5 Second Ave. South. Their home was about a mile from my parents’ home. In that mile along Center Street were all of my relatives on both sides of the family and my elementary school. Continue reading