Hey kids, I’m MaNishtana!
It’s that time again, when us Black folk get shafted with the shortest month of the year and are expected to cram all of our collective accomplishments as a race into the space of 28 days in a timely manner so we can forget about them for the rest of the year.
But a lot of folk seem to forget that the African American AND Caribbean American communities are NOT exclusively not-Jewish, so we’re gonna have a little bit of Black Jewish History Month over here at Manishtana.net. Our first guest, brought to my attention by my good friend and activist Y-Love, is Black Jewish Civil War officer Lieutenant Lewis Morrison.
Born Morris W. Morris in Jamaica, West Indies, Morrison was of both Black and Jewish heritage, and immigrated to New Orleans with his mother just before the start of the Civil War. Although only in his late teens, in 1861 he became an officer in the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, a Confederate regiment undocumented as having seen battle. With the Union occupation of New Orleans in 1861-62, Morrison, along with many other Black and biracial officers, accepted Union service and reformed the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, this time as a regiment for the North, and at the battle of Port Hudson, was the first Black regiment to fight in combat for the Union.
After serving for three and a half years, at the end of the Civil War, Morris changed his name to Lewis Morrison to escape his African and Jewish heritage, and went on to become one of the great stage actors of the latter 19th century, passing as a Creole in New Orleans. As a descendant of two of the most demonized ethnic groups of modern history, it is perhaps with great irony that Morrison is best remembered for his role as the devil Mephistopheles in “Faust”.
Buried at Nepperhan Heights in Yonkers, Morrison is the grandfather of actresses Constance and Joan Bennet, and the great grandfather of actor Morton Downey, Jr.
This is Black Jewish History Month on MaNishtana’s Musings.