Former Alabama Selma leader, Carl C. Morgan Jr., dies

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 6, 2006

The Times-Journal

With the death on Thursday of Carl C. Morgan Jr., the Black Belt as well as the state of Alabama, lost a former elected official known as the Dean of City Council Presidents. Due to his numerous leadership positions in the State League of Municipalities, his untiring efforts on behalf of his own community and the state, his name will long be remembered.

Jamie Wallace, former head of the Selma Chamber of Commerce, and previously, a newsman with The Times-Journal, said, on learning of Morgan’s death, “Carl ran the Selma City Council in such a manner he kept decorum in threatened chaos – perhaps due to his military background.”

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Wallace, a personal friend of Morgan’s, said “Carl was unique, devoting a great portion of his life to this city and state at personal sacrifice.”

He was born Aug. 12, 1920, in Uniontown, the son of Carl C. and Evelyn Ellis Morgan, a California native.

The two met during World War I in France, where he was on military duty and she was a Red Cross worker, married after the war and returned to Uniontown, where she later became the postmaster.

After finishing high school in Uniontown at age 15, Carl Jr. entered Auburn University, receiving his degree in Agricultural Engineering at age 19. He was retained as an instructor at the university, holding an assistant professor’s position until he was called to active military duty as a second lieutenant in 1942 and became part of the 12th Armored Division, known as the Hellcats.

After intensive training his unit was sent to France, where it began a search and destroy campaign that led it through France into Germany and eventually into General George Patton’s Third Army. In late April of 1945 the Division began liberating the Nazi death camps at Hurlage, Landsberg and Dachau. It was an experience Morgan never forgot.

In one of life’s happenstances, while in France Morgan met a young Red Cross worker from New Jersey who was assigned to the 12th Armored Division. And like father, like son, he and Jane Umstad married after his release from active duty and returned to Uniontown for a time.

In 1946 Morgan and Baker Riddle opened Morgan Black Belt Tractor Company in Selma, one of seven such businesses in a city that seemed open for a bright future.

With other young business owners Morgan worked to organize the Selma Jaycees, which later grew into the Committee of 100 plus and was successful in bringing Hammermill Paper Company (now International Paper) to the city. He served also on the Selma City School Board, took an active role in historic preservation in the city and the state and was instrumental in the formation of the state Cahaba Commission, which he served for a number of years.

He was a founding director of The Old Depot Museum and for several years he headed its annual fund-raising barbecue, making his father’s famous Uniontown Specific Sauce, a Black Belt favorite.

Morgan first entered politics in a losing race against Walter Givhan for a seat in the State Legislature. In 1960 he was elected to the Selma City Council and in 1964 ran citywide and won the position of Council President, which he held until 1978 when Mayor Joe Smitherman resigned and Morgan became Mayor.

However, in the 1980 mayoral election Smitherman entered the race against Morgan and won, putting Morgan out of office until 1984 when he was again elected Council President. He retained the position until 2000, when he did not run for re-election.

During his years in political office, Morgan held a number of positions in the Alabama State League of Municipalities and in the National League of Cities.

Rita Franklin, the first woman to be elected to City Council office, first knew Morgan when she was 5 and living with her family as neighbor to the young Morgans in the Ice House Historic District.

“Serving on the Council when Carl was president was a professional experience due to his leadership ability and knowledge of local and state government. He could be quite firm, but he was always fair, and his leadership position in organizations such as the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission as well as the State League and National League of Cities were helpful to the city and the Black Belt.”

Nancy Sewell served two terms on the Council with Morgan and says, “He was always a voice of reason, a peace maker in difficult sessions and with a wonderful sense of humor that eased any difficult times. Always a gentleman, he wore the mantle of leadership gracefully.”

Bennie Crenshaw found Morgan’s Council leadership “firm and usually fair. I respected him, learned from him. He never waived from any stand he took. He introduced me to and gave me knowledge about government, both local and state, that has been extremely helpful.

“Although we disagreed at times, we became friends. He will be missed.”

After operating for almost 60 years Morgan’s Black Belt Tractor Company closed almost two years ago and Morgan moved to Nacogdoches, Texas, although he maintained his ties with Selma. His son, Carl C. Morgan III, lives here. His wife, Jane Umstad Morgan, is deceased.

Although funeral plans are not yet complete, Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. says he wants the City of Selma to help sponsor a memorial service for Morgan, “preferably at his church, St. Paul’s Episcopal. Carl Morgan was a fine man and deserving of honor and respect. The city owes much to him, which is the reason for the Carl C. Morgan Convention Center.”