Saturday, July 31, 2010

31 July 1856: Monroe Bowers Morton Is Born

On this day in 1856, according to the 1900 Federal Census, Monroe Bowers "Pink" Morton was born a slave in Athens, Georgia. Over the next 63 years, he would become a well-known entrepreneur and "one of the leaders of the republican party in Georgia."

Morton started earning his own money at age 6 by working as a hotel porter during the Civil War. Once Morton and his family were emancipated, there is little evidence he received any formal education, though the Freedman's Bureau did open the Knox School in Athens in 1868. In the 1870 U. S. Census he is listed as living with his mother, two brothers (Willie, age 10, and Albert, age 6) and two sisters (Sue, age 5, and Emma, 2), but none of them are mentioned as having jobs or attending school. By the 1880 Census, he was married and was working in "Retail Grocery."

Morton eventually went into the construction and real estate business, at one point owning between 25 and 30 houses in Athens. He was active in Republican politics, and attended the 1896 Republican Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. He was elected to be the Georgia representative on the committee that notified William McKinley of Ohio that he had won the party's nomination. After McKinley's inauguration in March, 1897, Morton was appointed postmaster of Athens, a position he held until 1902.

After leaving government service, he returned to construction. He was involved in the construction of the Wilkes County courthouse in Washington, Georgia in 1904, and built his most famous building, the Morton Theatre, in 1909. He also built "a $10,000 marble building on Clayton Street," which is now home to Helix gifts. Two other Athens buildings on "hot corner," the Samaritan Building and Union Hall, have been torn down. In 1914, Morton purchased a local African-American newspaper, the Progressive Era, from W. D. Johnson, an A. M. E. bishop, and W. H. Harris, a dentist with offices in the Morton building. Morton was listed as editor and publisher of the paper, but no copies from his time as publisher have survived.

Morton, his wife Lula, and their four children lived in a large home at the corner of Milledge and Prince Avenues, where Flowerland florist is located today. He lived there from the 1880s until his death on February 12, 1919, "as a result of chronic heart trouble." In his will, he leaves a piece of property and cash to his two sisters, Susie and Emma, and the rest of his estate to his wife and children. He is buried in a fenced family lot in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in Athens.

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