Walter Morrison, 59, adviser, speech writer for NAACP

June 05, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF The New York Times contributed to this article.

Walter W. Morrison, a former speech writer and policy adviser for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, died of complications of diabetes and kidney failure May 17 at Good Samaritan Hospital. The Northwest Baltimore resident was 59.

Mr. Morrison framed many of the civil rights organization's responses to Reagan and Bush administration policies between 1986 and 1992, when he served as a top aide to the now-retired NAACP executive director, the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks.

"There was a real need to strengthen the communications department and I knew of his reputation as an excellent reporter and columnist, so I hired him," Mr. Hooks said yesterday from his home in Memphis.

"He was the kind of guy who could make us all start thinking. He was very, very thorough and could analyze issues from all sides, not just from the one that was convenient and obvious."

Mr. Hooks also credited Mr. Morrison with having a "keen mind and an acerbic wit, which he used against conditions and situations that he found in life."

After Judge Robert H. Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court, Mr. Morrison wrote a speech given by Mr. Hooks that included a widely quoted vow to oppose the appointment: "We'll fight until hell freezes over, and then skate over the top."

In addition to writing speeches and advising Mr. Hooks on policy matters, Mr. Morrison helped him answer the 20,000 pieces of correspondence that arrived yearly at NAACP headquarters.

Mr. Morrison had an aversion to throwing anything away, and jammed his office with piles of newspapers, reports and books.

"He wasn't content with saving an article; he'd save the whole paper," Mr. Hooks said, laughing. "Sometimes I'd go in on weekends to clean it out myself. He was an historian and you know how they hate throwing anything away."

Mr. Hooks praised Mr. Morrison not only as a historian but "a first-rate thinker."

Within the NAACP, he urged that the organization reject of the notion of black separatism and keep its distance from Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.

He also worked on Crisis, the organization's magazine.

Said James D. Williams, former NAACP public relations director and recently retired editor of the Baltimore Afro-American, "I think his principal achievement is that he brought an inquiring mind to the organization and never took anything at face value. He gave the NAACP greater depth and I think he rose to glory there."

Mr. Morrison retired in 1992 because of ill health.

Before joining the NAACP, he had been a member of the editorial board at the Milwaukee Journal and also worked for five years as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News until the paper folded in 1978. He also was a reporter for the Dayton Daily News in Ohio.

The son of a janitor and homemaker, he was born in Bluefield, W.Va., and graduated in 1960 from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

"Our parents had no formal education, but they would sit around the table discussing politics and issues of the day with us," said his brother, James Morrison of North Bethesda.

"Mother was a Roosevelt Democrat and our dad was a Republican, so the discussions were fairly lively," he said.

Mr. Morrison said he admired his brother's intellect and great passion for books. "He had an encyclopedic memory for dates, quotes and detail, which is, I suppose, why he was such an engaging conversationalist."

Mr. Morrison was a communicant of Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

Graveside services were held May 25 in Princeton, W.Va. Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

He is also survived by his mother, Winnie Morrison of Takoma Park; and a niece and nephew.

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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