The true tales of Morris Morris and Lewis Morrison

Recently, while searching for information about Jewish soldiers in the Civil War, I came across someone whom I found to be so unusual and interesting in many different ways, that his life story is a tale worth telling on its own.
On Sept. 4, 1844, in Kingston, Jamaica, Morris W. Morris was born to an English-Jewish father and a Spanish-black mother.
As a youth, he left Jamaica for the United States, living in Louisiana when the Civil War began.
Enlisting in the first free black military regiment in the South, the Louisiana Native Guard, he soon rose in rank to lieutenant, making him the first black Jewish officer to serve in the Confederate Army.
At first, the Confederacy was unsure how the Louisiana Native Guard troops were to be used, but the problem was resolved when the Union captured New Orleans before the Home Guard had a chance to face combat.
Morris had risen in the ranks to lieutenant by the time New Orleans had been captured by Union forces.
He soon joined others of the Louisiana Guard, who switched their allegiance to the Union cause, making Lt. Morris the first black Jewish officer to serve in both the Confederate and Union Armies.
There is no evidence that Morris saw any combat as a Confederate, but he participated in many battles as a Union officer of the reorganized Union Guard.
At the Battle of Port Hudson, Morris’ unit gained fame as the first black regiment to fight for the Union. Morris had been promoted to brevet captain.
Phil Downey, great-great-grandson of Morris Morris, in a letter to the Jewish-American History Foundation, expressed his belief that after the Civil War, Morris changed his name to Lewis Morrison upon leaving the Army in pursuit of an acting career.
Downey believed that Morris wanted to escape both his Jewish and black heritage as he pursued dramatic roles.
From Baltimore to San Francisco, eventually to Philadelphia and New York, Morrison found success playing opposite leading actors of the day.
Morrison appeared in roles with Edwin Booth, Lawrence Barrett, Charlotte Cushman and others before forming his own touring company in 1884.
Morrison’s most outstanding portrayal of Mephistopheles in Faust earned him international acclaim, becoming his most popular character, from 1889 until his death in 1906.
As a result of marriages to two actresses, his grandchildren’s names include Barbara Bennett, Joan Bennett and Constance Bennett. He was a great-grandfather of television talk show host Morton Downey Jr.
In spite of unexpectedly dying at a relatively young age (61) from complications during surgery, Lewis Morrison had enough of life’s adventures to satisfy any Broadway story.

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