You would never believe it.
The fairly new looking Shelby County Office Building just up the street from the Criminal Justice Center, that building was once the jail.
One inmate in that jail was a guy named James Earl Ray.
You might have heard of him before.
One man who worked in that building, whose job it was to make sure James Earl Ray didn’t escape, was a Sheriff by the name of Bill Morris.
Morris is a man who has seen the Civil Rights movement take root.
Morris was Shelby County Sheriff the night Doctor Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Morris says he’s proud that there was no violence in Memphis that night, certainly not like other cities.
He was sheriff the night James Earl Ray was returned to Memphis after escaping to England.
“I never pegged him (Ray) as a racist,” Morris says.
The former Sheriff and County Mayor has written a new book, Bill Morris: A Legendary Life.
A fitting title.
Ray pleaded guilty to shooting Dr. King, and never stood trial.
Too bad, says Morris, because he thinks a trial might have provided answers to a lot of questions.
Questions like while Ray shot King, were there others who helped him.
Bill Morris has no doubts about it.
“I don’t think anybody in their right mind would believe he could manage all that he managed, including the escape, without having others know something about it.”
From the infamous to the famous.
One man Morris considered a friend was Elvis Presley.
“I always found him to be kind, generous and fun to be with,” the former Mayor and Sheriff said. “Like shooting fireworks in his backyard and using garbage can lids to protect yourself.”
Morris talks about one time, after just purchasing a polyester suit for $28, he went to see Presley, who started shooting fireworks again.
“My suit looked like swiss cheese when it was all over,” he said.
Bill Morris came from poor folks in Mississippi and knew that it was important to help people.
He learned just how important it was when his wife Ann, the love of his life, got sick.
“We got married when she was 17, and I was 20,” he said. “She had a major stroke. She was rendered helpless, and for 19 years, I changed my life.”
Bill Morris pretty much retreated from a very public life to be with his wife.
He would rarely leave her side until the day she died.
“Here I am at 86,” he says. “I lost my wife two years ago. At the same time, taking care of her was one of the richest experiences of my life. And her death was one of my greatest losses.”
Bill Morris: A Legendary Life can be purchased at Novel bookstore in Memphis, or on line at billmorrisbook.com and on Amazon.