samuel morris story
it is an amazing ongoing phenomenon: though dying of a respiratory illness while attending taylor in the late 19th century, liberian student samuel “kaboo” morris’s story continues to touch lives as one of the most significant individuals to have influenced the institution since its inception in 1846.
we invite you to learn more about the angel in ebony: his story, the people he personally touched, and his impact still today.
a life dedicated to god
over 130 years ago, in a small liberian village in west africa, samuel morris was born prince kaboo, the eldest son of a kru tribal chieftain. while still a child, a neighboring clan defeated his people and demanded kaboo’s father pay a hefty ransom for his son’s return.
the conquering chief subjected kaboo to terrible treatment and cruel labor. during one of many intense whippings, kaboo said he saw a bright light and heard a voice from heaven telling him to flee. kaboo recalled the rope binding him fell to the ground; he gathered his strength and ran into the jungle.
traveling at night and hiding in the hollow of trees by day, kaboo navigated blindly through a jungle dominated by jungle law. eventually he arrived at monrovia, the one civilized city with thousands of liberians under governmental law. there, a young boy invited kaboo to church where miss knolls, a missionary and graduate of taylor university (then known as fort wayne college), spoke on the conversion of the apostle paul. kaboo immediately saw similarities between his story and paul’s. shortly afterward, he accepted christ as savior and was baptized under the name of samuel morris in honor of the missionary’s benefactor.
faith to move a mountain
morris spent the next two years painting houses in monrovia, the capital of liberia. he became a zealous member of the christian community and displayed a fervent desire to learn about the holy spirit. lizzie macneil encouraged him to travel to america and seek the instruction of her mentor, stephen merritt, former secretary to bishop william taylor. with no money or means of transportation, morris began his journey on foot.
from liberia to new york
sleeping on the beach at the robertsport harbor, morris waited several days before finding passage on a ship in exchange for work. the journey was difficult; morris was often beaten and assigned to the most dangerous tasks. however, by the time the ship docked in new york in september 1891, the captain and most of the crew had accepted christ because of morris’ witness.
once he arrived in america, stephen merritt warmly received morris. he contacted thaddeus reade, then president of taylor university, and requested to enroll morris at the school. due to taylor’s financial debt, reade personally started a fund for morris. reade’s effort would later be known as the “faith fund.”
the “angel in ebony” at taylor university
in december 1891, morris arrived on taylor’s campus (then in fort wayne, ind.). when asked by reade which room he wanted, morris replied, “if there is a room nobody wants, give that to me.” morris’ faith had such a profound impact on the fort wayne community he was frequently invited to speak at local churches. at night, he could be heard in his room praying, which he simply called “talking to my father.”
president reade once said, “samuel morris was a divinely sent messenger of god to taylor university. he thought he was coming over here to prepare himself for his mission to his people, but his coming was to prepare taylor university for her mission to the whole world. all who met him were impressed with his sublime, yet simple faith in god.”
on may 12, 1893, samuel morris died after contracting a severe cold. his death inspired his fellow students to serve as missionaries to africa on his behalf, fulfilling his dream of one day returning to minister to his own people. hundreds of spectators lined the streets of fort wayne as samuel morris’ body was carried to berry street methodist church.
lindley baldwin, author of samuel morris, writes, “the burial ceremony in lindenwood cemetery, his last earthly resting place, was attended by a multitude such had never before accompanied there.” morris’ untimely passing prevented him from participating at the laying of the cornerstone at taylor’s new upland campus, where he was scheduled to speak and sing.
morris’ burial at lindenwood cemetery in fort wayne drew hundreds from near and far. the location of his original gravesite, however, remains unknown. in 1928, taylor’s senior class had morris’ grave relocated to a more prominent place in lindenwood cemetery in fort wayne, in and dedicated a new monument. it remains one of the most frequently visited graves in the cemetery.
the continuing story
with men of great faith come great testimonies. samuel morris is no different. within months of his passing, his incredible story began a journey around the world continuing far into the next century and beyond with a voice that could not be silenced.
funds and scholarships
beginning as early as 1891, when jacob kichler offered president thaddeus reade a five dollar bill marking the first contribution to the samuel morris faith fund, taylor has sought to aide others like morris around the world.
in 1996, after receiving a $3.15 million grant from lilly endowment, inc., taylor established the samuel morris scholars program. the endowment awarded approximately 125 indiana high school students with amounts ranging from $2,000 to $6,000. it ended with the 2003-2004 academic year.
when lowell and virginia hatfield learned the original faith fund had been inactive for several years, they quickly acted to ensure morris’ testimony would continue by establishing a scholarship for international students.
to contribute to the sammy morris endowed international student scholarship fund, you can make a gift online or send a check payable to taylor university and include “sammy morris scholarship fund” on the memo line. for more information, contact michael mortensen at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 800-882-3456, ext. 5114.
sinoe county association in the americas (scaa)
on a number of occasions, groups of liberian-americans from the sinoe county association in the americas (scaa) have visited taylor university to learn more about samuel morris and raise awareness of his legacy within the liberian community.
taylor university is pleased to carry on a rich and rewarding relationship with the members of the scaa. founded in 2000, the scaa has continuously contributed to the overall development of sinoe, liberia, through regular shipments of medical and educational supplies to the country. dr. charles kirkpatrick, taylor university professor emeritus, serves as the official university liaison with the scaa, attending their annual conventions and speaking for their gatherings. in addition, dr. kirkpatrick hosts guests to the taylor campus who express a special interest in the morris story.
in late march and early april 2010, four members of the scaa and dr. charles kirkpatrick traveled to liberia to continue developing plans for the morris center. the group was welcomed by dr. emmanuel bailey, president of the united methodist university in monrovia. other meetings took place with the samuel morris legacy board of directors, the official trustees of the incorporation under which the morris interests will be managed.
a special highlight of the journey was a meeting with liberian president ellen johnson sirleaf, who was moved by the morris story and gifts received from the group. president sirleaf promised to expedite the finalizing of the deed for the land where the morris center will be built.
after a weeklong stay in sinoe county, that included an important visit to the morris legacy foundation property, the group returned to the states determined to press forward on the plans for the samuel morris learning enrichment center.
in march 2013, the ground was broken on a 30-acre parcel of land for the construction of the samuel morris educational resource and conference center, a multi-purpose complex in greenville, sinoe county, named in honor of samuel morris. taylor representatives, kirkpatrick and gary friesen, were present, as well as the greenville mayor, a member of the liberian national legislature, commissioners and other community representatives.
after completion, the center serves a critical need in the greenville area to bring hope to the community and a spiritual and educational uplift to the children and young people there. it may also serve as a future site for a taylor university-sponsored mission outreach.
buildings and monuments
over the years, taylor has visually commemorated morris’ life through the construction of three residence halls and several statues.
samuel morris statues
to commemorate taylor university’s 150th anniversary (1996), the university dedicated three on-campus bronze statues depicting key moments in samuel morris’ life. international students, carrying the flags of their respective countries, led a procession to the statues’ unveiling following a special chapel service.
the larger-than-life-size statues, first conceived in 1988 by jamey schmitz ’88, a taylor student at the time, were the culmination of a six-year effort by artist/sculptor ken ryden of anderson, indiana. two of three statues stand in the midst of a reflection pool, which is in the shape of the christian fish, ichthus.
“the story of samuel’s life deeply touched my own life, and my faith in god has been strengthened,” said ryden. “i'm hoping the students will see these narrative figures as universal symbols that apply to their own lives.”
the statues, the moment of truth, heeding the call, and sharing the word, are located north of the rice bell tower behind the modelle metcalf visual arts center.
the moment of truth depicts morris’ miraculous escape after being kidnapped by a neighboring tribe. in the midst of being tortured by the tribe’s chief, morris is seen looking upward where he sees a bright light and hears a voice from heaven telling him to flee. heeding the call shows morris’ journey to freedom through the jungle and his unwavering commitment to obey god’s calling. sharing the word reveals morris’ steadfast resolve to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” and demonstrates his christian witness as a taylor university student.
books and movies
morris’ life story has been retold in five novels, almost a dozen booklets and translated into several languages, including hindi, new guinea pidgin, french, and chinese. taylor university has reprinted jorge o. masa’s, the angel in ebony. this book is available at the campus store. in 1954, taylor had a world premier of the film, angel in ebony, which cost $25,000 to produce and was so popular, a secretary was appointed for the sole purpose of handling its bookings.