Dorothy Morrison and her sister Betty Morrison King were no different from other little black girls growing up in the 1950s. They had dreams. Big dreams. But sometimes the dreams worried their parents. After all, this was during the Jim Crow era when opportunities were not so great for blacks.
“But I dreamed anyway,” said Dorothy. “I dreamed of being a big musical actress; of being on stage in front of hundreds of people. Our mom didn’t understand my dream. She wanted me to have a practical profession — something that I would have no trouble in getting a job.”
As a dreamer myself, I could identify with Dorothy. I knew why her mom thought the way she did. As a young girl, I used to dream of becoming a famous singer, like Marian Anderson. Or perhaps I would become a great painter or writer. My own mom worried about me, and when, as a senior at Booker T. Washington Junior/Senior High School, I received a scholarship in voice to Knoxville College (now a university) she wouldn’t let me go. I cried for a long time and was angry, too, until I grew to understand my mom’s thinking.
Mom was the great-granddaughter of slaves. And while things were better for blacks when I was growing up, we still lived during the Jim Crow era. Mom knew the obstacles I would face as a black woman trying to enter any one of my dream professions at that time. She didn’t want me to be disappointed. But I had a vision.
And some years later, when as a 28-year-old widow, I entered Miami Dade College to study journalism, I never told my mom what my major was. I was afraid she wouldn’t keep my children while I attended classes for something that, in her mind, would never be a reality for me. Momma never knew what I was studying until I became a reporter for the Miami Herald.
While she never told me I was right to follow my dream, Mom was so very proud of me. She died in 2002.
So, as Dorothy shared her story with me, I understood.
Dorothy’s family had moved to Miami in 1950 when she was 1 and her sister Betty was 6 weeks old. Their father had been a sharecropper back in Cuthbert, Georgia. They settled in an area in unincorporated Dade County that was called New Liberty City. Today, that area just south of County Line Road is a part of Miami Gardens.
“We were bused to Bunche Park Elementary School and later to North Dade Junior/Senior High school,” Dorothy said. “We were raised at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, where our father, Horace, was a founding member.”
It was at Antioch that Dorothy and Betty started singing. “We were only 5 and 6 years old, when we started singing in front of a church audience. That’s when I realized that acting was something I wanted to do. I loved the interaction with the audience and I loved the applause. My sister, not so much. She tagged along because of me,” Dorothy said laughing.
“At that time I just sang for fun,” said Betty. “I just wanted to finish high school and go to college to become a teacher.”
While she attended Miami Dade College, Betty became a nursing assistant in the Jackson Healthcare system. She is the single mother of two grown sons. Brian is in the wholesale grocery industry and Darren works with the Homeless Initiative. She is the grandmother of three and the great-grandmother of two.
Being bused to and from school, Dorothy said they couldn’t participate in extracurricular activities. “So at home we spent our time imitating singers we heard on the radio — singers such as Virginia Bostic, who sang with the Christian Voices, the Caravans, Aretha Franklin, Clara Ward and Shirley Caesar.”
When Dorothy was 10, their dad died and their mom became a single mother, raising two girls. Mrs. Morrison died last year. “Mom knew I wanted to become a singer/actress. She even believed I had God-given talent, but she didn’t know if I could make a living at being on the stage. I grew up during the juke joint and chitlin’ circuit era. Mom didn’t want that kind of life for me,” Dorothy said.
Taking her mom’s advice, Dorothy later entered Florida International University and became a social worker with the Department of Children and Families. She retired in 2004 after more than 30 years of service. Betty retired in 2008 after 33 years of service at Jackson Healthcare System.
Still, Dorothy never gave up on her dream and for a while she juggled two careers — acting and social work.
Since she was “bitten” by the acting bug, Dorothy has appeared in over 30 plays including “Hair” at the Ann White Theater in Fort Lauderdale; “A Lesson Before Dying” and “Intimate Apparel” at GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables; “Proposals” at Actors Playhouse in Coral Gables, and “The Old Settler” and “Indigo Blues” for M-Ensemble. She is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and Actors Equity, and was trained by the late directors Vinnette Carroll and Ruth Foreman. The sisters have also performed at the Historic Lyric Theater in Overtown.
Tony Thompson, a director whom Dorothy also worked with, will narrate a new show she has written to tell the stories of local talents such as Helen Glover, Mary Hylor, The Marvells and Helene Smith.
The show, to be held 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, at the Historic Hampton House, 4240 NW 27th Ave., is called, “The Morrison Sisters Presents, Along with Dave Nuby” and The Nu-Black Band. The show will tell the story of Miami’s hometown talent of the early 1960s, Dorothy said.
The single mother of a daughter and three granddaughters, Dorothy said she is proud that they are college graduates. None shared her dream of show business. “My youngest granddaughter, Aliya, just left for law school at Roger Williams in Rhode Island,” she said.
“I have always had a burning desire to succeed in this elusive profession,” Dorothy said. “I am still waiting for my big break. If it doesn’t happen, it won’t be because I didn’t try”.
Tickets for the show are $25 each and can be purchased at www.EventBrite.com or by calling 305-846-1956.
New rabbi at Bet Shira
Warm congratulations to Rabbi Gad Romang, one of Miami-Dade county’s newest spiritual leaders. He began his tenure at Bet Shira at 500 SW 120th St. in Pinecrest at the Shabbat service on Aug. 3.
Romang was born in Argentina and was raised in Israel and is fluent in English, Spanish and Hebrew. He received his Rabbinic Ordination from Seminario Rabinico LatinoAmerico, and earned a Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies, and an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He also has a degree in Comparative Religion and Eastern Studies from Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires.
He previously served as the senior rabbi at Congregation Bnai Israel of Ontario, Canada, and has also held pulpit and education positions in Chile, Argentina and the United States. He has been a university lecturer in Biblical Exegesis and Talmud Studies, and is a member of United Synagogues of America’s Rabbinic Assembly.
Romang has served as a director of the Rabbinical School at the Seminario of Buenos Aires, and is a former dean of the American Hebrew Academy of Greensboro, North Carolina.
Linda Truppman, president of Bet Shira Congregation said, “We conducted a national search and were fortunate to retain a candidate with Rabbi Romang’s experience, knowledge and personal warmth.” She said members of the South Dade Jewish community are invited to to synagogue for Friday night or Saturday morning services to meet Romang.
‘A Little Jazz Mass’
At 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 26, Trinity Cathedral will present an ensemble of ladies from the Cathedral Choir and the Anglican Choral who will sing “A Little Jazz Mass” in liturgical context by Bob Chilcott.
It is described as a “joyful and exhilarating” work with movements from smooth jazz to blues to Latin-inspired swing.
Also at Trinity: the Anglican Chorale’s Choral Evensong will be at 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26. If can’t make this presentation, other Evensongs will be at 6 p.m. on Sept. 9 and Sept. 23, and Oct. 7 at the Cathedral, 464 NE 16th St., Miami.