Community leaders & well-wishers pay tribute to Samuel F. Morrison
Elaina Norlin, Executive Director of AARLCC; Sam Morrison and his Animatronic, and Janice Henry, Friends of AARLCC, chairperson. (Photo credit Steve Vinik)
By Sylvester Robinson and Charles Moseley
On May 2, 2015, Friends of the African American Research Library & Cultural Center (AARLCC) honored Mr. Samuel F. Morrison, the distinguished and undisputed architect of arguably the most significant edifice constructed in the northwest corridor of Broward County in the 21st Century.
After beginning his career with the Broward County Library System in 1974, his meteoric administrative ascension to director coincided with the library system’s growth and development from a minuscule four sites to the present 38, culminating in AARLCC, a gem or diamond in the rough according to Commissioner Dale Holness, who thanked Morrison for his steadfast dedication to our community.
“Sam Morrison is the man who led the way to make this library a reality. Mr. Morrison worked tirelessly to create this African American Research Library & Cultural Center, and in saying that this is the whole story here in Broward County. It’s a legacy that he’s left that will benefit generations to come.” Al Tucker of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau praised Morrison for his vision, commitment and creation of AARLCC, vowing the bureau’s continued support because he understands the intrinsic value related to employment, tourism, and the economic impact associated with AARLCC.
“This is in the heart of Sistrunk and one of the first things they put on Sistrunk in terms of rebuilding the community, with much thanks to Sam Morrison, who spearheaded that effort to create AARLCC. It is a treasure that we use it for tourism and we try to make sure that people really see Black History in our community.”
Janice Henry, Friends of AARLCC, chairperson, thanked those friends who were there from the beginning – Gwen Baker, Ben Stephenson, Rose Merritt, Marvia Simmons, Marge Storr, Julia Hines et al, along with present library employees who assisted in the program’s creation while looking forward to infinite future possibilities.
Finally, it was time for the man of the hour, the inimitable and erudite Samuel Morrison, to address the audience, approximately one hundred or more, which had to please Mrs. Henry & Friends as additional chairs had to be hastily set up.
In his remarks, Morrison became nostalgic, recalling a meeting with Wayne Huizenga, who inquired about previously raised funds (at the time zero). However, through perseverance and faith and hoping to secure a $500,000 donation, Huizenga eventually donated $1,000,000, opening the door for numerous other gifts in support of the project. Morrison also praised Cecil Hayes Powell, internationally renowned interior decorator whose imprint can be seen throughout AARLCC.
In an opulent setting with the soft, soothing soulful sounds of Eric and the Jazzers in the background, the highlight of the evening occurred: the un-veiling of the animatronic dis-play or life-like robotic representation of Morrison, which could readily be perceived as a Disney production, as so aptly stated by Judge Michael Robinson. “We’ve been thinking about since 2009 when I arrived here about a way to celebrate all of the efforts and hard work of our visionary Sam Morrison. We thought about doing this animatronics display about three years ago and the friends got together to finally make this a reality. We’re excited and Sam’s excited that it will be here for years to come,” stated Elaina Norlin, executive di-rector of AARLCC.
Tony Thompson, a performing artist, shared his excitement about the unveiling as well. “The African American Research Library is such an outstanding gem in our community and of course Sam played a great part in making that happen. This animatronics of him that we’re going to unveil tonight stands to recognize him for all the hard work and the contributions he’s made to this community.”
The magnificent human-like replica featured incredible head and limb movement accentuated by voice recordings of Morrison, who, when standing next to his likeness, made distinguishing them rather daunting. Derek Davis, curator, Old Dillard Museum, spoke highly of Morrison. “I think this is a very important night for the history of Broward County because we are going to be honoring a man who has done a lot to help the culture of this community grow and we’ll have something that will remain here to hear his voice, see what he looked like, and be able to participate in a dream and come to his dream site which talked about a better life for Black people.”
Another highlight of the evening was the almost panoramic portraits depicting his life from his days as a young Air Force corporal to sharing a photographic moment with our 44th President. We salute and honor you, Mr. Samuel F. Morrison, for your myriad social and civic, impactful and life-altering contributions to society at large and specifically the Broward community. Janice Henry & Friends of AARLCC invite the public to visit this must see display of a true American icon.
South Florida Artist George Gadson expressed his views on Morrison by stating, “Sam Morrison is a visionary and a doer. His commitment to the arts in South Florida is not only exemplified in his effort to make the African American Research Library and Cultural Center a reality, but also in his collecting art that now will be enjoyed by others for many years to come.”
About Samuel F. Morrison
Samuel F. Morrison was appointed director of the Broward County Library, System on Jan. 29, 1990. He served as the chief librarian for the City of Chicago from April 1987 to January 1990. During that time he was responsible for the planning, design, and initial construction phases of the Harold Washington Library Center, the largest municipal library in the United States. Prior to his stint in Chicago, he had served as the deputy director of the Broward County Library System from August 1974 to April 1987. Morrison is an honorary life member of the American Library Association and the Florida Library Association. He has served on a number of local boards and is a member of several organizations.
While serving as director, the Broward County Library was named “Library of the Year” in June 1996, the highest honor a U.S. public library can receive by Library Journal and Gale Research. In March 1999, Broward County voters approved a $139 million library bond measure, resulting in 11 new or replacement libraries and the improvement, renovation or expansion of 19 branch libraries.
Morrison announced his vision of building a library housing Black history materials in Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 7, 1995. The Broward County Board of County Commissioners approved the $12.5 million project and Morrison led a community fundraising campaign and raised over six million dollars. The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center opened on Oct. 26, 2002.
Morrison completed his undergraduate work at California State University in Los Angeles and his Master’s Degree in Library Science at the University of Illinois at Champaign. He is also a graduate of the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, a local government program for elected and appointed officials. He received an Honorary Doctorate from St. Thomas University (Florida) in 1998.
Morrison is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who Among Black Americans, and Who’s Who in Library and Information Services. He retired as director from the Broward County Library System in May of 2003.
Since his retirement, Morrison served as the past chairman of the Greater Hollywood Arts Foundation, is a member of the Board of Trustees of NOVA Southeastern University and was appointed by Florida Governor, Charlie Christ to serve on the Broward County Children’s Service Council. He was elected to the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society Board of Trustees in June 2011.