A westward drive down Woodrow Wilson Avenue could take you past a place that holds many treasures. Johnny “Bootsy” Morrow is the owner of these treasures and the building, called “The Room.” Many people have not heard of Johnny Morrow, his involvement in Jackson’s history and his “Room.” He says no one’s ever even told the story.
One sunny afternoon, Morrow realized his life was part of Jackson. Morrow is the first African American wholesale car dealer in the state. He now owns a 56,000 square foot property filled with his collections.
His treasures are housed in the old Independent Linen Services building, near five points intersection on Woodrow Wilson. Without a doubt, Morrow knows that history well.
“This was once the home of the ‘washer women,’ of Jackson. There were lots of women here who worked hard for the city of Jackson for less than a dollar an hour. It was a hard job—got to be over 100 degrees every day because of all the steam and boilers.”
Established in 1931 the linen service employed hundreds of African American workers who earned less than $1 an hour as they cleaned and pressed uniforms for the Jackson Police Department, Mississippi Highway Patrol, churches and numerous other organizations.
The building was the former jobsite for grandmothers and grandfathers of many successful Jackson families today, including the grandmother of NBA player and Lanier graduate Monta Ellis.
Inside the building are a number of seemingly endless rooms, each larger than the last. The first room is full of seats and tables to the right. In the middle are about 10 recliners.
“Those are the only things in here that aren’t antiques.” The chairs are facing a projector screen at least 100 feet wide.
On the left is a cage around some of Morrow’s unique artifacts. Through the rusty links of the fencing, a million dollar bill with Dr. Martin Luther King’s face on it is visible. The tabletops are all decorated with paintings of artists and activists alike; Dorothy Moore stands tall, beaming a smile, and at the next table is the concerned countenance of the late Medgar Evers. The four facing walls of this room are all over 100 feet apart. The ceiling is high and at the top custom installed tinted windows bring in a soft red light.
In this first room alone, hours could be spent taking it all in: Original oil paintings and prints, sections of wall that focus on different people, places or times.
A major dedication of “The Room,” is to cars. Being a wholesale car dealer, Morrow has garnered an appreciation for cars and spent a considerable amount of time collecting them. In the next room, there are around 10 antique cars in mint condition. Among them is a Rolls Royce with its classic high cab look and flat face. Another was the Governor of Texas’s car in the infamous motorcade procession when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
The collection sits under ceiling lights in the middle of the room. In this room, larger than the first, the north facing wall is dedicated to the Gospel. It has framed oil paintings, icons of Christ and a tablet of the ten commandments placed across it in a well ordered manner.
The west facing wall has a lighter feel. There is a saloon styled section with an old fashion wooden bar and stools. Some skeletal bands are performing old western tunes, there is a stuffed and sewn cowboy with red hair riding a rocking horse. There are Radio Flyer wagons and scooters, and there is also a car that his brother built.
Morrow said his brother, when he was young, built this car. And it resembles a sort of carriage car that is seen in lots of cars from the twenties. Unfortunately, he never was granted a permit to drive it.
Towards the back of this room are several wicker chairs, a huge stump with a saw in it, a work bench, all arranged as a sanctuary with a ceiling light shining down on everything below it.
“That’s the little boy’s bag, and that’s the big man’s.” He tells me, pointing towards two canvas sacks on the wall. One cotton sack is the size of a modern kitchen trash bag, the other three times as long. On the back wall the shape of Mississippi has been painted and there are several pieces of cotton attached to it and to the lattice on the wall.
Then he points at the stump on the ground. It has a two-manned saw stuck into it. “That is for the hard workers in the world.”
On the opposite side of the western wall there is a cove dedicated to Mississippi Rhythm and Blues. A red Teddy Pendergrass vinyl is laying out and there are several Led Zeppelin records propped up against a glass case.
“This is Mississippi’s music,” he says pointing to the collection. It has mixing boards from different ages, all kinds of music and gifts from musicians, like Bobby Rush. “I put the races together. Black, White, Polkadot, you name it,” he laughed a little, adding, “This is all Mississippi’s Music, no divisions.”
Johnny Morrow is 65 now. He started in the car dealing business around the 1970s and was in the business for decades. In recent years, he became ill and took a break from selling cars.
During that time off work, he bought this lot. He filled it with his collection of cars, rare sports items—including a wooden baseball bat signed by Jackie Robinson, which Morrow claims he found at a garage sale. While he was not working, he began to recollect his memories, and found it was a habit he was doing alot. He realized that the industry he was involved in was an important piece of Jackson’s history.
“You give an empty-headed guy like me some time on his hands and I’m going to come up with a story.”
Currently, Morrow is preparing a book that tells the story of the automobile industry in Jackson.
“This is going to be one of the biggest stories ever in Jackson.”
“It’s a history of the automotive industry in here. And it has some big names in it. Paul Moak, Dumas Milner. It should be a wakeup call for Jackson and for the people to realize how the people in the automotive industry helped develop Jackson.”
He is self-publishing his book, and holding a release for it at “The Room.” It will be an opportunity to learn about the book and see “The Room.” Morrow says the book will be ready by November first. The public release at “The Room,” does not yet have a scheduled date.
Morrow grew up in Jackson, in the Georgetown community. He is a Lanier alumnus.
“I got all of this stuff in garage sales around Jackson. It’s crazy what people will just give away.”