The E. A. Morris Charitable Foundation was created by Edwin A. Morris, who, as an executive with Blue Bell, Inc. in the 1940s, developed the “Western” style of blue jeans through Blue Bell’s Wrangler brand. During his lifetime, Morris donated to his alma mater, Washington and Lee University, and a cancer center at the Duke University Medical Center. Morris was also a member of the board of the Jesse Helms Center and won an award from the National Taxpayers Union.
The Morris Charitable Foundation today supports many center-right organizations, with its largest grants going to the John Locke Foundation.
Edwin A. Morris
Edwin A. Morris was born in 1903 and was graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1926. In 1937, he joined Blue Bell (now Kontoor Brands) and became the company’s president in 1948. Morris hired Rodeo Ben, tailor for movie stars Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, to turn the company’s Wrangler jeans into “Cowboy-cut” jeans, which had “a higher-rise in the saddle, deep-front swing pockets, high-placed front pockets, and the Rodeo Ben watch pocket.” 1 Promotion with leading rodeo stars turned Wrangler into a major national brand.
Higher Education Giving
Morris retired from Blue Bell in 1981 and began his career as a philanthropist. He began giving to Washington and Lee University in 1988, and ultimately endowed two chairs in romance languages and music. 2 Morris donated $1 million to Duke University in 1976, an additional $4 million during his lifetime, and $1 million after his death for cancer research. The university named a building and the Morris Center for Urologic Research after him. 3
Policy and Advocacy Giving
Morris served on the board of the Jesse Helms Center during the center’s creation. He told the New York Times in 1990 that the center “has nothing whatsoever to do with politics” and “the board has stopped solicitation during this election year so that nobody an even imply there’s any connection” between the center’s fundraising and political donations. 4 In addition, Morris received a Distinguished Service Award from the National Taxpayers Union in 1989, was a “sponsor in perpetuity” of Ducks Unlimited, and was a trustee of Wesley Long Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina. 5
Foundation After Morris
After Morris’s death, his widow and son sued, saying they were removed as foundation trustees by foundation president John Thomas and that Thomas’s compensation was excessive. 6 The case was dismissed, and Thomas remains foundation president. 7
Donations to John Locke Foundation
The Morris Foundation’s largest donation is to the E.A. Morris Fellowship for Emerging Leaders, a program at the right-leaning John Locke Foundation that is also funded by the John William Pope Foundation. The program, designed for people under age 40 interested in careers in public service, began at another nonprofit, and was merged into the Locke Foundation in 2006. Alumni of the class of 2018 include corporate managers, lawyers, and the general counsel for the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives. 8
The E A Morris Charitable Foundation’s largest donations in 2018 were to the John Locke Foundation 1$115,000), the Jesse Helms Center Foundation ($50,000), and the Omicron Delta Kappa Foundation ($25,000). 9
- “Edwin A. Morris,” North Carolina Business Hall of Fame, https://www.historync.org/laureate%20-%20Edwin%20Morris.htm (accessed July 29, 2021)
- “W & L Receives $250,000 Gift,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 22, 1988. Press releases from Washington and Lee University, May 24, 2012 and January 17. 2013.
- “Commitment to Cancer Research,” Duke Magazine, January-February 2001, https://alumni.duke.edu/magazine/articles/commitment-cancer-research (accessed July 29, 2021)
- Richard L. Berke, “Jesse Helms Museum Drive Draws Quiet Support,” New York Times, April 13, 1990
- For Morris’s obituary, see Greensboro News & Record, July 31, 1998, https://greensboro.com/obituaries/article_00ec357f-63d3-5430-ad2c-88f4b87166f7.html (accessed July 29, 2021)
- Mike Fuchs, “Judge To Rule On Suit Against Charity,” Greensboro News & Record, August 29, 2002, https://greensboro.com/judge-to-rule-on-suit-against-charity-the-e-a-morris-charitable-foundation-is-asking/article_5d67e75b-32dc-5276-91b5-818eb6488ad6.html (accessed July 29, 2021).
- Mike Fuchs, “Case Against Charity Dismissed,” Greensboro News & Record, October 29, 2002.
- “About the Fellowship,” E A Morris Fellowship for Emerging Leaders, https://www.eamorrisfellows.org/about/ (accessed July 29, 2021)
- 2018 E A Morris Charitable Foundation Form 990.