Family-owned flower business illustrates life’s cycles, celebrates 44 years of service

By Tomi Morris Johnson.  tomij@wingcomltd.com

©2002 WingcomLtd. All Rights Reserved. Digital photos scanned by Kurk Johnson.

 

 

February 22, 2002 Huntsville, AL…Albert’s Flowers and Morris Greenhouses started in 1958 when two African American brothers, one brother’s wife, and one five-year-old daughter began making funeral baskets, sorority corsages, and wedding bouquets. Amid rockets at Redstone Arsenal and a neighboring, predominately black college, Thomas, Albert, Ruth and Thomasena Morris started what they knew would be a family business.  Almost everyone in the Morris extended family in Huntsville has at one time or another worked at the flower shop.

 

 

 

 

Albert Morris (l) still arranges flowers in family owned business. (1988)

 

 

“I know what it takes to make business work,” said Albert Morris, the family patriarch and business micro-manager who celebrated a birthday this month. Morris was one of nine children from rural Eufaula, Alabama in Barbour County that has a large population of African Americans – 43.6%.  It is also the home county of the late Governor George C. Wallace.  Morris is part Yuchi Indian.

 

Straight out of college and the Navy, Albert Morris started working full-time at the business on Pulaski Pike, the first of four locations. His name was chosen for the retail store since “Albert” started with an “A” and would be first in the phone directory. The greenhouses bare the family surname.

Albert Morris served as a radar technician while in the Navy.

 

 

The enterprise began with an initial investment of $3,044.25 from the late Thomas Vivian Morris, a professor of Botany and Horticulture at Alabama A & M University in Normal, and his wife, the late Ruth Daniels Morris, a cum laude business major from West Virginia State College.  The wholesale greenhouses started operating on March 18, 1965 during the heat of the civil rights movement.

 

Thomas V. Morris was a professor at Alabama A & M College and had several tree patents. (1964)

 

“It never occurred to me that a business owned by Negroes was unique or hard to run,” said this article’s author.  “I was always around prestigious people at the university where my parents also worked.  They were all doing important things.  I just thought operating a business was part of being members of the community.”

 

“The people that I knew and loved were university presidents, professors, doctors, dentists, lawyers, funeral home directors, tailors, and they were all Black. I remember my father always wearing a suit, unless he was tending the campus orchard, and he even wore his tie and suit jacket while driving a tractor on Huntsville roadways.  He was a true professional.”

 

Thomas Morris died in 1969 after skin and heart complications.  It is believed that an experiment with tomatoes using radioactive isotope Strontium-90 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee culminated in his premature death at the age of 45. In that short time, he had many accomplishments.

“I remember walking into the church at his funeral, and every stained-glass window was crammed with flower arrangements.  The whole state turned out, it seemed,” remembered Johnson.

 

“My mother was a devastated 39-year-old widow. I was only 16 and very allergic to flowers. Two of my father’s brothers, Uncle Roland and Uncle Henry, were called in to help operate the business along with my Uncle Albert and my mother.” That was in 1969, and the business has thrived ever since.

 

Ruth Morris’s greatest legacies are her grandchildren.  She is pictured below with grandson Ayron Johnson. (1982) She had two other grandchildren, Daniel and Ilea.

 

“My parent’s business philosophy hinged on the belief that if you have a service the public needs, they will support it, no matter what the race of the owners,” said Johnson. “Flowers are used at every occasion: births, deaths, sickness, weddings, special ceremonies and events.”

 

For Henry Morris, customer service is a high priority.  He loves talking to customers in the greenhouses. (1988)

 

“My father’s people were farmers who were also very religious, and I believe they took the Bible to heart - for man to dress and keep gardens, till the soil, and beautify the earth,” said Johnson. “They have kept those first directives issued in the Garden of Eden  and profited by them.”                            

The corporation continues to be operated by the Morris brothers. They and their employees supply flowers all over the world.  Their website can be accessed by logging onto: http://www.florist.ftd.com/albertsflwrsnghses

 

             

 

Roland Morris started managing the greenhouses in 1969.          Thomasena Morris (Johnson) had a job in the

family business. Her first duty at age five was

putting stamps on bill envelopes.