Morrison: witness to massacre

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A most telling story is that of William M. Morrison of the American Southern Presbyterian Mission. Morrison and his colleague William Shepherd were witnesses to a brutal massacre in the Kasai region. Morrison sent a report to his US headquarters, but was reminded that he ‘must observe all proper deference to the powers that be and avoid anything that might give any colour to a charge of doing or saying things inconsistent with its purely spiritual and non-political nature’. The New York Times, however, got hold of the story. Morrison sent further reports to the Aborigines Protection Society in England. In 1903 the Society organised a high-level public meeting, with Morrison as the chief speaker and with politicians present. Morrison spoke eloquently of the harsh effects of maladministration in the Kasai and of the missionary dilemma:

‘The word of the King who sits in Brussels is absolute in the Congo State. We missionaries know that if he speaks the word we shall all have to leave tomorrow. Those 15,000 soldiers will be sent to expel us. Hence we are afraid to speak.’

He also made it plain that he did not think it right to remain silent. Morrison’s truth-telling cost him personally. When he returned to the Congo he lived under threat of retribution by the rubber-trading companies and Leopold’s forces for many years, but he kept up his critical reports. Eventually he and Sheppard were charged with libel by the Kasai Rubber Company. Fortunately they had a fine defence lawyer and the case was dismissed.


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