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Curtis "Kojo" Morrow

Author and jewelry maker Curtis “Kojo” Morrow was born March 27, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois. He attended elementary school at Doolittle, Douglas and Phillips. When his family moved to Michigan, Morrow, on his seventeenth birthday asked for his mother’s consent to drop out of Buchanan High School and to join the U.S. Army. While training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Morrow learned of the escalating conflict in Korea and volunteered for service.

Morrow was sent to Korea and was assigned to the Army’s last all-black unit, the 24th Regiment Combat Team, known as the Buffalo Soldiers. Wounded twice, Morrow received the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star for heroism, the Combat Infantry Badge and four Battle Stars. After Korea, he spent two years as a paratrooper in Japan, before being honorably discharged in 1954. At Chicago's American Academy of Art, from 1957 to 1959, Guy Nalls mentored Morrow in painting. Moving to New York in the early 1960s, Morrow was part a group of black artists and intellectuals who became disillusioned with America and drawn to Africa. In 1965 he left for Ghana with less than $300 in his pocket.

An admirer of Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah, Morrow was welcomed at the airport by Nkrumah's advisor, Dr. Shirley Graham DuBois. Morrow spent the next eleven years living in Ghana, Togo and the Ivory Coast, learning traditional woodcarving and jewelry craftsmanship and fully immersing himself in the culture. Morrow was adopted by an Ashanti-Paramount chief in Ghana and given the name “Kojo Acheampong.” In Ghana during the 1960s and 1970s, the African American expatriates included artists Tom Feelings, Julian Mayfield, Maya Angelou, historian Nell I. Painter, and Alice Windom. In 1983, this group, "Sankofa", held a reunion in Washington, D.C. When he returned to the United States in 1976, Morrow was able to contribute to the growing interests in African art and culture.

In addition to his art and jewelry, Morrow has published The Return of the African-American, detailing his journey of self-discovery to Africa. His second book, What’s a Commie Ever Done to Black People?, details his experiences in Korea and explores what it is like to fight as a United States soldier for other people's "freedom" while suffering from racial discrimination in that same army. More recently, Morrow has been working on an illustrated children’s book based on African mythology.

Accession Number

A2003.259

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/3/2003

Last Name

Morrow

Maker Category
Middle Name

"Kojo"

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Buchanan High School

James R. Doolittle, Jr. Elementary School

John J. Pershing West Middle School

Phillips Elementary School

American Academy of Art

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Curtis

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

MOR04

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - Negotiable

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Ghana

Favorite Quote

Take Care Of Yourself.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

3/27/1933

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Beans, Rice

Short Description

Jewelry artist Curtis "Kojo" Morrow (1933 - ) spent eleven years living in Ghana with other African American artists and intellectuals. In addition to his art and jewelry, Morrow published The Return of the African-American, a book detailing his journey to Africa, and What's a Commie Ever Done to Black People?, a book based on his experiences in Korea. Morrow received a purple heart for his assignment in Korea.

Employment

Post Office

U.S. Army

Favorite Color

Brown, Gray

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Curtis "Kojo" Morrow's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about his maternal family

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow speculates about the date and circumstances of his mother's relocation to Chicago, Illinois from Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow shares stories about his paternal grandfather during the Civil War

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes his paternal grandfather's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow remembers his paternal grandfather's account of life during slavery, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes his paternal family ancestry

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls a story from his paternal grandfather's journey to join the Union Army during the Civil War

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow remembers his paternal grandfather's account of life during slavery, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes his paternal grandfather's jobs

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls his parents' meeting and subsequent marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes his childhood experience living with his aunt and uncle at a Pentecostal church

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about his mother's jobs

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes his father

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls the sights and sounds of growing up in Chicago, Illinois during the 1930s

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow lists his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes his childhood personality and interests

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls joining the U.S. Army at the age of seventeen in 1950, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls mentors from his youth

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow lists the various elementary and high schools he attended

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes the unofficial racial segregation during his youth in Buchanan, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 15 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls joining the U.S. Army at the age of seventeen in 1950, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes his experience at basic training and demolitions training in the U.S. Army

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow explains his decision to fight in the Korean War when he was in the U.S. Army

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls encountering segregation while traveling to Fort Belvoir, Virginia during the Korean War

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes his experience arriving in Incheon, South Korea to begin his tour of duty in the Korean War

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes his entry into the 24th Infantry Regiment, the last unit of Buffalo Soldiers, during the Korean War

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls his first combat experience during the Korean War

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about his experience being on the front lines in the Korean War

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls being wounded during the Korean War

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow remembers witnessing a soldier die from severe wounds during the Korean War

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow remembers witnessing civilian casualties during the Korean War

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow estimates the percentage of military casualties and wounded during the Korean War

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about the demographics of soldiers in the Korean War

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow remembers his commanding officers in the 24th Infantry Regiment

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow explains the harsh realities of war

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow reflects on the importance of sharing accounts of historical atrocities

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes the difficulties in recovering from the trauma of war

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes the destruction and death he witnessed during the Korean War

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about his return visit to Korea in 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about his return home from the Korean War

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls the incident that led to him being awarded a Bronze Star in the Korean War

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow reflects upon killing a young Chinese solider during the Korean War

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about actor John Wayne's visit to a field hospital during the Korean War and dangers of friendly fire

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow explains how he developed an interest in art after returning home from the Korean War

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls meeting Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali in New York in the mid-1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls his political awakening in New York City in the 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow explains how his involvement with the 20th Century Art Creators led to his decision to go to Ghana

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls planning his trip to Ghana

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow lists the African American expatriates he encountered in Ghana in 1965

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls his initial experiences in Ghana in 1965

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls the 1966 coup d'etat in Ghana that ousted President Kwame Nkrumah

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about developing his artistic skills in Ghana and starting his freelance career

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls his involvement with a family business delivering lunches in Ghana

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls trying to develop a food delivery business in Ghana that ran into challenges from poor road conditions

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about settling in Agogo, Ghana and developing his jewelry business

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls how his mother's death prompted his return from Ghana to the United States

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about the entrepreneurial skills he acquired during his time in Africa

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about metallurgy

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about teaching metallurgy and his other craft skills

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes the self-confidence that he discovered during his time in Africa

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about the resistance to acknowledging African heritage that he found in parts of the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes the turn towards embracing African heritage in America

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes the transatlantic slave trade from the perspective of Africans

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes his hopes for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about the internalized racism held by some African American expatriates in Africa

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow recalls political discussions from his time in Ghana

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow reflects upon his legacy, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about being inspired by a biography of African American explorer and North Pole co-discoverer Matthew Henson

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow reflects upon his legacy, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about writing his two books and how they represent his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow reflects upon his life

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Curtis "Kojo" Morrow narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

7$7

DATitle
Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about his experience being on the front lines in the Korean War
Curtis "Kojo" Morrow talks about settling in Agogo, Ghana and developing his jewelry business
Transcript
I stayed on the front line for nine months [during the Korean War], and I was there four months before I made my eighteenth birthday. Well, by then if you survived sixty days, you know, then you become sort of like a seasoned veteran, you know, sixty days and more, you know 'cause you be sort of tuned in to a bit, you know, like, you know, like the only way you gonna get out of there--matter of fact, let me tell you about that though (laughter), you know, just what happened the next day after really when we had, we, you know, had some time to get some C-rations and stuff, you know, whatever. You always hungry, 'cause that time it was like impossible for you--they get supplies up to you. And I remember my platoon sergeant, he was blessing me out for making noise the night before, you know. And he told me, he said, "Look, you forget about all that patriotic shit, man, all that red, white and blue, fighting for liberty and justice, say forget that crap, man. You fighting for your life here, we fighting for our life here. And the only way we gonna survive here, one of the only ways, the only chance you got to survive in here is teamwork and fire power. I mean they don't be--this is serious stuff, right. And you go making that noise, noise travel a long ways at night, and you could have got all of us killed if they had heard that noise. So keep your f'ing mind on what you doing," you know. And it sunk in. Of course it was an accident, you know, you slipping and sliding some--it happens all the time, you know, but it's something that you have to be conscious of. But that, those words stuck with me and that was--and we realized the fact that we had no ships, and we had no airplanes so we couldn't leave. You can't just jump up and leave once you are there. You might as well blow your own brains out really 'cause where would you go? (Laughter) You know what I mean. And so that's the way it--and that applies to every soldier in all different wars or in the different conflict, you know, once you're there. Only when you come back and you survive, yeah, yeah, yeah, I was fighting for my country, you know, and all that, see. That's wolf, woofing, you know, trying to--making that impression. But when you're there, only a crazy man, or crazy person will wanna stay in a combat. It's, it's, it's something, man, that--it's undescribable, you--your whole personality change. You become a different person to the sense of a warrior, to the sense of like when you fighting for your life, you know. And your best friend become your fox hole or your immediate, your buddies, you know, and your weapon. A nightmare would be if you wake up saying you don't see your weapon (laughter), and your weapon is cold, oh, gosh, or to run out of ammunition in the middle of an attack, or to have your weapon jam up on you, you know. You're--just something you just don't want to happen. And that war too was a, you know, it was like a conventional of war. It was the last of a, it was the last conventional war. You know, like in Vietnam [Vietnam War], it's sort of like a guerilla-like style for fighting and all that. Not to take anything from it, but, you know, it was different. Like every day a daily routine would be in the mornings you, you'll go to another position. You--this could be your area, that could be your objective the next hill, (unclear) the next hill. Korea is a mountainous country. So you got to fight your way up that hill. And you could--they wait till you get about half way up the hill or maybe sometime even two thirds the way up, and they're up looking down and they start opening up on you. Now, the night before artillery come to land on the hill, and the day before, you know, we got our jets flying over dropping bombs or, you know, et cetera. But those guys was master, the Chinese North Korea was masters when it come to digging holes, fox holes and trenches, you know. So they, some kind of way they always seem to survive the air attacks. And they wait until you get right up there and then they open up on you, you know. That's it.$But in the meanwhile I had got pretty well known with the peoples in the village, and I liked it up there, man. I loved it, it was beautiful, man, just like walking into a picture postcard, you know. And so I decided to hell with them, I just, I made me a home up there, you know, and I got a house, you know, and I stayed out with part of a family or part of a clan, the Agonafo [ph.]. And, see, that's his picture up there, you know, and--of my chief and the elders and so forth. And then I'm still doing my jewelry thing too, now, right. So, so anyway I went back to Accra [Ghana], and I saw that whole thing had fell apart. The peoples had became disillusioned, you know it's a lot of stuff involved, right, but it's, it's--it concerning other people. Anyway, so they left and they went to Togo. So I decided, me, I stayed there. And I was doing--by that time, I was doing my jewelry thing. I would make jewelry there from cow horn and ivory, chips of ivory. And then I would go over to, carry them over to Togo, I mean not Togo, to--well, my first trip was to Togo, yeah, my first trip was to Togo. By that time Charles [ph.] and Edie [ph.], them people was just magic peoples, you know, as a team, they was magic people. They had this hotel, motel going on where they were catering to Peace Corps and also travelers, they travel in and out of Africa. And they said, "Oh, "Kojo"--[HistoryMaker] Curtis ["Kojo" Morrow]," they called me Curtis, "Curtis, set up your stuff here. You could sell everything you got here." And sure enough the first night I sold everything I got there. Then I'd pitched in and help them. I would stay there for maybe about two or three weeks, sometimes a month. Then I would go back to my village up in Agogo [Ghana], make more jewelry. The second trip I decided to go to the Ivory Coast, Cote d'lvoire. Now, that's going inland, you know, the old trading route, and I would go over to the Cote d'lvoire, sell my jewelry there to the Frenchmens, you know, and to the boutique stores, and then I would buy things in Ivory Coast that you couldn't purchase in Ghana, come back to Accra, sell them there and then go up to my village. I got enough money to last me for six months or so. You know, I would just lay up and cool out and make jewelry, you know, and, you know, and just have fun, you know, whatever, you know, go out farming or hunting or out with the guys, you know, we just hang out, out there in the bush. And, you know, I go with--you always go with someone until after three years or so. Then, you know, you feel confidence enough to go roaming around yourself, you know, long as you don't want to venture too much off from the ridden path, you know. And so that's what I would do. Then my money started running low. Then by that time I have accumulated quite a bit of work, you know.$$Well, it sounds like you had it worked out pretty well?$$Yeah, I had it worked out, man, 'cause, see, I was meeting guys, Africans, who had traveled all over the world and that's what they would do, Ghanaians, you know. And they traveled all over Africa, I mean brothers from, that go to--Muslims that would go to Mecca [Saudi Arabia]. And they would--they'd take things there that they can trade and they would buy things there that they could sell, you know, and just buying and selling, and which is, you know, you can do that all--you can go all over to world doing that, even now. In fact, as a craftsman, you only need your tools. You can take your tools. And all my tools would fit in that bag, you know, in a little bag, you know, for carving and so forth. And you can go anyplace that they have trees (laughter) or cow horn and you can make money, you can make jewelry, um-hm. The problem was, you know, in your production, you could never keep up your production, (laughter).