Morgan, master bricklayer, earns Thad Cochran Award of Achievement at Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration

Published 11:01 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

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NATCHEZ — The Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration this year included the presentation of the Thad Cochran Award of Achievement to Natchez’s own Duncan Morgan, who many call the most skilled bricklayer in the Southeast.

The presentation included a 14-minute video about Morgan’s life and accomplishments in the Natchez area.

Natchez Ward 1 Alderwoman Valencia Hall called Morgan an “icon to so many people here in Natchez. I’ve known him all of my life, or I should say he’s known me all of my life. We have a family connection.”

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Mimi Miller of the Historic Natchez Foundation said Morgan’s talent and knowledge are one of a kind.

“There are not many old brick buildings in Natchez (that) Duncan hasn’t worked on. He’s always calm, always diligent and has high standards,” Miller said. “I’ve heard several people describe Duncan as the best civil engineer in Natchez and he never went to engineering school.”

Morgan is the son of a bricklayer from whom he learned the skill.

“My mother’s father was a bricklayer and my father and some of his brother’s were bricklayers,” Morgan said.

In 1944, at age 14, Morgan went to work with his father for the first time.

“He was repairing a wall for an old Natchez family,” Morgan said. “He didn’t want me to stay in (the bricklaying field). At the time, I was in school at Xavier in New Orleans. I was working with my dad during the summer after my freshman year, when he fell on the job and I just stayed at home and went to work.”

Miller said Morgan’s father was building a movie theater in Ferriday, Louisiana, when he fell to his death from scaffolding.

“I have no doubt Duncan would have become a mathematician or an engineer. He was the only son — I think he had five sisters — and someone had to support the family,” Miller said.

Helen Moss Smith was a teenager living in an out building at Texada when Morgan and his crew removed the stucco on the main house and returned it to its original brick façade.

“I am proud to be associated with a man of his character — not just his skill, but the way he views life, that we are ordained by God to have certain accomplishments and that we can rise to the occasion and do what we need to do,” Smith said.

“It has made all the difference in the world to have someone of his historic knowledge and willingness to share his gifts and talents,” she said. “I don’t know where our houses would be without the work he has done.”

Morgan was the first Black member and first Black president of the Historic Natchez Foundation.

Peter Burns, former Adams County tax collector, said Morgan is a restorationist and preservationist and always a professional.

“He is the ultimate professional. The ultimate compliment is you can’t see he has been there, especially if there was a hole in the wall he has to repair … You can’t tell he was even there,” Burns said.

Hall said it is fitting that Morgan receive an award named for the late U.S. Senator from Mississippi, Thad Cochran.

“Thad Cochran was an outstanding man and was a senator for the people. It doesn’t matter what race, color, creed or religion you were, Cochran represented the people,” Hall said. “For Morgan to receive this honor in Thad Cochran’s name speaks volumes about the respect the people of this community and state have for him.”

“I am appreciative, but perplexed to be recognized for doing what I am supposed to do,” Morgan said about receiving the award.

“I was being interview once by a young lady from The Natchez Democrat and she asked me when I am gone, what I wanted my epitaph to be. I had to think about that for a minute. Then, I told her, ‘He always tried to do his best.’ ”