WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) recognized the service of Dr. Estella Morris in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.
Morris was raised in Dermott, Arkansas in Chicot County. Her father was a machinist for the cotton gin and her mother a school teacher turned housewife with 14 children. As the second-oldest of her siblings, Morris often took the role of babysitter. She became involved with 4-H where she learned skills such as sewing, cooking and public speaking and helped integrate Arkansas 4-H and the National 4-H Council.
After she graduated from McGehee High School, Morris was interested in joining her friends at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, but she was selected to attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. “A lot of planning went into deciding who had the capability to be able to function in different cultural settings and I was one of those who could do that,” Morris said.
Morris says she was one of 50 African American students out of the 10,000 students on campus. “It was a culture shock,” she said.
She attended the nursing school for two years before deciding to return home. She got married and started a family and decided she wanted to be closer to her family so she finished her degree at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
In 1977, Morris began working for the Volunteers in Service to America program, or VISTA, a national service program. Morris worked in youth and community development where she facilitated relationships with local housing projects and tenants. Because of her involvement as a community organizer, she was recruited by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to work as a social worker in the Independent Living Program to help move veterans living in institutional settings into residential housing.
In her role she often heard the stories of veterans she worked with which then inspired her to serve in uniform. In 1982, Morris joined the Army National Guard. Later, she served in the Navy Reserve.
“I thought I would be a whole lot better equipped to work with this population of individuals if I look at joining the military as well. Especially considering that this was a family history as far as I was concerned, having grown up with everybody going into the military. So I decided that’s what I would do,” said Morris.
Morris was 34-years-old when she enlisted, making her older than both her Drill Sergeant and Company Commander. “I had lived certain life experiences that other recruits had not lived,” Morris said.
She completed basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. While there, Morris was selected as squad leader of the Bravo Company so she continued her role of responsibility. “I thought, I went from being at home with two kids to being in a unit with 40. Because I was the oldest, I became everybody’s mom,” she said.
During Advance Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, Morris was promoted to Sergeant, which came with more responsibility.
While she was a member of the Arkansas Army National Guard and worked full-time for the VA, she continued to add more to her plate by going back to school to pursue her master’s degree in social work. Later, Morris continued her education at Jackson State University in Mississippi where she earned her doctorate.
Today, Dr. Morris continues her work for the VA as leader of the Veterans Day Treatment Center. She has been nationally recognized for her work in assisting homeless veterans and implementing programs to achieve long-term stability.
“I am grateful for Dr. Morris’ dedication and service to our nation in her many public service roles, including nearly four decades of work with the veteran community. She has been the driving force at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System in developing and implementing programs that help veterans. I am pleased to be able to collect and preserve her stories of military service and share how they encouraged her expanded outreach to her fellow veterans,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Morris’ entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.