William McCutchan Morrison was a Presbyterian missionary linguist and social reformer in the Congo. Morrison was born on a farm near Lexington, Virginia. He graduated from Washington and Lee University (1887) and was then employed for six years as a schoolteacher. He then entered the Presbyterian Theological Seminary at Louisville, from which he graduated in 1895. At seminary he volunteered for the African missions field and was sent to the American Presbyterian Congo Mission, founded at Luebo in 1890 by Samuel N. Lapsley and William H. Sheppard. Morrison quickly became the leader of the mission and began to develop a writing system for the widely spoken Tshiluba language. He published the important Grammar and Dictionary of the Buluba-Lulua Language (1906) and translated Malesona (Lessons from the Bible, 1913), and Lumu Luimpe (Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, 1919). Morrison also joined with British reformer E. D. Morel in publicly denouncing the human and economic exploitation perpetrated by the regime of Belgian King Leopold II in the Congo. Morrison’s protests made him a marked man, and in 1909 he and Sheppard were sued for libel by the government-controlled Kasai Rubber Company. The trial received international publicity and the acquittal of the missionaries led to important reforms. Both Morrison and his spouse, Bertha Stebbins (d.1910) are buried in the church cemetary at Luebo.
Robert Benedetto, “The Presbyterian Mission Press in Central Africa,” Journal of Presbyterian History 68 (1990): 55-69; Mary Kirkland, “Sketch of the Heroic Life Work of Rev. W. M. Morrison, D.D., in Africa,” Christian Observer, August 21, 1918, pp. 825-826; Stanley Shaloff, Reform in Leopold’s Congo (1970); T. C. Vinson, William McCutchan Morrison: Twenty Years in Central Africa (1921).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.