The Ugly – Red Dillard Morrison

This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.

The Ugly – Red Dillard Morrison

Red Dillard
Red Morrison

Once known as “The most dangerous man in the country” Red Dillard Morrison was born in 1919 in Alabama. He got his nickname “Red” after his hair turned red from a failed attempt at straightening his hair. He was violent as a child as he would beat up kids who bullied his friends.

In 1937, Morrison moved to New York City to move in with his mother. He hated the menial jobs he had to do help support the household. He started hanging out with hustlers his age and in bars learning from the leaders of gambling, prostitution, shoplifting, and narcotics. Morrison proved to be a natural leader and moved up the ranks by robbing craps players and numbers runners in Harlem.

Soon he was a gangster and his reputation as a violent man became known. Once he was shot in the leg, but made the assailants flee to their getaway car as he chased after them. He became the right hand man of “Big” Joe Richards, the undisputed boss of the seaboard negro rackets. Morrison was arrested for the first time in 1940 for third degree assault, but the charges were dropped because the victim refused to testify. This happened often with Morrison’s victims as part of his “reign of terror.”

Morrison split with Big Joe in the mid 1940s and starting running his own heroin and prostitution ring. His violent nature and ability to have charges against him dismissed made him come into the public eye. In 1950, his antics caught up to him as he was arrested and jailed for five years for possession and sale of narcotics.

One of the things that made Morrison popular, was his love for music. He used his money to help support musicians. He hung out with Thelonius Monk and Billy Daniels. He dated Etta James. He taught Miles Davis how to drive a stick shift.

In 1955, Morrison was released from prison and promised to go straight. By this time he was paralyzed in both legs from a prison fight and it seemed he was ready to go legit. He was offered a Cadillac El Dorado by the mafia for not snitching on them in prison. But he refused the gift. He wanted to get into real estate and open a cleaners. But as he was ready to throw aside his evil ways, his wife, Kathleen, died suddenly from an allergic reaction to penicillin.

Even though his often cheated on his wife, her death affected him in a bad way. Morrison started hanging out at the local hot spots and made cocaine his drug of choice. His behavior and violence became more erratic. He was in prison again for drug dealing and spent ten years behind bars. After prison, he moved to Los Angeles and began dealing drugs again and ended up back in prison in 1979.

He died in prison of bladder cancer in 1989.



Greenburg, Zack O’Malley. (2011, June 9). The Musical Gangster: “Red” Dillard Morrison. Forbes. Retrieved February 18, 2017,

Red Dillard Morrison. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 18, 2017, from


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