During the month of March, women across the nation have been recognized for their extraordinary achievements and outstanding service as leaders. Most leaders are servants to a higher calling – an unusually strong devotion to advocate, teach, and inspire. Girl Scout Troop leader Surbrida ‘Sue’ Morris was that kind of leader.
From launching the first all-Black Girl Scout Troop in Los Angeles in 1963 until her passing on December 23, 2022, she changed the world, one girl at a time until they too became professionals, wives, and mothers. She was 91 years old.
“So many Girl Scouts benefitted from Mrs. Morris’ passion and leadership – what a legacy she left behind,” said Theresa Edy Kiene, CEO of Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles. “As the leader of Girl Scout Troop #487, she had a tremendous influence upon many young Black girls in South Los Angeles and beyond.
“We are grateful for her trailblazing leadership and devotion, and her beautiful spirit, which uplifted the entire Girl Scout movement,” said Kiene.
The Girl Scouts have been a beloved piece of Americana since they began in 1912. An offshoot of the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts won people’s hearts doing what women did best back then – baking. In fact, the demand for their cookies over the years is so great, January through April is called “Girl Scouts Cookie Season.”
Despite all the confectionary joy, history shows that only a few Girl Scout troops were integrated, but that was three decades before U.S. public schools were desegregated. The first all-Black Girl Scout troops began around 1917. It would take nearly 50 years before an all-Black troop would be created in south Los Angeles under Morris’ “super-vision.”
Morris was a part of the African American exodus from Texas to California. She, her husband, William, and their two children relocated to the Golden State in 1952 for more opportunities. After laying down some roots, Morris started a Girl Scout Troop to expose her daughter to greater pathways for success.
“She started the 1963 troop for her daughter, but it didn’t last,” said Michele Rigsby Pauley who joined Morris’ troop in 1966 when she was in the first grade. “We were the ones who lasted. We were Morris’ main girls. Our group stayed together from age six to 18.”
From camping in nearby city parks, attending charm school, participating in fashion shows and being the first all-Black troop to participate in cultural events, Morris was teaching them that the sky is the limit.
“She taught us to live purposefully,” said Angelique ‘Angel’ (Blow) Tompkins, a healthcare information technology executive and a community activist. “She wasn’t bringing up followers. She was bringing up leaders, leaders in their community,” she added.
Pauley said all the girls from the troop are college-educated professionals in part due to Morris’ expectation of excellence.
“This is the 1960s and 70s,” said Pauley who is an RN and a former program director for Cedar -Sinai. “I’m hearing things on TV about the feminist movement and how women can do whatever and be whatever they want. The Girl Scouts helped me to see how I could,” she said.
While the women always stayed in touch with Morris individually, they never had a reunion. Upon her passing, they plan to maintain the unique bond Morris created.
“We always talked about having a reunion,” said Tompkins. “Hopefully this will prompt us to have one,” she added.