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|Emmett Till legislation could aide Frank Morris probe|
New federal legislation may one day provide the funding needed to reinvestigate the 1964 murder of a shoe shop owner in Ferriday who seemingly had not an enemy in the world.
Former Mayor Odeal Montgomery said she, like most in town today, recalls very little about the murder of Frank Morris more than four decades ago.
On Dec. 10, 1964, Morris was forced at gun point by two white men into his shoe repair shop on Hwy. 84 (E.E.Wallace Blvd.) One threw a match on flammable liquid and the shop, with Morris inside, burst into flames.
Morris' grandson and an employee escaped out a back door. Morris wasn't so fortunate. He died four days later at the Concordia Parish Hospital from burns over his entire body.
"The only thing I know about the case is what I've been reading in the paper," Montgomery said.
But she, like most who knew him, recalls that Morris was a good man.
"I remember he was a very friendly person," she said. "Everybody liked him and he got along well with everyone."
It is because of his good standing in both the black and white communities that his murder still baffles Ferriday residents today. He is remembered primarily as a hard-working man, who was a real craftsman when it came to making or repairing shoes. He also did fine leather work, particularly bridles for horses. His granddaughter said he enjoyed laughing and joking.
But following the tense days of the civil rights movement in the 1960s in the South, Morris' murder remains one of more than several dozen never solved.
In early 1965, just weeks after Morris died, a civil rights group -- the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) -- investigated Morris' death. CORE was active in voter registration drives and other civil rights activities during the era.
CORE urged then Louisiana U.S. Sen. Russell Long to have Morris' murder investigated by the federal government as well the arson of two churches in Jonesboro. In response, Long told CORE that "On a recent television program I stated that the Negroes now have the law on their side in achieving equal rights and that southern people must learn to accept that fact...The acts of lawlessness to which you refer should and must be punished."
In his book, "Race and Democracy, The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972," Adam Faircloth writes:
"When CORE workers arrived in town (Ferriday) in July 1965, they found a community 'paralyzed, unable to act for fear of reprisals or terrorism.' No minister would let them hold meetings in their church. Not a soul would house them: they had to commute from Alexandria through seventy miles of dangerous countryside..."
For years, Morris' case, and others, were forgotten. But now the U.S. Department of Justice is considering reopening some of the cases. Professor Janis McDonald of Syracuse University School of Law, at the request of The Concordia Sentinel, is leading the effort to convince authorities to reopen the Morris' case. A growing number of Syracuse law students are volunteering their time to reassess the FBI documents on the murder obtained from the FBI.
Funding for reopening these cases could come through the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, named after teenager Emmett Till who was murdered in Money, MS, in 1955. The legislation, which is expected to pass Congress this year, will create an Unsolved Crimes Section within the Department of Justice, an Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Investigative Office within the FBI, and, according to officials, "strengthen coordinated efforts between federal, state, and local law enforcement officers and prosecutors to bring these long-time fugitives to justice."
Civil rights murder cases occurring prior to 1970, such as Morris', will be considered and Congress may authorized $11.5 million in yearly appropriations to fund these new services. Additionally, the Emmett Till Act also provides funding for a Community Relations Service within the Department of Justice to work with local communities to solve these crimes.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|