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|HUAC's 1960s probe of Klan organizations|
As U.S. Attorney Donald Washington and U.S. Department of Justice lawyers investigate the murder of Frank Morris, they will find a clear connection between the Klan, some members of law enforcement and a criminal element which thrived in the business of gambling, prostitution and meanness.
This connection was suggested 40 years ago during hearings by a U.S. House of Representatives committee.
In the mid-1960s, the nine-member House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), chaired by Rep. Edwin E. Willis of Arnaudville (St. Martin Parish, La.), subpoenaed Klansmen from across the country in a probe of the various Klans.
One Concordia Parish Klansman and several from Adams, Franklin and Pike counties in Mississippi, were called to testify before the committee. Among those called was James Ford Seale, who was convicted this summer for the May 2, 1964, deaths of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charlie Eddie Moore, both 19, who were kidnapped near Meadville, Miss. The two teenagers were beaten, bound and thrown into Old River south of Tallulah where they drowned.
Seale was involved in two plane crashes in the 1970s in Concordia, one of which was the deadliest in the parish's history. Seale was the only survivor in which five others died.
He also once wore a badge as a city policeman in Vidalia and in September 1975 arrested a Vidalia city judge who was later convicted on Seale's testimony. Seale said he was parked in his city patrol car at the Shamrock Motel before the arrest was made.
Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, MS, reported, on March 6, 2007, that two teenage black women, one with a child on her lap, were traveling through Vidalia on Jan. 18, 1975, when Seale chased them through town in an unmarked car and ticketed the driver for speeding and reckless driving. The charges were later dropped.
These incidents in Concordia happened just nine years after Seale sat (Jan. 14, 1966) before the House committee investigating the Klan. He and most of the other Klansmen from this region would not answer any of the committee's questions, saying that to do so would violate their constitutional rights. Seale was subpoenaed to appear before the committee on Oct. 30, 1965. Committee investigator John D. Sullivan handed the subpoena to Seale at a United Klans of America rally at Liberty Park in Natchez.
When asked at the hearing if this were so, Seale answered, "Yes, sir." But it was one of the few questions he answered.
The committee's lead investigator was Donald T. Appell, who read the following statement:
"James Seale beat up a man named Alton Alford who lives between Bunkley and Meadville. Alford states he was taken out of his house and whipped. Later he tried to shoot Seale (with his shotgun) but his shotgun did not go off. Seale is supposed to have taken the shotgun and beaten Alford with it, putting him in the hospital."
Appell then asked, "Is that factual, Mr. Seale?"
Seale answered: "Sir, I respectfully decline to answer that question..."
While the committee's investigators got few answers from Klansmen like Seale, the committee's probe suggested a link between the Klan and law enforcement in some of the most heinous crimes in this region.
Appell noted that in "certain areas of the South, investigators found a very real fear of the Klan, existing among Klansmen themselves, ex-Klansmen, victims of the Klan, and the general public. The investigative staff encountered this fear time after time in interrogating, and trying to interrogate, sources of information. It was a major obstacle to the development of all the information we hoped to obtain -- a very real bar to cracking wide open the veil of secrecy that surrounds many of the operations of the 'Invisible Empire,' as it is called, of the Ku Klux Klans.
"These people fear Klan harassment in the form of threatening letters and telephone calls. They fear economic reprisals, cross-burning on their property, beatings, bombings, and yes, even death. Rightly or wrongly, they blame much of the violence of this type that has taken place in the South in recent years on the Klans."
While investigators found that most law enforcement officers were "neither Klan members nor sympathetic to the Klans," there were instances "in which we deliberately avoided contacting law enforcement officers because our preliminary investigation indicated either Klan sympathy or even, in some cases, Klan membership."
In a later report on the Klan, the committee noted that this Klan and law enforcement connection was a problem in Adams County: "In Natchez, Miss., Klansmen in the police department, supported by the local Klan, have been trying to remove the non-Klan chief and to have him replaced by a Klansman or someone who will not oppose the Klan. If they are successful, their success will be derived from their secret Klan membership."
Appell said that law enforcement officers who were in the Klan took an oath of secrecy and by placing this oath above all others placed themselves "in the position of not being able to fully discharge" their duties as lawmen.
He said Klansmen "make use of citizens band radios for communication among themselves. In addition, they have equipment which enables them to intercept police radio calls. With quick means of communication, hot rods, and being in a position to know where police patrol cars are at a given time, they can judge pretty well when and where they can commit an act of violence and have time to make a getaway."
The committee reported that in law enforcement, "Klansmen were found to be sheriffs or deputies, police chiefs and policemen, highway patrolmen, constables, justices of the peace, or state game wardens."
|Frank Morris Murder Series|