Who do you think should manage Ferriday water?|
|Frank Morris knew life was in danger, says grandson|
"My grandfather knew his life was in danger," says Nathaniel "Poncho" Morris, who 43 years ago watched the inferno in Ferriday that claimed the life of Frank Morris in December 1964.
Hours before the fire, Morris said his grandfather "showed me some papers and said if anything happened to him, I would be very well taken care of."
Morris died on Dec. 14, 1964, four days after his shoe shop on Fourth Street, now E.E. Wallace Blvd., was set afire by two white men believed to be members of the Ku Klux Klan. Morris died at the Concordia Parish Hospital from third degree burns. Only the bottom of his feet were untouched by the fire.
Just recently, the Justice Department announced that it was reinvestigating Morris' murder, one of scores during the civil rights era. An FBI agent from Alexandria -- Baron Lambert -- has been assigned the case.
At 9 p.m. on the night of the fire, Nathaniel Morris said he returned from "a school game. My grandfather asked me to sit down. He needed to explain something to me."
That, said Nathaniel, is when Morris said his life was in danger.
Frank Morris was Nathaniel's legal guardian, having reared him most of his life. Now 52, Nathaniel was 10-years-old in 1964.
Normally, Nathaniel slept in a adjoining room to the shop with his grandfather. But another strange thing happened that afternoon. Morris told Nathaniel "to sleep in the house behind the shop."
Around 2 a.m. that night, Nathaniel said "a loud explosion woke me up. Flames were everywhere."
He ran outside onto the steps of the small house in which he was sleeping that night. The house was located behind the store. Morris' employee, Snoot Griffing, who also had been asleep in the house, was standing on the steps when Nathaniel ran out.
Suddenly, Nathaniel said "my grandfather passed me engulfed in flames. He fell at the gate and told Snoot to get me out. My grandfather got up and stumbled through the gate."
Frank Morris was next seen by an employee at the Billups Service Station a half block away. Morris cried for help as the fire burned the clothes off of his body.
Griffing lifted Nathaniel "on top of the house," said Nathaniel, "and I crossed over to the yard behind the house."
Nathaniel said he was "taken to a motel. There were always people there in the room with me."
A week later, Morris' daughter, Clementine Morris, the mother of Nathaniel "Poncho" Morris, arrived in Ferriday from Las Vegas, NV. After Morris' funeral, Nathaniel returned to Las Vegas with his mother.
Since May 25, 1994 -- for the past 13 years -- Nathaniel has been in the Neveda State Penitentiary in Ely, NV. His recollection of the night of the murder was mailed in a statement to The Concordia Sentinel.
Nathaniel's sister, Rosa Morris Williams, 55, who lives in Las Vegas, NV, said her brother was devastated by the loss of Frank Morris.
"My mother pretty much gave Poncho to my grandfather to keep him," said Rosa. "They both loved each other dearly."
Both brother and sister called their grandfather "Papa Frank."
"Papa Frank did everything for Poncho," said Rosa. "If Papa Frank had been living, Poncha's life would have turned out differently."
Years ago, Rosa Williams said her brother turned to a life of crime. He was found guilty of the armed robbery of some casinos in Las Vegas.
"He got two life sentences," said Rosa Williams. "He was caught on camera in one robbery."
She said it's been quite some time since she's heard from her brother.
"We've written, but he hasn't answered our letters," she said.
This paper's recent coverage of Morris' murder has drawn calls and emails from across the country.
From her home in Los Angeles, Margie Ivory, an 18-year-old Ferriday resident in 1964, told The Sentinel she is glad that "someone has decided to investigate Frank Morris' death." She said "all these years" she has been "bothered" over why he was killed.
Ivory recalled Morris' grandson, Nathaniel, but could not remember his name "for nothing. But I know Frank loved him very much. Just as if it was yesterday I remember."
An FBI report during those days Ivory remembers -- dated Dec. 16, 1964 -- noted that Nathaniel Morris told agents that he was "cared for by his grandfather." Nathaniel told the FBI that "all he could remember was a loud noise which awakened him during the evening hours of Dec. 9-10, 1964. Upon awakening he saw that the shop was on fire. He stated that he and Snoot Griffing ran from the building, jumped over a fence and ran away from the fire. He further advised that he had not seen any individuals or cars after he awoke."
What was believed to have been the getaway car had been spotted by witnesses in the alley running beside Morris' shop and the house behind the shop. Immediately after the fire was started, the car sped away toward Vidalia with possibly three people inside.
Griffing told the FBI that he had been employed by Morris in his shoe shop since 1959. As part of his pay, Griffing lived "in a small house at the rear of the shop."
Griffing said he watched television in his room at the house until 11 p.m., "turned out the lights and went to sleep." Prior to that he saw nor heard nothing suspicious.
Later, he was "awakened by a blast which shook his little house sometime during the early morning hours. He stated that when he looked out the window he could see that the whole shop was on fire. By this time, Nathaniel Morris was also awake and they both ran out the door, jumped over a fence and ran away from the flaming building. Griffing said that as they were climbing the fence he saw Morris run from his room, located at the rear of the shop, covered with fire from head to toe."
Griffing said when seconds later he looked toward the Billups station and "believed the attendant at service station was spraying water on victim." Then "he then heard a minor explosion back at the shop and assumed it was caused by one of the...cans of inflammable fluids."
Griffing told the FBI that in Morris's shop that night were "two full gallon cans of cleaning fluid, at least one gallon can of turpentine and eight to ten gallons of rubber cement."
Griffing said he had no idea "why anyone would do this to Morris. He knew of no threats against Morris, said Morris was not active in civil rights" and had not participated in any voter registration drives, demonstrations or "other racial matters."
He could furnish no suspects, and didn't see any automobiles.
In yet another FBI report, two young black boys, one 11 and the other 13, reported two slightly different interpretations of Morris' demeanor in the hours prior to the fire. Each reported that Morris "asked them to clean the concrete floor of his shoe shop. Both stated that they had mopped the floor with approximately one-half gallon of coal oil after which they had hung the oil soaked mop inside the rear door of the shoe shop." This occurred between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m.
This apparently explains why the building exploded quickly after the fire was set. The presence of these chemicals was apparently known to Morris' killers.
The two boys completed their work around 10 p.m. In separate interviews the boys "stated that Morris had acted different that night and looked to them like something was going to happen."
But each offered different views on Morris' mood.
The 11-year-old said Morris "looked like he was going to cry."
The 13-year-old said Morris seemed "happy about something."
What seems evident is that Morris was in state of high emotion.
In FBI documents, Nathaniel Morris is listed as 11-years-old. But his birth record, according to the Nevada penitentiary, states that he was born on May 1, 1954. He was 10-years-old in December 1964.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|