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|Frank Morris knew his attackers, says former Ferriday mayor|
Frank Morris knew who set his building on fire and held a gun on him, but did not identify his attackers because he did not believe he was going to die as a result of the severe burns he suffered in that blaze.
These are the observations of L.W. "Woodie" Davis, former mayor of Ferriday, who visited Morris on his deathbed at the Concordia Parish Hospital in December 1964.
But, said Davis, "I made a mistake. I should have went to see Frank by himself. If I had, I believe he would have told me what happened."
Davis asked Morris, "Frank, tell me who did this so we can get them."
Morris, over several short interviews with local police and FBI agents, described his attackers as two white men in their early to mid-30s, both dressed in khakis. One of the men set Morris' shoe shop on fire in the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 1964. The other held a gun on Morris, who was asleep in a room in the back of the store when awakened by the sound of breaking glass.
Morris, blinded by the fire, responded to the mayor's question: "Mr. Davis, I thought they were my friends. I thought they were my close friends."
That, said Davis, is all Morris would say about his attackers.
"I really believe," said Davis, "that Frank thought he was going to get well. He was afraid that if he identified the people who did that to him that they would get him again."
Davis, who served as Ferriday mayor from 28 years -- from 1948 to 1976 -- said he often stopped at Morris' store for a shoe shine.
"I had a very good relationship with Frank," said Davis. "In fact, Frank would kind of keep me posted on what was going on."
Davis, now 89, vividly recalled when a town fire department employee called him about the fire.
"The fire was over when I got there," said Davis. "The fire chief (Noland Mouelle) said just as he got in front of the building the whole front of it fell."
According to FBI documents, an employee of the fire department who also worked as a police radio dispatcher said he arrived at the shoe shop at 2:20 a.m. "at which time the shop and living quarters in the rear were aflame. The front wall of the building had fallen and after some water had been put on the blaze the side walls and the roof fell in. Glass from the two plate glass windows in front had been blown out and lay spread out in front of the building for about 100 feet."
Deputy State Fire Marshall C.W. Pharis said someone "poured gasoline or some other inflammable liquid about the store and then set it afire. He advised that the explosion which occurred after the fire was possibly caused by heat and fume accumulation. The explosion burst the plate glass front windows and probably caused a general weakening of the entire structure."
Soil samples were taken and a "5 gallon container" found in the building was sent to the FBI laboratory.
While on the scene, Davis said "a guy walked up and introduced himself. He said he was an FBI agent. He must have been. He was well dressed and had on a hat."
That, said Davis, is the first time he ever saw an FBI agent in Ferriday.
Davis told the agent, "Our facilities here are few and small, but anything we have will be at your disposal."
The agent answered, "We can't take that. We can't be obligated."
"He then turned and walked away," said Davis.
In the months following, Davis recalled that four agents were sent to protect him after a threat from the Ku Klux Klan, although he didn't realize it at first.
"I finally tried to run them off," said Davis. "I told them that I was tired of them being around me all the time. I asked them why weren't they elsewhere in town protecting those that needed protecting."
One agent told him that "they were there for me."
Davis said he got to know one agent -- Don McGordy -- quite well. McGordy was later transferred to New York where "he was going to school to learn Spanish. He said he was going to be in charge in the Spanish section of New York City."
"That's all I knew about," he said, adding that there could have been more at work in Ferriday that he never knew about.
Davis said he doesn't know who killed Morris, but said members of the Klan have always been considered the killers.
Because of the Klan, who Davis said threatened him for years, he carried a Thompson submachine gun.
"I intended to shoot over their heads first," he said. Davis no longer has the weapon.
"I had to give it up when I got out of office," he said. "A private citizen can't have a weapon like that."
He said the Klan met at a business on Louisiana Avenue fairly often.
"We had a man on the roof," Davis said, "taking their pictures" as they entered and departed the meetings.
Klan membership, said Davis, appeared to be made up of "a mixed group of people," including a handful of local businessmen.
He said the Klan often put out pamphlets attacking him.
"One day, a policeman followed the deliveries right down to the home of the man" distributing the pamphlets.
Many Klan members, he said, worked at International Paper Company in Natchez. Some of the Klansmen working there were a problem particularly at night because the paper mill worked its employees three shifts a day.
"There were always some of them moving through town at night," he said.
Once, the Klan had "a big meeting down at the lumber yard" on the Vidalia side of town, said Davis. He said it was estimated the meeting drew more than 100 for the cross lighting.
"They didn't know it, but there were FBI agents there, too, right in the meeting with them," said Davis.
Davis said the Klan was such a problem, that he often called Gov. John McKeithen for assistance.
"I said, 'Governor, this is Woody, I need some help,'" recalled Davis. "Can you send some troopers?"
Davis said the State Troopers were needed at night as the Klan usually chose the cover of darkness to do their evil deeds.
On one occasion, Davis told the governor that he expected trouble from the Klan. McKeithen sent "nine or 10 troopers in four cars."
Davis said all the troopers were sent to black neighborhoods "of town to circulate and watch things. We wanted to have a big show of force with the troopers constantly patrolling so the Klan would see them."
He recalled that once local State Trooper Marion Barnette manned the radio to assist other troopers, most not from this area, as they patrolled Ferriday's streets.
If the Klan was planning a march, Davis said "we did everything to protect the lives" of blacks and whites in town, because everyone was afraid of the Klan.
However, Davis said he didn't fear the Klan.
"No, I wasn't afraid," he said. "I was aware of them and I knew who the main ones were. I knew a lot of them. You watched your back."
Davis said Klansmen would call his house at all hours making threatening phone calls. Once his wife, co-owner of Doris' Dress Shop, was told by a Klansman that the organization was going to burn down her business.
"She told them, 'Come on, I'll help,'" Davis said. "She wasn't afraid of them either."
Davis said 1964 to 1967 were the most difficult times in Ferriday in relation to heavy Klan activity and the violence that marked the organization.
He credits "the federal government" for the eventual demise of the organization locally.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|