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|Earcel Boyd's spiritual journey -- the pulpit and the Klan|
As a young man before World War II, Earcel Boyd Sr. accepted Christ as his personal savior and joined the Baptist Church. But a decade later in the late 1940s, he had lost his faith, was a heavy drinker and a gambler.
One night at the poker table, he lost everything but his wife and children.
His combat experiences during World War II had left psychological wounds that haunted him for the rest of his life, and Boyd's oldest son suspects that the war experiences coupled with a hard scrabble childhood left his father in a perpetual search for spiritual meaning.
Along the way, two of Boyd's sons say, their father exhibited behavior that seemed paradoxical: Earcel Boyd Sr. was, as the Concordia Sentinel has been reporting in recent weeks, a leading Ku Klux Klansman who befriended Frank Morris, a black owner of a Ferriday shoe repair shop who the FBI believes was murdered by Klansmen in an arson on Dec. 10, 1964.
By the 1950s, Earcel Boyd was preaching in churches before white congregations and black congregations. By the 1960s, while working full-time at Armstrong Tire & Rubber Company in Natchez, Boyd was still preaching in black churches even though by this time he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
And while he saw himself as a vehicle for God's word, his sons say, he had a hair-trigger temper and was at times brutal and violent in his own home.
Earcel "Sonny" Boyd Jr., 61, who lives in Portland, Ore., said he was baffled trying to understand how his father could preach in black churches. "I challenged my Dad on that many times," Boyd said.
He and his brother, Leland, say their father -- despite his Klan beliefs -- was a friend of Frank Morris. The brothers explain that their father was a "separatist," who fiercely advocated that the races remain segregated. They say that Earcel Boyd felt so strongly about segregation of the races that he joined the Ku Klux Klan to actively fight the Civil Rights movement, particularly federal legislation in the 1960s designed to integrate public facilities and schools, insure the right to vote for blacks and provide equal employment opportunities.
By this time Boyd was a member of the Sycamore Baptist Church in Ridgecrest, drove a church bus and was active with youth. In his household lived his wife, Marjorie, one daughter, and five sons. Four of the sons became ministers. One preaches full-time today.
At the time Earcel Boyd preached segregation, his sons recall accompanying their father to visit Frank Morris in his shoe shop in Ferriday and they remember occasions when Morris joined the family for a meal at their home in Crestview.
Even as children the sons say they found great hypocrisy in the way their father lived his life.
"How," Sonny Boyd asked his father, "do you explain heaven?" Specifically, Sonny wondered, how could his father "preach the separation of the races in a white church one Sunday but preach another message in a black church the next Sunday."
"When I asked, Dad usually bristled," said Sonny. "He didn't like it when I challenged him. Sometimes he'd get upset. But on one occasion he said that heaven would be a place of spirits -- no bodies, so no skin color."
Earcel Boyd had also told his son Leland, who is 57 and lives in Texas, "that both whites and blacks would go to heaven" but that eternal paradise would be segregated.
Often after Sunday services in the early 1960s, Earcel Boyd asked his family on the car ride home what they thought of his sermon. One particular Sunday, Leland said, as his father drove down a dusty, graveled country road in their four-door station wagon, his father asked what they thought of his sermon on "eternal security," or, "once saved, always saved."
Nine-year-old Leland, when it was his turn to critique the sermon, told his father that he "did not believe in once saved, always saved," a phrase in Protestant faiths that means once a person accepts Christ as Savior and is forgiven of his sins that he is forever destined for heaven no matter what future sins may be committed.
Immediately, says Leland, his dad "slammed on the brakes, causing the rocks on the road to bounce up and hit the bottom of the car and make a deafening noise. In one motion, he set the emergency brake, opened the driver's door, reached down and unbuckled his belt. It was about half way out of his pants when he opened the back door on the driver's side, reached across my sister and snatched me up by my shirt. He set me on the ground and whacked me about 10 times with that belt he had so smoothly taken off, and the whole time telling me that as long as I lived in his house I would believe like he told me to believe."
Then, said Leland, his father "tossed me back into the middle of the back seat, slammed the back door and got back into the car and closed his door, all before the trailing dust cloud caught up with us."
Born again at a young age, Earcel Boyd strayed from church for years, say his sons, as his spiritual life slowly unraveled. Before he recommitted his life to Christ in the late 1940s, Earcel Boyd lost every possession to his name with the exception of the clothes on his back.
"In the years after the war, Dad was drinking heavily and on a gambling spree," said Sonny. "He lost the house in Ferriday and our car in a poker game."
Sonny said his mother "put her foot down and said that changes had to be made." Sonny said it was one of the few times his mother stood up to Earcel Boyd, a man who, his sons say, could without warning go into a violent rage and beat his children with a razor strap or his fists while their mother stood nearby in tears, tormented by the sight but physically unable to intervene.
By the late 1940s, Earcel Boyd had secured a job at Armstrong Tire. Without a penny to his name after his gambling spree, the Boyds move from Ferriday to Natchez where on the farm of one of his brothers the family established a home in a quonset hut.
"It was divided right now the middle," said Sonny. "The family lived on one side and chickens lived on the other. We walked on a dirt floor and the place had one single light bulb hanging from the ceiling in the room, which had a wood-burning stove on one side. On the other side of the dividing wall were my uncle's chickens."
Being poor was nothing new to Earcel Boyd, said Sonny, recalling that he and his siblings learned their father grew up in LaSalle and Catahoula parishes and "was one of 16 children of which 15 lived. Dad's father, Cheatum, worked at a sawmill and we were told that he didn't like spending much time at home and the family suffered for it."
As Earcel Boyd began his battle to stop drinking, quit the gambling dens and concentrate on an economic revival, he also started going to church again.
"We were living in Fenwick when Dad returned to church," said Sonny. "We were attending minister James Stopt's Baptist Church."
Sonny said Earcel became an ordained minister in 1952.
"His first church was out at New Hope near Bude in Franklin County in 1953," said Sonny. "Soon he began preaching in black churches."
Sonny and Leland said their father was a "fire and brimstone preacher." Both believe their father was sincere in his preaching efforts, but his segregationist views fell flat with them.
"It didn't make sense," said Sonny.
In late 1963, the brothers said their father was recruited into the Klan.
"The younger children never had as much of a chance as I did," said Sonny. "By then, Dad's Klan values were set. As a Klan leader, he was more likely to strike out."
Then, says Sonny, President Lyndon Johnson gave his Great Society speech at Ann Arbor, Michigan, on May 22, 1964, in which the President said the nation had to end racial segregation. Johnson's Civil Rights package included the integration of public facilities and the outlawing of job discrimination based on race.
"Dad and the Klan went berserk at that time," said Sonny. "This was the match that lit the fuses for all of those bombs and violence."
Throughout the South in 1964, the Klan attacked Civil Rights workers, burned and bombed churches, homes and businesses, and murdered. Instead of creating a "Great Society," the theme of Johnson's social programs, Sonny said his father and other Klansmen "said Johnson's real plan was to create a 'Gray Society' in which there would no longer be a black race or a white race but a gray race."
When in July 1964 the Civil Rights bill passed Congress, Southern leaders fumed. Yet Rep. Charles L. Weltner of Atlanta, who had opposed a Civil Rights bill in February, changed his mind in July and voted for it. He urged fellow Southerners to do the same and "move on to the unfinished task of building a new South. We must not remain forever bound to another lost cause."
But most Southern leaders expressed sentiments similar to those of Rep. Howard W. Smith of Virginia, who said the legislation set up "a second invasion of carpetbaggers." He lamented, "God save the United States of America."
By then, said Sonny, Earcel Boyd had spent years following a philosophy "built not on the oppression of blacks but on the separation of the races and the cleanliness of the bloodlines." He used biblical scripture as the authority for these beliefs.
Boyd became a high-ranking official in the United Klans of America and was also, his sons say, a member of the Silver Dollar Group, a violent Klan cell composed of about 20 men who occasionally met at the Shamrock Motel cafe in Vidalia. The group was dedicated to the opposition of Civil Rights, particularly segregation, and each member carried a silver dollar minted in the year he was born as a means of identification within the group.
The FBI believed the Silver Dollar Group was responsible for the murders of Frank Morris in 1964, and Wharlest Jackson, an Armstrong Tire employee and NAACP treasurer, who was killed by a car bomb in Natchez in February 1967. The FBI also attributed the attempted murder of Armstrong Tire employee and NAACP President George Metcalfe in August 1965 to the Silver Dollar Group.
While Earcel Boyd remained active in church until his health deteriorated in the 1980s -- he died in 1988 -- Sonny says the Klan became his father's religion in the 1960s, a robe his uniform, a burning cross his inspiration and a silver dollar his secret calling card.
(Stanley Nelson can be reached at email@example.com)
|Frank Morris Murder Series|