Gunshots in Morgantown signaled changes in Klan membership
by Stanley Nelson - posted Thursday, January 10th, 2008 @ 8:37 am
In June 1964 residents of the Morgantown community in Natchez were awakened by the sound of gunfire.
The shooter was a 33-year-old Mississippi Klansman upset that local members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan weren't paying their dues. That and other problems were causing dissension in the ranks.
This Klansman, employed as a bleach washman at International Paper Company, mulled over the matter during the hot June night and got drunk in the process. He decided he would start a local feud among Klansmen.
At 3 a.m. he parked his car at Klan headquarters in Morgantown, pulled out his .44 pistol and began to fire.
According to testimony provided to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) in the mid-1960s, this Klansmen "shot the lock" off the door "and sprayed numerous bullets throughout the headquarters." A witness said this Klansman was furious that "some of the members of the Mississippi Klan left this Klavern and joined the United KKK...."
Seven months before Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris was murdered, the Ku Klux Klan in this region was undergoing great change, as that summer night in Morgantown 43 years ago exemplifies. Allegiances were changing. Some Klansmen said all of the Klans were becoming too violent.
But others said a Klan organization had yet to exist which would satisfy the level of violence they sought. Despite these changes in Klan structure in 1964, the Klans in Concordia and the Mississippi counties of Adams, Franklin, Lincoln and Pike would continue the killings, the arsons and the bombings. Their handiwork stretched eastward along Hwy. 84 from Ferriday to Natchez. From there, the path of violence followed U.S. 84/98 through Fenwick, Cranfield, Roxie, Bunkley, Meadville and Bude. At that point, the highways split off with U.S. 84 leading to Brookhaven and onward to Laurel and U.S. 98 to McComb and onward to Hattiesburg.
HUAC discovered that by February 1966 there were 15 independent Klans operating in the United States. From 1964 to 1966, there were a total of 714 klaverns (local units of a Klan) with a membership estimated at 16,810. North Carolina even had ladies auxiliaries.
There were three Klan organizations predominant in this region -- Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Louisiana; White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; and United Klans of America.
• ORIGINAL KNIGHTS OF THE KU KLUX KLAN, LOUISIANA
Concordia was primarily connected with the Original Knights, but some of the Klan leaders in the parish, well-connected with the Klans in Adams and Franklin counties, were involved in the militant White Knights. The Original Knights were active from 1964 to 1966 but split into factions in the fall of 1964, as did many other Klan groups.
The natural connections for these Klans were the three mills in Natchez -- International Paper Company, Johns-Manville and Armstrong Tire & Rubber Company. There, Klansmen could communicate every day, three shifts a day, during coffee and lunch breaks.
The Original Knights, an old organization reactivated in 1960 in Bossier City and Monroe, dominated the Louisiana Klan scene until 1965. Klaverns were set up throughout the state with, according to HUAC, "the heaviest concentration in the areas of Shreveport, Monroe and the Sixth Congressional District in Bogalusa."
In Concordia, there were two klaverns in the parish associated with the Original Knights -- one in Vidalia, known as the Vidalia (or Concordia) Sportsman's Club, and one in Morville at Deer Park, where a few years after the congressional report was issued the owners and associates of a whore house at Morville were indicted, and some convicted, in state and federal court.
Statewide, the Original Knights were involved in 29 parishes, 19 of which were in northeastern and central Louisiana. There were 46 klaverns statewide. Klans sometimes used fronts so they could open bank accounts and hide their identities. The names of sportsman clubs in Louisiana and rescue units in Mississippi were common fronts.
Original Knights klaverns in this region of the state included
Concordia (2 klaverns): Morville at Deer Park; Vidalia (or Concordia) Sportsman Club.
Catahoula (1 klavern): Catahoula Sportsman Club.
Franklin (1 klavern): Winnsboro.
LaSalle (1 klavern): Jena Hunting & Fishing Club.
Madison (1 klavern): Delta, Delta Sportsman Club.
Ouachita (4 klaverns): Monroe, Northeast Gun Club; Monroe, Okaloosa Hunting & Fishing Club; Sterlington, Sterlington Hunting & Fishing Club; Swartz, Swartz Hunting & Fishing Club:
Rapides (3 klaverns): Alexandria; Deville, Deville Huntington & Fishing Club; Hineston, Hineston Huntington & Fishing Club.
Richland (2 klaverns): Delhi, Delhi Sportsman Club; Rural community, Boeuf River Hunting Club.
Tensas (1 klavern): Tensas Sportsman Club.
West Carroll (1 klavern); West Carroll Riflemen Club.
Winn (1 klavern): Winnfield Hunting & Fishing Club.
Briefly, the Original Knights operated under the cover of Christian Constitutional Crusaders in Monroe and Winnsboro. In addition to the Original Knights' klaverns in Concordia at Vidalia and Morville, the Christian Constitutional Crusaders' had one additional local klavern. This one was located in the Monterey area and known as the Black River Lake Sporting Club.
• WHITE KNIGHTS OF THE KU KLUX KLAN, MISSISSIPPI
While the White Knights were exclusively a Mississippi organization, some members of this militant group in Adams and Franklin counties were involved in Klan operations in Concordia and some Concordia men were involved in the White Knights in Adams County.
The White Knights began as an offshoot of the Original Knights of Louisiana in the fall of 1963. By December of 1963, the unofficial formation of the White Knights began in Natchez. By February 1964, 200 former members of the Original Knights met in Brookhaven, Miss., and formed the White Knights.
Just three months later, Imperial Wizard Sam Holloway Bowers Jr., a vending machine operator, had taken over the leadership of the White Knights and set up headquarters in his office in Laurel, Miss. Unlike other Klans, the White Knights were so secretive that they did not hold public rallies and would not admit "publicly to any association with the organization."
Bowers operated under "military rather than democratic procedures" and was "all powerful in the role of commander in chief," noted HUAC investigators. At one point, the White Knights had 52 klaverns in 42 of the state's 82 counties. In the fall of 1964, there was an estimated 6,000 active members in the White Knights.
Area klaverns included:
Adams (1 klavern): Natchez.
Franklin (2 klaverns): Meadville, Unit No. 1; Bunkley Community, Unit No. 2.
Lincoln: (2 klaverns): Brookhaven, Bogue Chitto Unit; Ruth, Lincoln County Unit No. 2.
Throughout the summer and fall of 1964, federal heat was on the White Knights. Scores of FBI agents had moved into Mississippi following the murders of three Civil Rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss. This attack was a White Knight hit. The bureau soon infiltrated the White Knights and members began to scatter.
By the time Bowers ordered a 90-day moratorium on violence, many White Knights in Adams County and Concordia bolted. By the January 1967, total membership in the White Knights had dwindled to 400.
At the Shamrock Hotel cafe in the fall of 1964, some of these militant members of the White Knights formed the Silver Dollar Group, made of men who prided themselves as being the toughest Klansmen anywhere. These men, numbering about 20 and including law enforcement officers, were believed responsible for the murders of Frank Morris, Ferriday's shoe shop owner; Joe "JoeEd" Edwards, a porter at the Vidalia Shamrock; and Wharlest Jackson, an NAACP officer and Armstrong Tire employee.
Another man, George Metcalfe, was, like Jackson, the victim of a car bomb, but he survived. The Silver Dollar Group is also believed responsible for this attack and others.
Noted HUAC, "Although the violent image of the White Knights was a factor in many switches to the United Klans (of America), the committee discovered that a number of violence-prone members of the White Knights had actually gone over to the United Klans on the grounds that the White Knights was not militant enough."
• UNITED KLANS OF AMERICA, MISSISSIPPI & LOUISIANA REALMS
The United Klan of America (UKA), Mississippi Realm, was established in McComb in the spring of 1964. By August 1964 -- two months after the shooting at the Morgantown klavern -- Adams County Klansmen were leaving the White Knights and joining the UKA. On Aug. 29, 1964, the UKA's first klavern in Natchez was set up under the front of the Adams County Civic & Betterment Association.
The opening of that klavern was part of the celebration at the United Klan rally in Liberty Park in Natchez that day, led by Imperial Wizard Robert M. Shelton of Tuscaloosa, Ala., the organization's leader. At least one HUAC investigator was at the meeting and subpoenaed a few Klansmen in attendance to appear before the committee. Several FBI agents were also at the rally.
Noted HUAC, "UKA strategy in Mississippi....was to build an image of nonviolence." This strategy proved so successful that by early 1966 UKA was the dominant Mississippi Klan.
In UKA Mississippi, 75 klaverns in 42 counties were established.
Locally, those Klaverns included:
Adams (2 klaverns): one loosely formed in Natchez at Morgantown; and the headquarters chartered under the name of the Adams County Civic & Betterment Association (Unit No. 719) in Natchez.
Lincoln (1 klavern): Brookhaven.
Pike (8 klaverns): McComb, McComb Unit No. 700-South Pike Marksmanship Association; McComb Unit Nos. 704, 711, 713, 714, 715; Magnolia; Pricedale, Pricedale Unit. No. 712.
The McComb klaverns proved to be the quite active from April to October 1964, according to HUAC, and believed to be responsible for more than 25 bombings or acts of arson in and around the town. In Natchez on Sept. 25, 1964, Mayor Joe Nosser's home was damaged by a "high explosive" bomb, and another bomb was thrown the same night into the yard of a black man named Willie Washington. "Stink bombs" were thrown into Nosser's stores and into a Chevrolet dealership.
There were no UKA Louisiana klaverns in Concordia, Catahoula, Franklin, Tensas or LaSalle parishes, but several men from Concordia were active in the organization. There were 30 UKA klaverns statewide in 13 parishes. Of the 13 parishes, 10 were in northeastern Louisiana with seven klaverns in Ouachita, five in Union, and three each in Lincoln and Jackson.
By January 1967, it was estimated that UKA Mississippi had 750 members and UKA Louisiana 700 members.