Three Klan rallies in parish in 1964; combined Klan lists total 200 local men
by Stanley Nelson - posted Thursday, January 17th, 2008 @ 8:12 am
Just a few months before the murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris in December 1964, 14-year-old Johnny Patrick was riding down the highway with two friends -- one old enough to have a driver's license -- when the boys spotted a fire in the distance.
Wondering what was ablaze, they followed a rural road near Clayton. Soon they found the fire's source, parked the car and quietly walked a short ways through the woods before reaching the edge of a cow pasture.
For a few minutes during this hot summer night in 1964, these three boys watched a Klan meeting of about 50 to 60 men in progress.
"A cross, well over 15-feet high, was burning and many of the men had robes on," recalled Patrick. "I remember well the pointed hoods."
He said nobody "was really speaking, but there was a crowd of men and they were a loud, rowdy group. A lot of them were drinking. Everybody was talking. I didn't hear any speeches."
The boys didn't linger. They were afraid they would get caught.
A short time later, Patrick was awakened by his father after midnight.
"Daddy got me out of bed," he recalled. "My Daddy had nothing to do with the Klan but a neighbor called and said her husband had gone to a Klan meeting and had not returned. She was worried about him. Daddy brought me along in case I needed to drive a vehicle back."
Patrick and his father arrived at the conclusion of the Klan meeting -- this one also in a cow pasture. There they found the woman's husband. As suspected, he was drunk.
They returned the inebriated man safely to his home and Patrick, who later served as sheriff of Concordia Parish from 1980-84, never forgot those two summer nights 43 years ago.
What he saw was a somewhat common scene in the summer of 1964. In fact, that same summer, there was a large Klan rally in Ferriday in an open field near the old Kelly's Kids building on Hwy. 15. Around 100 men are believed to have attended that meeting.
Klan membership was on the rise and its aim was to stop the federal government from enforcing new laws designed to provide blacks with civil rights. The Klan opposed the integration of schools and public facilities.
The House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC), in a report on the Klan following hearings in the mid-1960s, revealed that a typical Klan rally was "staged in a farmer's field on the outskirts of a city or town. The main props consist of a 15-to-50 foot-high burning cross and a crude wooden speakers' platform (for which a truck bed is often substituted)."
Klan leaders told everyone who attended these rallies one huge lie. They said they working on behalf of Christ. Many of these men had never -- and some only rarely -- been inside a church.
These leaders also said they were working to thwart communism. Another lie.
While crosses were not always burned at these rallies, said the House committee, one thing was never omitted -- "the ceremony of passing the hat or bucket." Klan leaders pocketed this money.
Money also came in from membership dues and from the sale of Klan robes. Many a fight erupted amongst Klan leaders over this money.
One frequent guest speaker at rallies for the United Klans of America -- a bricklayer who preached on the side -- told HUAC:
"In my honest opinion, the way I see it, (the Klan officials) come into town this month, have a rally, get all the money you can get, and get out, and say, 'Now, you folks work hard, get all the members you can. We will be back next year for another rally."
Most of the men who attended Klan rallies were non-violent men. But some were to be feared.
An Adams County Klansman became an informant. He identified 10 men whom he felt were the most violent Klansmen in this region. These men lived in Concordia and in the Mississippi counties of Adams and Franklin.
He gave this top 10 list to the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol in October 1964, just two months before Morris was attacked at his shoe shop in Ferriday. Morris was severely burned in a fire set by the two white men. He died four days later.
Just as a flaming cross was a Klan symbol, the FBI didn't feel it was a coincidence that flames consumed Morris' shoe shop.
These 10 men -- each identified by the informant -- were dissatisfied, said the Klansman, "because the Mississippi KKK did not advocate forms of violence." Because of that, these 10 men joined the United Klans of America, the fastest-growing white supremacist organization in the South at that time.
The informant said these 10 men "advocate violence and are extremely strong segregationists."
Later, the informant provided the names of 22 additional individuals from this region who were also associated with the White Knights, the most militant of all the Klans. Of the total, 13 were said to be active with the White Knights, one was inactive and three had transferred to other Klans. Two were Adams County constables, two were members of the Natchez Police Department and one was a deputy with the Adams County Sheriff's Office.
In February 1966, HUAC made public a list of 69 local men employed at International Paper Company in Natchez who were members of either the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi or the United Klans of America. That list was published by the Associated Press and raised many eyebrows in this region.
But The Sentinel has obtained a list with 137 names.
At some point in the mid-1960s a Klansmen left a list of Klan members in his car. Copies of that list were made and the original returned unnoticed to the man's vehicle.
This list contains the names of some very well known men from this region, including Concordia Parish and Adams County. All the lists combined include the names of about 200 local men.
On this list are members of the United Klans and the White Knights. Also listed are Klan sympathizers and alleged but unconfirmed Klan members.
The list includes high-ranking public officials, businessmen, company managers, day laborers, plant workers, law enforcement officers, attorneys, one Mississippi judge, and two Baptist ministers.
There are some duplications on all the lists.
Some of these men are still alive.
However, only a handful of the individuals on these lists were believed to be involved in violent activities. Most men who joined the Klan flirted with the organization only briefly. Many attended a Klan meeting and never went to another.
Additionally, membership in the Klan was not like joining a respectable civic club. Lists were rarely made and when they were they remained in the possession of top Klan officials.