Editorial: Seeking justice for Frank Morris important for all
posted Thursday, May 24th, 2007 @ 8:41 am
News that the U.S. Department of Justice will reinvestigate the 1964 murder of Frank Morris of Ferriday is welcomed news for all of Concordia Parish. With that announcement, we remember the life today of this good Ferriday citizen.
Frank Morris was born Saturday, Oct. 3, 1914, to Sullivan Morris and Charlotte James. His mother Charlotte died the next year. When Frank Morris was murdered in 1964, his father was living in Natchez.
Everybody who knew Frank Morris remembers him as a hardworking man. He built a business in Ferriday off of his skills as a cobbler and his amazing expertise in working with leather. He shined shoes, repaired shoes, made shoes from scratch. Horse owners say he could mend and craft beautiful bridles.
Over time, his business flourished. He accomplished something unusual for an African-American man in 1964. His business attracted both a black and white clientele. All were loyal customers.
"Frank," one Ferriday man recalled recently, "kept everybody in shoes."
He owned property. He had accounts in two local banks. He drove a 1953 red Ford F10 pickup. He made an honest living.
But it was more than expert services and good business sense that brought him customers. Frank Morris was a man well liked in Ferriday. He loved gospel music and had a popular weekly radio show where people could call in and dedicate a song. His granddaughter said he loved to laugh and joke.
Then, on a chilly December night in 1964, this good citizen's life was destroyed and the people who depended on him were left devastated. Morris lived in a building attached to the back of his shoe shop. A noise interrupted his sleep and he rose to investigate. Outside, he was greeted by two white men, one holding a can of gasoline, the other a single-barrel shotgun.
Morris was forced back inside the store. One of the men struck a match and Morris' shoe shop on Fourth Street, now known as E.E. Wallace Blvd., was soon ablaze as the flammable chemicals of his trade kept inside Morris' business quickly ignited.
In the back of the shoe shop, Morris' employee heard the commotion. He aroused Morris' sleeping 11-year-old grandson, and the two escaped out a back door, jumped a fence and ran to safety.
Before Morris emerged from the burning building, his clothes in flames, the two men jumped into a dark colored, late model sedan and fled town in the direction of Vidalia, possibly onward to Mississippi. A third man may have been involved as a getaway driver.
Four days later, Morris took his last breath in Room 101 at the Concordia Parish Hospital. He suffered a long, agonizing death with third degree burns over 100 percent of his body. A Baptist minister said he never saw a man so severely burned as Morris, who was blinded by the flames.
This evil is believed to have been the work of the Ku Klux Klan although Frank Morris was not known to be involved in civil rights in Ferriday, a circumstance that adds mystery to his murder. As one local minister said in 1965, "The only type of society which the KKK desires to preserve is a society of hatred and of the devil himself."
The FBI investigated Morris' death but made no arrests. In the 1960s, the FBI was overwhelmed as the Klan terrorized the South. Scores were killed.
For four decades this case has grown cold. But in recent months, things have changed. In the past few days, the FBI has assigned an agent to reinvestigate the death of Frank Morris. A law professor at Syracuse University is heading up a volunteer student effort to reassess old FBI documents. The scope of this investigation is growing but its success will depend on the response of the people in this community. People with information must step forward.
Justice can never come too late. If the people responsible for the horrible death of Frank Morris are still alive, they must pay man's penalty for their heinous crime.
In Concordia, every minister should call out the name of Frank Morris and every congregation should pray that his killers, if they are still alive, be arrested and tried. Public officials must do what they can. Justice for Frank Morris is important for every man, woman and child living in our community today.
One day we may know the names of Morris' killers and the simple question asked by a Catholic priest, a longtime friend of Morris', may finally be answered.