Was Frank Morris doing too well in business?
by Stanley Nelson - posted Thursday, March 13th, 2008 @ 8:11 am
Was Frank Morris murdered simply because he was doing too well as a black businessman in Ferriday in 1964?
Charles C. Ellis Jr., 54, of Lake Charles, says it's a possibility. This is one of several theories investigated by the FBI four decades ago.
When Morris died four days after the December 10th fire, Ellis says his mother was devastated.
"She took his death really, really hard," he recalled. "She said she made up her mind that she would never stay in Ferriday because of his murder."
The fondness Ellis' mother held for Morris began in a simple way -- Morris introduced Charles Ellis to Anna Lee Jackson in the mid-1940s. The couple, once they began dating, were together from then on. Charles Ellis is their son and he's lived in Lake Charles for the past 35 years.
Ellis recalled Morris in a recent interview with The Sentinel and also in a book he wrote about Ferriday in 2006 called "Bayous, Booze & Bearhouses."
"My daddy went to visit Frank at his shoe shop after he got out of the service in the mid-1940s during World War II," Ellis recalled recently. "He said he was looking for a good woman. Frank said he knew somebody that he thought highly of and thought the two would make a good match."
Morris picked up the phone and called Anna Jackson.
"He told her to come up to the shop," said Ellis. "Frank introduced the two to each other and they started dating. They have been together ever since."
Ellis recalled that Morris' business thrived, that Morris "was good with leather and leather goods," and that he "could fix shoes, wallets, boots and had a good selection of hand purses, which he could also repair and make."
The shoe shop had booths in which customers could sit and have their shoe's shined. If business was at a lull, Morris and his customers visited, and the "younger men hung out" and joked with Morris.
Morris, he said, "loved talking and having fun. Frank was a personable guy, very charismatic and could charm you..."
Ellis said the shop "did very well" and that Morris "kept his roll in his pocket so by everybody's standards he was doing well and appeared to be well liked and well respected."
But, Ellis wonders, "Was he doing too well?"
In Ferriday in the 1960s, the town was booming with commerce. Many small mom and pop operations thrived. Charles Ellis' grandfather, Dan Jackson, owned a barbecue stand during those days located beside "Sam Brocato's place."
Ellis said his grandfather "barbecued goats; raised those goats in the rear of the barbecue stand and sold sandwiches, cokes and dinner. My mother recalls that there was always money in the house as long as her father was in the barbecue business."
When not at work at the shoe shop, Morris was known to serve as an usher in the Mercy Seat Baptist Church, about a block away. Morris always treated the pastors well, said Ellis, and enjoyed trips to church conventions and meetings. In addition to providing jobs to young men in the community, Morris also reached out to others, even those with troubled pasts.
When Morris was killed, his only full-time employee was a man named Snoot Griffing, who lived in a small house located behind Morris' shop. On the night of the fire, Morris sent his grandson, Poncho, whom he was rearing, to stay with Griffing because Morris' life had been threatened. Morris wanted his grandson out of danger.
Griffing and Poncho saw Morris run out of the shoe shop on the night of the fire. Morris was in flames and raced down the street to the Billups station.
Griffing told the FBI that he picked up Morris' grandson -- Poncho -- and took him to safety as the fire consumed Morris' shop.
Ellis said Griffing "had served time in prison" and had returned to Ferriday shortly before the fire when Morris gave him a job. In prison, Griffing had learned "to work with leather and make purses, wallets and belts. Working with Frank fell right in with what he had learned in the penal system."
Ellis remembered Morris always showed a "grin" and constantly chewed gum. He "knew something about humility and service to everyone."
"He was a man who liked to socialize," Ellis recalled, "and enjoyed people. He like the company of friends and good neighbors."
But 43 years ago, Morris, at the age of 51, apparently made someone quite angry. Whether it was because he was "doing too well" or for other reasons has yet to be determined.
That's why the FBI is reinvestigating Morris' murder, one of about 100 unsolved Civil Rights-era murders from the 1960s.