J. Edgar Hoover's interest in Frank Morris murder
by Stanley Nelson - posted Thursday, May 22nd, 2008 @ 8:08 am
Four months after the murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris, a letter sent from Concordia Parish crossed the desk of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C.
The letter was typed, double-spaced, directed to J. Edgar Hoover, and signed in type: "The Colored people of Concordia Parish."
Dated April 10, 1965, the document contained three sentences:
"It was December 18, 1964 on cold night about one o'clock in the morning the KKK burned down Frank Morris shop and him with it, as of now we have not hear what happen to the hill. Is it possible these people are going to get away with this act with out being exposed, even though the police was apart of the gang that permitted this terrible thing to happen. Your office is our only hope so don't fail us."
Whether the FBI determined who wrote the letter isn't explained in about 500 pages of redacted documents of the Morris investigation obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The letter had a few errors -- Hoover's name was misspelled "Hover," the date of the arson of Morris' shop was not December 18, 1964, but December 10th, and it is unclear what is meant by the phrase "as of now we have not hear what happen to the hill."
The street or post office address on the envelope sent from Ferriday in which the letter was mailed is left blank in the redacted documents. What happened next isn't yet known, but Hoover wanted to know more.
In fact, on a few of the Morris' documents, Hoover's initials can be found. He appeared to have a strong interest in the case. Several congressmen were pressing him for information on Morris' murder, particularly Sen. Harrison A. Williams of New Jersey.
Hoover's interest may have also been high because of the possible connections of Morris' murder and other acts of violence throughout this region. In many cases, the Ku Klux Klan counted certain members of law enforcement as members, and in other cases as leaders. This deadly confederation, which included the violent Klan cell known as the Silver Dollar Group, was terrorizing both sides of the Mississippi River.
In 1964, the deaths of three Civil Rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss., (Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman) received worldwide attention and continues to draw interest. But in 1964 in Concordia Parish, and Adams, Amite, Franklin and Wilkinson counties in Mississippi, at least six were murdered in the region, probably more, and few days went by without some type of violence.
In Concordia, Joseph "JoEd" Edwards, a porter at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia, went missing on July 12, the same day the bodies of two Meadville, Miss., teens -- Charles Moore and Hezekiah Dee (missing since May 2) -- were found in an offshoot of the Mississippi River. A few days later, Edwards' car was found abandoned on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. Blood stains were discovered inside.
Louis Allen was shot to death in the driveway of his Liberty, Miss., home on February 1.
Clifton Walker was killed by a shotgun blast in Natchez on February 28 and Morris died from the arson of his shoe shop on December 14, four days after the fire.
Just a few examples of other violence in Adams County alone in 1964 include the whipping of 56-year-old Alfred Whitley by a half dozen hooded men, the shooting of 26-year-old Richard Joe Butler, explosives detonated near the homes of Mayor Joe Nosser and Willie Washington in Natchez, and the bombings of Nosser's stores and of Orrick Metcalf's Chevrolet dealership.
In 1965, FBI Director Hoover heard from the parents of a Civil Rights worker with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) beaten in Ferriday during the summer. He also heard from New York Congressman Richard Ottinger about the beating. Additionally, Hoover received a message dated July 5 from a CORE official sent through Western Union:
"Months ago, Frank Morris of Ferriday was burned to death in store by men who are members of or sympathizers with the Ku Klux Klan. Yesterday, two CORE workers beaten in Ferriday while canvassing for voter registration. Nothing has been done in either of these cases to bring the offenders to justice. The words of justice that have fallen from your lips are empty sounds when justice is not part of life in Louisiana.
"The negligence of the FBI can be cited in their lack of action under Title 1 of the 1964 Civil Rights law, which gives them the authority to make arrests in cases involving interference in the activities of voter registration workers.
"The inadequacy of Concordia Sheriff Cross is evident in the fact that no action has been taken toward the apprehension of the offenders in the heinous crime that took the life of Frank Morris nor in yesterday's beating of Civil Rights workers. You have failed your responsibility as a respected elected official by not seeing that justice is enforced in Concordia.
"We feel this situation warrants, indeed, demands immediate action by the FBI, from Sheriff Cross, and from the gubernatorial office in this state."
Michael Clurman, then 21, was one of the two workers beaten in Ferriday. Clurman, now a resident of Boston, told The Sentinel a "particularly notorious sheriff's deputy," whom he identified as "Big Frank" Delaughter, stopped his patrol car on the street and dropped off the two men who beat Clurman and another CORE worker -- James Edward Brown.
Clurman said an FBI agent "assigned to the town said that he didn't trust Frank and he was known as a Klansman."
When Clurman's parents complained about their son's treatment in Ferriday to the Justice Department, a high-ranking official, John Doar, warned the Clurmans that Ferriday was an "outlaw" town and urged them to get their son out of Concordia.
Doar wrote the parents: "On the basis of present information the prospect of a successful federal criminal prosecution is not bright. Evidence is lacking that the assailants acted under the color of the law or that they were involved in a conspiracy to deprive citizens of civil rights. We are continuing the investigation, however, and will advise you for our final determination."
While the FBI was reportedly "vigorously" pursuing the complaints of the CORE workers, Hoover agreed with the decision not to acknowledge the letter from the CORE official.
This official with CORE, said an FBI memo, "has been frequent unjust critic of the Bureau in handling Civil Rights matters." Hoover concurred that past "efforts to straighten him out have been unfruitful," and considered the criticism of the bureau "unwarranted."