Civil Rights' group, rogue Klansmen blamed for Morris arson
by Stanley Nelson - posted Thursday, January 8th, 2009 @ 8:03 am
'THE FIERY CROSS' -- KKK PROPAGANDA SHEET -- MADE SCANDALOUS ACCUSATIONS
The son of a deceased Concordia Parish Ku Klux Klan leader said his father believed in 1964 that one of two groups of people was responsible for the arson that killed black Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris-- either Civil Rights workers trying to inflame black citizens in Ferriday or "two or more rogue Klansmen" acting independently of any Klan organization.
Leland Boyd, whose father, Earcel Boyd Sr., held high-ranking positions in Klan organizations at the time of the arson that killed Morris, said in recent interviews that even while his father was a leader in the United Klans of America and a member of a secretive Klan cell known as the Silver Dollar Group, he had a strong personal friendship with Morris. Boyd said his father was deeply upset by Morris' death and talked about his personal search for Morris' attackers.
Leland Boyd said that at one point his father said the fire was set "by Civil Rights workers because they felt blacks in Ferriday were too complacent. He said the Civil Rights people did it because they wanted to anger the Ferriday black community so that they would begin demonstrating and cause unrest. I was told that because Frank Morris was black and well known, the Civil Rights people thought a fire would outrage the black citizens."
It was not uncommon in the 1950s and 1960s for law enforcement officials, Klansmen and politicians to blame civil rights workers for violence against themselves, though such claims were not substantiated or plausible.
But at another point, Boyd added, his father blamed the murder on "two or three rogue Klansmen" who were warned to leave town or face death in the aftermath. Leland said his father was determined to deal with the men who torched Morris' shop because "dad and Mr. Frank were such close friends."
The arson that killed Morris came at an unusually tense time in Ferriday. In response to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the large number of northerners who were coming south to aid the civil rights movement, the Klan began surging. Beyond the violence they inflicted, some Klan groups were spreading vile leaflets that accused area residents – by name – of engaging in interracial sexual liaisons. The community reacted strongly and publicly to the leaflets.
The Dec. 10, 1964, arson and Morris' murder were investigated by the FBI but never solved. The FBI investigated whether the claims a leaflet distributed around the time of Morris' murder held a clue to the motive behind the arson of Morris' business and his death.
During the four days Morris struggled to survive the fire, he told the FBI, which reopened the case in 2007, that he was attacked at his store by two white men he viewed as friends although he didn't identify them by name. Morris also said there was likely a third person involved.
"My Dad respected Mr. Frank enough that he would not let us refer to him as anything but 'Mr. Frank' or 'Uncle Frank,'" said Leland, who was 12 years old at the time of the arson and said he frequently joined his father on visits to Morris' shoe shop at least twice a week. "Anything other than that would have brought immediate and absolute physical punishment."
Earcel Boyd Sr. worked as a tire builder at Armstrong Tire & Rubber Company in Natchez. He lived on Crestview Drive in Ridgecrest with his wife, five sons and a daughter.
But the other side of Earcel Boyd Sr.'s life was as a Klansman who was infuriated by the civil rights movement, the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the flood of young volunteers from throughout the country who converged on the South to register blacks to vote and worked to provide them better education and employment opportunities.
By 1967, he was the second highest officer in Louisiana in the United Klans of America (UKA), a spinoff of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Mississippi, and the Original Knights, based in Louisiana. The UKA was the largest Klan organization in the United States when Boyd held the title of Grand Titan of the Louisiana UKA. He was also part of the Silver Dollar Group. Members of that group, wrote author Don Whitehead in his 1970 book -- "Attack on Terror: The FBI Against the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi" -- were dedicated to the violent opposition of Civil Rights and the integration of public schools, facilities and offices.
Earcel Boyd Sr. died in 1988 at the age of 64.
Around the time Morris' shop was torched, the Original Knights dropped copies of a one-page leaflet at doorways and in driveways throughout Concordia a few days prior to Morris' death which made racially-charged allegations against four white women by name, accusing them of having sexual relations with black men. The leaflet warned that if local citizens didn't stand up to "moral decay," Civil Rights groups would come into town and incite black citizens to commit acts of violence.
Shortly before the arson of Morris' shop, the leaflet was distributed that, according to a notation at the bottom of the one-page sheet, was published "by the Original (Knights) of Ku Klux Klan, Realm of Louisiana, Concordia Parish." The theme of the leaflet, which included attacks on the characters of the four white women, was that the public needed to let law enforcement know it wanted those involved in interracial sex to be arrested and convicted of miscegenation, which was a crime in Louisiana and other states at the time.
While the four white women and a black school teacher were identified by name in the leaflet, two other black men were referred to but not identified.
The Klan quoted someone it referred to as an unnamed "high-ranking public official" as saying, "With things like this going on we can no longer be assured that we have enough moral support from citizens and taxpayers to warrant any interference on the part of the law."
The leaflet was called "The Fiery Cross," a name univerally given to most Klan scandal sheets. A copy of this leaflet attacking the white women landed on the doorstep of Richardson & Sims Funeral Home, a black business located near Morris' store, according to FBI documents obtained by this newspaper. A unidentified young male employee at the mortuary, who was a close friend of Morris', told the FBI that the leaflet appeared shortly before the arson.
Immediately after the fire, those FBI documents reveal, rumors spread through town that Morris was involved in Civil Rights. Yet the FBI's investigation found not a single friend, associate or acquaintance of Morris', white or black, who could link him to any Civil Rights' organization or Civil Rights' work.
Klan leaflets were part of the Klan arsenal to influence communities with lies, innuendoes and fear, according to the House un-American Activities Committee, which investigated Klan violence in the mid-1960s.
"Klan organizations have demonstrated a certain amount of expertise in scurrility," said HUAC. "It is the trademark of all Klan publicity, and it's nowhere more obvious than in the printed mimeographed propaganda disseminated by Klan organizations."
The allegation of interracial sexual liaisons in the "The Fiery Cross" was an electrifying charge to circulate in any town in the segregated South of 1964. This theme cropped up as a central motive explored by the FBI for Morris' murder.
According to bureau documents, witnesses said there were rumors that Morris was arranging interracial sexual liaisons at his shop, that he was flirting with white women and that he had been involved in an interracial affair in the late 1940s with the wife of a white Ferriday businessman. Whether the FBI substantiated any of the gossip is not evident in records publicly available.
In the Klan leaflet, of the four white women named -- two were accused of having an affair with a black teacher at Sevier High School in Ferriday, one with a "Negro boy who sets pins at the bowling alley" on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. and one with "the grease monkey" -- slang for a mechanic -- at a Ferriday service station.
"The Fiery Cross" leaflet said of the four white women: "The unscrupulous harlots are being paid to tear down racial segregation in this section of North Louisiana," an obvious allegation that the women were paid prostitutes.
The scandal sheet outraged a white minister, the Rev. Jerry Means, who pastored a church in Ferriday at the time. Now 78, Means, in a letter to the editor in The Sentinel on Feb. 4, 1965, denounced the Klan and challenged Klansmen to "come from the cloak of darkness and make themselves known by name."
He told The Sentinel recently that he was inspired to write the letter because the Klan's scandal sheet was damaging to the reputations of both men and women of all races, causing some to be ostracized.
A female Concordian also lashed out at the Klan for both its hypocrisy and its cruelty for the pain suffered by the children of the men and women who were the focus of the public allegations.
She wrote in the same Feb. 4 edition of The Sentinel that it was "quite obvious to everyone that there was no white male names mentioned. But how did so many light faces get into the Negroid race?"
The Klan in Natchez in its propaganda sheets such as a White Knights publication known as the "White Caps," named various white male public officials and white males and females in the business community it alleged were sexually involved with blacks.
Means recalled recently that Klan leaflets were "smut sheets. That's all they were. Hateful."
He said the leaflet which attacked the four white women was "printed in Waterproof and thrown in driveways."
The leaflet asked the reader "what assurance do you have that some radical group won't turn to violence and very quickly create a worse shame?...Our Ferriday and Vidalia could become another Oxford, McComb, Birmingham or Natchez."
The "radical group" mentioned was an obvious reference to Civil Rights organizations. All of the towns mentioned in the Klan leaflet had been the scene of Klan violence and were being visited by Civil Rights' organizations. The first group of Civil Rights workers to come to Ferriday was not until the summer of 1965, six months after Morris was slain.
But in Natchez, just four months prior to the arson of Morris' shop, a white-owned bar that catered to blacks was the target of Klan arsonists. Known as Jake's Place, the bar -- owned by Jake Frishman, a 55-year-old white man -- was completely destroyed.
In the days previous to this fire, a COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) office had been set up in a house across the street from Jake's Place on South Wall. COFO represented a coalition of Civil Rights organizations.
Members of the COFO staff, both black and white, had become customers at Jake's but none were there the night of the fire. Some 50 persons were inside the bar when the fire was discovered in the back of the building, but no one was injured.
Natchez police suspected Klansmen and felt the motive was to retaliate against Frishman for allowing the Civil Rights workers into his establishment and to make a statement that segregation would be enforced with arson.
Investigators found two five-gallon fuel cans left by the culprits in the back of Jake's Place. A single five-gallon can was found in Morris' shop.
Natchez Police Chief J.T. Robinson told a HUAC investigator that an International Paper Company employee who lived near the IP plant in Cloverdale was one person he suspected in the fire at Jake's Place. The same man was one of several men the FBI considered as suspects in the arson of Morris' shop. It is not known if the two agencies shared the information.
"I remember my Dad was very upset about Jake allowing the races to mix inside his club," said Leland Boyd.
While his father maintained a friendship with Frank Morris, Leland Boyd, who was 12 when Morris was murdered, said Earcel Boyd and other Klansmen were also promoting "racial and religious hatred at every Klan rally to the point that those at the meetings were stirred into the 'act-now-frenzy' to protect our heritage before it was weakened by integration."