James Ford Seale: A sheriff's election, nine deaths and a silver dollar
by Stanley Nelson - posted Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 @ 8:08 am
In 1967, James Ford Seale, a 32-year-old violent Klansman who had thus far escaped prosecution, was known to carry a silver dollar in his pocket when he threw his hat into the ring for sheriff of Franklin County, Miss.
At this time he was a suspect in three murders and one suspicious death and in another three years would be the only person to walk away from an aviation disaster that left five people dead.
Seale had been given his silver dollar, informants told the FBI, by the head of the Silver Dollar Group (SDG), a 45-year-old Vidalia, La., man named Raleigh Jackson "Red" Glover. The SDG was made up of militant Klansmen who vowed to preserve desegregation and white supremacy by any form of violence necessary even as the FBI launched a massive war to end Klan terror throughout the South. The SDG also despised informants and vowed to dispose of anyone caught giving information on the Klan to law enforcement.
Seale's involvement with the SDG is linked through a Sentinel investigation and the FBI case file into the carbombing death of Wharlest Jackson of Natchez in 1967. Both The Sentinel and the Syracuse University College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI) were granted access to the file through the Freedom of Information Act. CCJI obtained and provided the documents to The Sentinel.
Records show Glover was pulling hard for Seale's electoral success and promised that if victorious the celebration afterward would include "the hanging of a nigger." Glover provided each of his hand-picked SDG members with a silver dollar and told his inner circle of followers that he had long admired the Nazis "because they killed the Jews to purify the race." He even suggested that SDG members wear tie clips adorned with the letters "SS (Shield Squadron)," a sadistic German police/military group under Hitler that was dedicated to the annihilation of the Jews and the creation of a master race.
Seale became a candidate for Franklin County sheriff despite the fact that he had been arrested for the May 2, 1964, kidnappings and murders of two 19-year-old black men -- Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore, both of Meadville, Miss. Charges against Seale and a second man were later dropped by Franklin County, Miss., authorities. Seale would be convicted for the murders in federal court in 2007 -- 43 years later -- and is now in prison.
A Harrisonburg, La., man -- James Horace "Sonny" Taylor, an SDG Klansman -- told the FBI he ran into James Ford Seale, his father, Clyde, and brother, Jack, in 1965. He said all three "displayed silver dollars in a sign of unity" during Seale's brief legal entanglement following the Dee-Moore murders.
Taylor said Seale was one of several Klansmen who attended a fish fry in Wildsville in Concordia Parish in June of 1965 at the home of James "Red" Lee, a man also identified by the FBI as an SDG member. The FBI believed that the Aug. 27, 1965, carbombing of George Metcalfe -- Natchez NAACP president and Armstrong Tire employee in Natchez -- was planned at this fish fry. One informant said that as the catfish was being cooked he watched SDG members tinkering with dynamite, two empty hand grenades, black powder, a roll of dynamite fuse and a roll of primer cord.
Another informant, identified by the FBI as JN-348, said Seale also attended an SDG meeting in the summer of 1965 on a sandbar on the Homochitto River in Franklin County, Miss. JN-348 told agents that Klansmen there handled large sticks of dynamite that were "bologna size."
In the fall of 1965, Seale was among several Klansmen to attend the funeral of fellow SDG member Ernest Finley, who informants said also attended the Wildsville fish fry in June 1965. Informants watched Seale and Klansman Ernest Parker visiting in the parlor of the funeral home in Natchez while Glover and another Klansman clipped a silver dollar on a wreath, the only known public display of the SDG's existence.
Although Metcalfe survived the carbombing in front of the Armstrong plant, the murder attempt drew national media coverage and became a rallying cry for Civil Rights in Natchez as an example of unyielding Klan violence against blacks. But just 11 days earlier, little noticed throughout this region was the savage murder of a 47-year-old Franklin County white man -- Earl Hodges of Eddiceton. Although a coroner's jury was empaneled by Dist. Atty. L.L. Forman, no action was taken.
Hodges, a neighbor of the Seale family, was believed to have been killed because he was trying to leave the Klan and had also been embroiled in a conflict with Clyde Seale, the Exalted Cyclops (leader) of Unit No. 2 White Knights of the KKK (1964-1965) representing the Meadville/Bunkley communities.
But Hodges' biggest problem, records show, was that the Seales believed he was providing information on the Klan to a Mississippi highway patrolman and the FBI. A former Franklin County resident now living in Natchez, who requested anonymity, told The Sentinel that "people were shocked" that the Klan would kill one of its own.
The homicide eventually crippled the Klan in Franklin County. A Bude, Miss., man told the FBI that the Klan "fell apart" after Hodges' murder, while a Smithdale, Miss., man said "sentiment was aroused" and within three years the crime had broken "the backbone of the Klan."
James Ford Seale was among a half-dozen Klansmen, including Clyde and Jack, believed to have beaten Hodges to death. The FBI and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee reported that Hodges was beaten with a 3-to-4 inch wide strap and a similar strap with 1/8th-inch tacks "that tore flesh away with each blow." His head was also bashed in, records show.
After the beating, HUAC reported that Hodges stumbled to a nearby well and attempted to wash the blood from his body before dying. All three Seales -- James Ford, Clyde and Jack -- took the Fifth while being questioned by a HUAC panel about the murder in Washington, D.C., in 1966.
Six months later, some believe Seale committed a fourth murder. Seale was the driver of a pickup that slammed into 74-year-old Bailey Odell in Franklin County in June 1966 as the black man reportedly was walking across the highway to talk to a friend.
Odell died. He had recently registered to vote, records show, one of only a few blacks who dared to do so at that time in Franklin County.
Around this time, a Ferriday SDG Klansman who made his living as a mechanic at Richard Arnaud Ford in Ferriday, told the FBI that James Ford Seale along with Klansmen Ernest Parker and L.C. Murray, both of Natchez, arrived in Ferriday in Parker's red Ford. The Ferriday mechanic, an FBI informant identified as NO-1325, said Seale wanted to hold a Silver Dollar Group meeting, but NO-1325 told him that only Glover had that authority. He said Seale indicated he would look for Glover.
Despite being a suspect in four murders, in beatings and in arsons, Seale saw no problem in running for sheriff in 1967 even after the Feb. 27th carbombing of Wharlest Jackson, a close friend of George Metcalfe's. Jackson was also an NAACP official and worked at Armstrong Tire as did Glover and a host of other known Klansmen. The Klan's beef with Jackson was not only that he was closely associated with Metcalfe, who the Klan considered an agitator, but he had just taken a position at the plant that had only been held by white men in the past.
Soon, FBI records show, SDG leader Red Glover emerged as the lead suspect in both the Jackson and Metcalfe bombings.
In the hours after Jackson's murder, the FBI launched a massage investigation given the code name WHARBOM. Immediately agents began checking the alibis of all known violent Klansmen and Seale's checked out. Agents found him working as a welder on a construction job for painting contractor Bagwell and Neal on the old Mississippi River Bridge at Baton Rouge. Working on top of the bridge, Seale refused to come below to talk with FBI agents.
But Seale's employer said that on February 27, the date of the bombing, Seale had worked his normal shift -- 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. before riding in a carpool with four other men on the two-hour trip home to Meadville after work. Agents confirmed the ride home with the other men in the carpool, including one of Seale's brothers, Don.
An informant identified as JN-148 said once Seale arrived home from work that day that he had coffee at the City Cafe in Roxie at 7 p.m. and then attended a meeting of the Americans for the Preservation of the White Race at the courthouse from 7:30-8:30 p.m.
Seale's wife told agents he was fired from his job as a welder after refusing to talk to agents at his work site. She said Seale held the FBI responsible for the loss of his job.
A barmaid at the Natchez Holiday Inn recalled that a short time after the Jackson bombing, she overheard Seale talking with two men she identified as Joe Ross and Jack Davis, a constable, in the City Cafe in Roxie. The three men, said the waitress, "in a rather boisterous and joking manner" commented on "what a perfect job 'Red' (Glover) had pulled off" in the Jackson murder. The case would never be solved, the three men agreed, because Glover had committed the crime "in a perfect manner."
Natchez Klan leader E.L. McDaniel told agents Seale blamed the Jackson bombing on his defeat in the sheriff's election. Seale's campaign announcement in the Franklin Advocate had promised that he would "not be dictated to by State or Federal officials" and that he would "not tolerate or give in to outside agitation or civil disorder of any kind." Seale finished fifth in the August 8, 1967, six-man race with 541 votes. McDaniel said Seale, in the aftermath of his poor showing, told Ernest Parker that the people who killed Wharlest Jackson "should be killed themselves."
McDaniel also told the FBI that Seale and other Klansmen knew someone was snitching to the FBI. When it was suggested that the Ferriday mechanic known by the FBI as NO-1325 may have been informing, Seale disagreed, noting that the man "had been down that road." McDaniel said he thought Seale meant that the mechanic had "committed some act of violence in the past" and would not be in a position to inform to the FBI.
Almost a year after the Jackson bombing, Seale told the FBI that he "had been falsely accused of several acts of violence" in the past and that he no longer traveled "in the same circles" with former Klan associates and was devoting his life to "earning as much money" as he could and on "improving his property." He denied any knowledge of the Jackson murder.
Three years later, however, Seale's association with death continued. On Wednesday, Nov. 18, 1970, he was the lone survivor and only eyewitness to the deadliest air disaster in Concordia Parish's history in which five people died on a foggy morning. Seale told The Sentinel at the time in a lengthy interview that his life was spared "when his single-engine Cessna miraculously landed on the airstrip at the Concordia airport after colliding with a twin-engine Bonanza," which crashed and burned nearby.
The dead included Dr. Charles Colvin, who just six years earlier had been Frank Morris' attending physician at the Concordia Parish Hospital. Morris, who was black, died as a result of the arson of his Ferriday shoe shop. The FBI believed the Silver Dollar Group responsible for the unsolved murder.
"It just wasn't my time to go," Seale said of his survival.
A long legal battle followed with lawsuits filed by the families of the victims against Seale, the other pilot and insurance companies. While the Federal Aviation Administration said both pilots shared blame for failing to see "what should have been seen," aviation experts hired for the plaintiff families said in court that Seale's story of the crash didn't add up.
Two years later in 1973, Seale escaped death a second time when his cropduster crashed into a field in Concordia. Soon afterward he turned in his pilot's license for a badge to serve as a policeman in Vidalia, where he was living at the time on Dogwood Drive. In September 1975 -- with nine deaths in the wake of his turbulent life -- his testimony concerning his arrest of a city judge for DWI resulted in a conviction of that judge.
Seale's lengthy Sentinel interview in 1970 stands out because of its detail and because it may have been the only interview he ever granted the press in his life. He had always lived by a code of silence -- even before Congress in 1966 -- and he refused to comment in court two years ago after his conviction in the Dee-Moore murders.
Eighteen days after the Wharlest Jackson bombing in 1967, informants told the FBI that SDG leader Red Glover, who died in 1984, traveled to Seale's home near Meadville, Miss. Seale, still fuming from the FBI's visit to his job site in Baton Rouge, told Glover to get the word out to all SDG members not to talk to the FBI.
Seale told Glover: "A person's mouth is his worst enemy."
(Stanley Nelson can be reached at email@example.com)