FBI invasion of Mississippi in 1964; 35 agents in Natchez, 10 in Ferriday
by Stanley Nelson - posted Thursday, August 9th, 2007 @ 8:21 am
In the summer of 1964, just months before the murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris, the FBI invaded Mississippi.
In Natchez alone up to 35 agents moved in and out of the town working on numerous cases ranging from murder investigations to enforcement of newly-passed civil rights laws.
The man supervising part of this federal invasion of Mississippi was at the time a young FBI agent who soon became the leading force in hunting down Ku Klux Klan members and law enforcement officers involved in various acts of violence, such as the murder of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, MS, on June 21, 1964.
While working these cases, Jim Ingram's path occasionally led him through Ferriday. When the bodies of Henry Dee and Charles Moore were found off Parker's Landing in Warren County, MS., in the Old Mississippi River in 1964, Ingram drove through Ferriday in route to the site.
"That was the route" the murderers took, says Ingram.
One man involved in the murder of Dees and Moore was James Seale, a former Concordia Parish cropduster and policeman who was convicted in June by a Mississippi jury in federal court. Seale is scheduled to be sentenced at 9 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Jackson on August 24.
Ingram, long retired from the FBI, had been called back by the bureau to help reinvestigate a number of civil rights cold cases, including the deaths of Moore and Dee.
What was happening in Mississippi in 1964 greatly affected how the FBI approached the investigation of Frank Morris, who died Dec. 14, 1964, four days after he was severely burned in a fire set by two white men. Morris, on his deathbed in the Concordia Parish Hospital, told the FBI that his attackers were of average build and in their early to mid-30s. He said he could not identify them although it seems likely that he knew who they were because he told several people that he "thought they were my friends."
Ingram never worked on the Frank Morris murder but is familiar with the case. He wants to see it solved.
According to Professor Janis McDonald, who directs Syracuse University College of Law's student effort on the Morris investigation: "The now retired FBI agents who were in Ferriday and Natchez at the time are invaluable to helping find the ones who brutally murdered Mr. Morris. All of us should be grateful that they are willing to come forward and work with us until every last one of these crimes is solved."
When the three civil rights workers went missing in Neshoba County in June of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to open an office in Mississippi. Ingram played a pivotal role as Supervisor of Violent Crimes in this reorganization and increase in manpower.
"Prior to July 1964, Mississippi was split," says Ingram. The southern part of the state, including Natchez, was handled by the FBI's New Orleans division. The northern half was administered by the Memphis, TN, division.
Under the President's orders, the FBI's new office in Jackson was directed to handle all cases in Mississippi. That meant that bureau agents working in Natchez under the New Orleans' division, who once crossed the river to work cases in Concordia Parish, no longer did so. These agents now reported to Jackson and worked only within the borders of Mississippi.
Agents working the Morris case came under the administration of the New Orleans' division due to the reorganization that began six months before his murder in July 1964. Up to 10 agents may have worked on Morris' case. At least five were in Ferriday in January 1965, according to one FBI document released through the Freedom of Information Act.
During a three-year investigation, the bureau compiled hundreds of pages of documents, possibly more than 800 pages.
"That's extensive," says Ingram. "That's a pretty big, thick report. It means there were a lot interviews."
He said that in cases like Morris' "you had agents who worked back and forth on other cases. Different agents assigned to the Ferriday area would have worked Morris' case."
Rarely did one agent work a single case from beginning to end.
During the reorganization in Mississippi in the summer of 1964, Ingram estimated that "150 agents came to the state. They came from Florida, New York, Chicago and other places to work on these cases. Some stayed a month, some longer."
Agents not only worked violent crime cases, and a multitude of church bombings and burnings, but also "the other cases that came about in 1964."
Sweeping civil rights legislation not only provided the enforcement to allow blacks the right to vote, but also meant strong enforcement of public accommodation laws.
"You had cases of white-only restaurants, white-only motels, white-only restrooms that agents were sent to work," said Ingram. Agents interviewed business owners and then sent reports to the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Justice determined what they were going to do with businesses where these violations continued," said Ingram.
This was also a time of "heightened racial tensions," said Ingram.
Agents worked six and one-half days a week to keep up.
"We had a man (Hoover) who said we had to get it done," said Ingram. "There was no down time. That's why so many agents were sent in. There was an overload and the President wanted these cases solved."
This overload also overwhelmed reporters like John Herbers, now retired from The New York Times. In December 1964, Herbers visited Ferriday to write about Morris' murder.
"Mississippi overwhelmed everybody," said Herbers. "When I went to Ferriday I was absolutely exhausted. It was Christmas time and I wanted to be with my family. All the reporters were exhausted as 1964 came to a close. Morris' murder deserved more attention than it got at the time. But at that time, Mississippi kept everyone on the run."
From 1964 through 1970, Ingram said work for FBI agents never slowed. As the federal presence in the South eventually began to put a dent in Klan violence, the attention of agents turned to the big cities where riots broke out throughout the country.
Today, Jim Ingram, now 75, is still working on cold cases from the 1960s. He said he can't comment on which cases he is assisting at this time.
Prior to his retirement, the Oklahoma native spent more than 30 years with the FBI, where he worked on a number of major cases, including the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King. Ingram was with FBI agents when the bodies of the three slain civil rights workers in Philadelphia, MS, were found in an earthen dam in August 1964.
Three years later, he watched Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen walk free of those murders after a jury deadlocked. He also watched as the bodies of Moore and Dee were pulled out of Old Mississippi River on his trip through Ferriday 43 years ago.
In 2005, the murders of the three civil rights workers in Neshoba County was reopened and Ingram was rehired to help reinvestigate. He returned to the field, visited old informants and witnesses and helped build a case against the mastermind of the murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. On the 41st anniversary of their deaths, Preacher Killen was convicted of their murders and is in jail today.
If Frank Morris' murderers are still alive, they should be prosecuted, too, says Ingram.
In some places, the violence against blacks by the Ku Klux Klan, some members of law enforcement and those who simply hated seems inconceivable today. But it happened.
Cases such as Morris' are examples, says Ingram, of the "pure terror" that was exercised against some in the 1960s due simply to the color of their skin or the desire of some to help others enjoy freedoms and opportunities promised all Americans.