In the early to mid-1960s, newspaper reporters considered the Natchez region a dangerous place because of Ku Klux Klan violence.

That region included Ferriday, where 43 years ago shoe shop owner Frank Morris died four days after the arson of his store by two white men. Although many theories exist on why Morris was targeted and who did it, the FBI suspected the Klan, certain members of law enforcement and a criminal element.

"There were church burnings in Adams County all the time," recalled John Herbers.

"I had a lot of contacts in Natchez and in keeping up with things, the impression I always had was that Ferriday was a rough place," said Bill Minor.

These two men would know. For years they traveled throughout Mississippi and into Louisiana covering civil rights cases.

Minor, the 85-year-old syndicated columnist in Jackson, covered Mississippi for the New Orleans Times-Picayune for 30 years until the paper's bureau was closed in 1977. Since that time, he has enjoyed a three-decade career as a columnist.

"What happened in Natchez in the 1960s extended across the river to Ferriday," said Minor.

Minor never covered the Frank Morris murder, but John Herbers did. In December 1964, Herbers, now 83 and a resident of Bethesda, MD, was a reporter for the New York Times based in Jackson.

He spent several hours in Ferriday compiling a story on Morris' murder in late December 1964.

Now retired, Herbers began a career in journalism in 1949, working for 12 years at the Greenwood Morning Star, where he followed the Emmitt Till murder case, and later at the Jackson Daily News and United Press International (UPI) before joining the New York Times. He says his memory of the Morris' case "is vague right now," but he is preparing to review the case to see if any details come to mind.

He, like Minor, thinks the FBI's new investigation of Morris' murder is the right thing for the federal government to do.

"Natchez was one of the scariest places in all of Mississippi" in terms of Klan violence, Herbers noted. "It was a hot spot."

He said the Klan's reach included Concordia.

Minor said the major plants in Natchez -- International Paper, Johns-Manville and Armstrong Tire -- "were infested with the Klan."

A native of Hammond, Minor recalled that nearby Bogalusa was also the site of much tension in the 1960s due to the Klan.

"There was a black deputy killed in Washington Parish, allegedly by the Klan, but that man's death has never been solved," said Minor.

He's referring to Oneal Moore, who was shot in the head June 2, 1965, in Varnado. Moore died instantly. He and his partner were the first black deputies for the Washington Parish Sheriff's Office. Washington Parish was known for heavy Klan activity at that time.

Both Minor and Herbers covered some of the most important civil rights events in Mississippi during the 1960s, including the murders of three civil rights workers -- James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman -- in Philadelphia, MS, in 1964, just months before Morris' murder.

Herbers said so much was happening that the pace was dizzying.

"You were in one place one day, another place the next," he said.

He said because he was white and talked with a Southern accent he was never physically assaulted, but he saw northern white reporters "with different accents" get pelted.

"It was rough," he said.

He often traveled from Jackson to Natchez to cover civil rights and Klan activity in Adams County. If he stayed the night, he usually checked in at the Eola Hotel, where the only meal he enjoyed there was breakfast.

"We were on the move," he said.

While still working for UPI, Herbers had a few years earlier hired a young reporter who hailed from Natchez. Lewis Lord, now 69, graduated from Natchez High School in 1955.

In 1962, Lord had moved from Jackson to Columbia, South Carolina, to cover news for UPI.

"I had left Mississippi before things got rough there," he said.

In South Carolina, "things weren't too bad," he recalls, crediting then Gov. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings for that.

In the 1950s, when Lord was growing up in Natchez, he said The Plaza Club on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. was a well-known hangout for young white people.

"We went there a lot," he said. "In those days, there wasn't much activity or violence that we knew about. It wasn't until later that things got rough."

Lord's family owns property on Lake St. John and his sister still lives in Natchez. Lord resides in Church Falls, VA.

Today, Lord writes a column and an occasional cover story for U.S. News and World Report. He left the staff as a full-time reporter in 2002.

Most recently, Lord authored a well-received cover story for the magazine on the founding of Jamestown.

All three men -- Lord, Herbers and Minor -- say the fact that the FBI is reassessing Morris' case is important.

For Herbers, he finds it interesting that some of the unsolved civil rights cases he covered decades ago, like Morris', have one last chance of being solved.

"The thing was in the 1960s that these cases, even when there were suspects, simply didn't go to trial in the South 40 years ago," said Herbers.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.