John Doar

 

In the months before Frank Morris was murdered in Ferriday, the FBI had made great strides in beefing up its manpower in an effort to curb violence by the Ku Klux Klan.

But despite that effort, Morris' murder in December 1964 was never solved. Morris was in his room where he lived in the back of his shoe shop on Hwy. 84 in Ferriday when he heard glass breaking around 2 a.m. on Dec. 10, 1964. He cautiously went to investigate.

In the front of the building on the northwest corner near the shoe shine stand, he saw two white men outlined in the shadows of that cold, dark winter morning. He recognized them. He would later say that he "thought they were my friends."

They were not there to wish him Merry Christmas.

Instead, a man with the shotgun ordered Morris to return to the back of the shoe shop where he had just emerged. As Morris turned to obey the order, the other man, who had poured gasoline outside and inside the store and possibly onto Morris, lit a match. Morris had taken only a few steps when the building, his life's work and his flesh were consumed by a raging fire.

In this building, countless men, women and children -- black people and white people -- had entered almost daily to see the man who kept almost everyone in town dressed in shoes, a man who, many people remember, treated them all with respect and told them how much he appreciated their business. A black man operating a business that catered to both a black and white clientele was not common in 1964 Ferriday.

For four days, friends, public officials and FBI agents visited the dying man who was blinded by the fire and so afraid for his own life and the lives of his family that he would not give up the names of the two men, and possibly a third, who attacked him. Ironically, the reasons for this attack are still unclear 43 years later although the FBI is reassessing this and other Civil Rights-era murders to see if the people who committed these horrendous crimes are still alive and can be prosecuted.

Attacks like these were happening in many places in the country in 1964, but it was in neighboring Mississippi where the Klan was hardest at work burning crosses and churches in the name of Christ and committing terrorists acts on a daily basis. When three Civil Rights workers went missing in Philadelphia, MS, (Neshoba County) in the summer of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided that enough was enough.

John Doar was a high-ranking official in the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department in 1964 and he spent a great deal of time in Mississippi, including time to prosecute some of the men responsible for the murders of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County.

Now 85, John Doar recalled this week that the war between the federal government and the Klan came as Congress moved to provide basic civil rights -- including voting, the use public facilities and equal opportunities -- for blacks.

"In 1964 after the boys went missing in Neshoba County, President Johnson sent Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA, to Mississippi to make an investigation of the situation for him," said Doar. "Dulles recommended to the President that the FBI establish a field office in Mississippi. Prior to that there was one in Memphis and one in New Orleans. At that field office in Mississippi, Roy Moore was put in charge."

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover "sent a special agent named Joseph Sullivan to Meridian. From that point on, the Mississippi Office of the Bureau ran hard against the Klan."

The U.S. Attorney General's office sent a memo to the President around the same time which noted that "consideration should be given by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to new procedures for identification of individuals who may be or have been involved in acts of terrorism, and to the possible participation in such acts by law enforcement officials or at least their toleration of terrorist activity. In the past the procedures used by the Bureau for gaining information on known, local Klan groups have been successful in many places, and the information gathering techniques used by the Bureau on Communist or Communist related organizations have of course been spectacularly efficient.

"The unique difficulty...presented by the situation in Mississippi (which is duplicated in parts of Alabama and Louisiana at least) is in gathering information on fundamentally lawless activities which have the sanction of local law enforcement agencies, political officials and a substantial segment of the white population. The techniques followed in the use of specially trained, special assignment agents in the infiltration of Communist groups should be of value. If you approve, it might be desirable to take up with the Bureau the possibility of developing a similar effort to meet this new problem."

Once the Jackson bureau office was opened, scores of agents moved in Mississippi, including Natchez, and the same circumstances that were breeding the murders in Mississippi resulted in the murder of Frank Morris in December 1964.

Before Frank Morris went to bed the night of his murder, many Americans had watched television and most of the screens were black and white.

It was a Wednesday night, Dec. 9, 1964.

At 6:30 p.m., NBC presented "The Virginian" followed by "Wednesday Night at the Movies" at 8 p.m. Locally, viewers in Ferriday picked up these shows on KALB, Channel 5, in Alexandria.

On CBS, a news special began at 6:30 p.m., followed by "The Beverly Hillbillies" at 7:30, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" at 8, "The Cara Williams Show" at 8:30, and "The Danny Kaye Show" at 9. For these programs, viewers here turned to Channel 8, KNOE, in Monroe.

Few could pick up any ABC station, but the programs scheduled that Wednesday night 43 years ago included "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" at 6:30 p.m., "The Patty Duke Show" at 7, "Shindig" at 7:30, "Mickey" at 8, and "Burke's Law" at 8:30.

Usually around midnight, local stations signed off the air. First, they played Dixie. Then the National Anthem.

As Wednesday turned into Thursday and December 9 into December 10, most of Ferriday slept. By 2 a.m., their beloved shoe shop owner was running out of the back of his business in flames, pleading for help.

At the same time, his killers sped away following the path of Hwy. 84 East toward Vidalia.

The terrorist organization which had spilled so much blood in Mississippi, including neighboring Natchez, had now added Ferriday to its target list. Within hours FBI agents arrived.

For Doar, old cases like the three Civil Rights workers in Philadelphia, MS, and even Morris' in Ferriday never go away.

He recently attended the funeral of Carolyn Goodman, the mother of Andrew Goodman, one of the victims in Neshoba County in 1964. She was 91.

In May of this year, Chaney's mother, Fannie Lee Chaney, died.

"Remarkable people," he said.

But for Morris' two grandchildren -- Rosa Morris Williams and Nathan "Poncho" Morris -- the peace of knowing who killed their grandfather and why has yet to come.

"I think about it every day," Rosa said Tuesday.

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