In 1964, as Ku Klux Klan groups were growing in Concordia Parish and the Natchez area, members were fighting among themselves over competing strategies for enforcing segregation, differing views on the role of violence and deep suspicions that some Klansmen had been recruited by the FBI as informants.
The Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Louisiana, was at odds with the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Mississippi. And the United Klans of America, which grew large by attracting defectors from both of those groups, still didn't satisfy some.
For them, there was a particularly vicious group of Klansmen that was formed inside the Shamrock Motel cafe in Vidalia – within earshot of a 16-year old boy, Earcel "Sonny" Boyd Jr. He was brought occasionally with his brothers to the Shamrock by their father, Earcel Boyd Sr., who was a tire builder at Armstrong Tire in Natchez by day and a Klansman on nights and weekends. He was also a part-time carpenter and part-time preacher.
Earcel Boyd Sr., his wife, five sons and daughter all lived in Ridgecrest in 1964. Their lives, according to Sonny Boyd, may have appeared normal to the world living outside their 140 Crestview Drive home. But on the inside, Sonny Boyd says his father suffered nightmarish memories of his experiences during World War II and would, on occasion, turn violent.
"I was determined at one point to kill him or kill myself," said Sonny Boyd, "I was constantly looking for a way out, but didn't see one. I just survived day to day."
Now 61, Sonny Boyd recently described to the Concordia Sentinel a series of meetings inside the Shamrock in 1964 during which Klansmen formed the militant Silver Dollar Group. One meeting held in April that year was particularly memorable, said Boyd, because of a conversation he had that day with a black Shamrock employee, Joe "Joe-Ed" Edwards, whose disappearance a few weeks later remains one of many unsolved mysteries of the civil rights years.
Boyd, who now lives in Portland, Ore., and is retired from Xerox Corporation, said he was with his father at the Shamrock early in 1964 when his father and other men went into an adjoining room for a private discussion similar to others he had overheard.
"Because of the falling out of the Klans, the FBI began to enlist many Klansmen as informants," said Boyd. "My dad and the other men didn't like the FBI and they didn't trust a lot of the other Klansmen. This was something I overheard them discuss at the Shamrock on two or more occasions."
Congressional records confirm that from spring to late summer of 1964, Klan groups were in turmoil. The House un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which investigated the Klan in the mid-1960s, reported that both the White Knights and the Original Knights were suffering massive defections in part because of escalating violence and feuding leadership.
Although he was told to stay out of the room adjoining the café, Boyd said he often walked near the doorway where the Klansmen were drinking coffee to eavesdrop. Once he "got growled at" by one of the men "when he saw me standing near the door. I went back to my table."
"One time they were talking about the aftermath of the Birmingham bombing where those little girls got killed and they were saying that Civil Rights workers probably did it to stir up more trouble," recalled Boyd. Klansmen were ultimately arrested and convicted in the September 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham which claimed the lives of four black girls, one who was 11 and three who were 14.
Boyd said different men were at the various meetings in the back room at the Shamrock. "I knew who some of them were, but only recognized the faces of others. I saw as many as 15 at a time."
One meeting stood out, he said.
"One man said we have to tighten up our ranks to make sure that integration doesn't even get started around here," said Boyd. "He said if any groups tried to riot here that the streets would run with blood."
The man said "the FBI was working on getting stool pigeons because of the falling out of the Klans."
Boyd said he heard one of the Klansmen say that hard-core segregationists needed "a way so that everybody can prove their worth and can be trusted. Those who prove themselves worthy can carry one of these, and he pulled a coin out of his pocket and held it up." Later Boyd realized it was a silver dollar.
Boyd recalled another man saying, "You can't be trusted until you have one of these. And it ain't any good unless it has your year of birth on it. That's how we'll identify."
Says Boyd, "The silver dollar became a symbol of exclusivity among these men and their beliefs."
He said he heard the man holding the silver dollar say, "No one gets in or out without one of these. I could see part of the table and I tried to see if my dad had a silver dollar. I don't think he did at that time, but before long he began carrying one and he was proud of it."
After one of the Silver Dollar Group meetings at the Shamrock, Boyd said, he asked his dad on the drive to their family home at Ridgecrest "how he could be a minister and Klansman at the same time. I asked him if he had a silver dollar. He said I was never to mention that again. He cut me right off. He said I should never mention that to him or to anybody. He said there were people who could make me disappear."
Two of the men Boyd knew to be Silver Dollar Group members were from Natchez "and both had prison records. One was really a scary guy. Some of the men were really brazen in the way they flaunted their notoriety. One of them had been followed from Natchez to the Shamrock one day by two FBI agents. When he left the Shamrock he noticed one of the agents sitting in his car. As he walked out he turned and eyed the FBI agent, stuck his thumb on the end of his nose with his fingers up and waving, and stuck out his tongue."
In April 1964, a short time after Sonny Boyd was seriously injured in an automobile accident, he sat at a table eating a hamburger at the Shamrock while his dad met with Klansmen in the back room. It was at this time that he met a 25-year-old black employee named Joseph "Joe-Ed" Edwards.
"The whole right side of my head got shaved after the accident and Joe asked what happened to me," said Boyd. "I had seen him working there many times, but this was the only time I talked to him. Joe was leaned over with his elbows on the counter and his forearms crossed. He was bored. Sometimes things would get a little slow."
Boyd recalled that Edwards "had a burn scar, a white patch on his neck," a mark Edwards' younger sister, Julia Dobbins of Bridge City, La., confirmed this week.
"When Joe was young he was running through the house one day and knocked a pot on the stove in the kitchen," said Dobbins. "He was scalded on the right side of his neck and part of the face. It left a mark."
"He told me that his grandparents lived out near the pecan grove outside Ferriday," said Boyd. Edwards' grandparents, Jake and Mary King, resided on Red Gum Road near the pecan grove, and Edwards was also residing there when he was working at the Shamrock prior to his disappearance.
On July 13, 1964, Edwards left work at the Shamrock Motel and was never seen again. When his car was towed into Beatty's Gulf Station, bloodstains were found inside, according to the Rev. Robert Lee Sr. of Clayton, 95, who knew Edwards.
Boyd recalled hearing that Edwards' car was found along the Ferriday-Vidalia Highway near the bowling alley. He also recalls when the vehicle was towed to Beatty's Gulf Station in Ferriday.
"I remember the hoopla," said Boyd, who was working at Bill Spuiell's Texaco station next door to the Gulf station.
"I don't recall seeing the car, but I remember there was a lot of activity about the place," said Boyd. "I remember talking to a customer about what happened to Joe."
Boyd said that "someone from the sheriff's department was there and two FBI agents. I knew the FBI cars. They drove two 1964 Chevrolets and they were a different shade of green and both cars had two or more antennas on them. Oftentime, the agents would stop at Spueill's and fill up with a gas card."
But, said Boyd, "I never heard a hint of who got Joe. It was one of the most hushed things around here. One of things we heard the least about was Joe's disappearance. It was like he had fallen off the edge of the earth. We knew someone had gotten him and someone locally. Didn't know exactly why or who."
Edwards' body has never been found, but retired FBI agent Billy Bob Williams, who was one of two resident agents in Natchez from July 1964 through August 1966, told The Sentinel recently that an informant told agents that Edwards had been skinned alive by Klansmen. Rev. Lee said he was told that Edwards had been taken by Klansmen into Mississippi, shot multiple times, and his lifeless body chained and thrown into the Mississippi River.
Dobbins, Edwards' younger sister, said the family was told at one time that Edwards was in a nursing home "and that his tongue had been cut out."
Sonny Boyd thinks he knows who was responsible for Edwards' disappearance.
"I think it was some of the Silver Dollar Group," said Boyd. "Joe probably saw too much and heard too much. He had access all over the Shamrock and he could go anywhere he wanted to be there."
Boyd says there were also rumors that Edwards was dating white women.
Edwards' first cousin, Carl Ray Thompson, now an alderman in Clayton, said Edwards told him at the time that he was dating white women and once, while with a white woman in a room at the Shamrock, a white man burst inside "and caught him. He said there were some men who wanted to kill him right then but the white woman said she would tell if they hurt him."
Thompson said he begged Edwards for his own safety to stop dating white women, particularly at the Shamrock.
Boyd said it was also rumored that Edwards "was transporting prostitutes to Concordia, some south of Vidalia around Morville" before Morville Lounge became known as a house of ill repute and a gambling den.
FBI agents interviewed a handful of Edwards' relatives after his disappearance, but there are few public documents available on the probe.
At the Shamrock, members of the Silver Dollar Group continued to meet over coffee, while Earcel Boyd Sr. also became active in the United Klans of America (UKA), Realm of Louisiana, rising to the state's second highest office by 1967. A UKA chapter, Mississippi Realm, was chartered and opened an office in Natchez on the corner of Canal and Main in August 1964, just one month after Edwards' disappearance.
But it was the Silver Dollar Group -- not the UKA, White Knights or Original Knights -- which became known as the most violent in the days after Edwards' disappearance.
Retired FBI agents confirm that the Silver Dollar Group was real and that its members were believed responsible for the December 1964 arson/murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris, for the August 1965 car bomb that maimed Armstrong Tire employee George Metcalfe, and the February 1967 car bomb that killed Wharlest Jackson Sr., also an Armstrong employee.
Metcalfe and Jackson were each members of the NAACP, which was organized in Natchez in the winter of 1964. Metcalfe was president and Jackson secretary.
Metcalfe had been involved in registering blacks to vote prior to the attack on him and Jackson had just accepted a position at Armstrong held only by white men in the past. Both he and Metcalfe had been threatened by known Klansmen working at the plant.
Morris may have been killed, according to FBI documents, because of alleged associations with white women. One FBI document indicates that an informant told agents that the wife of a law enforcement officer claimed Morris propositioned her for sex while other information suggested that Morris was supposed to call the woman to set up a date but didn't.
Sonny Boyd and two of his younger brothers say their father, despite his strong segregationist views and Klan membership, was a close friend of Morris. They said their father was grief-stricken by the murder and searched for the men responsible.
No one has ever been arrested for the attacks on Edwards, Morris, Metcalfe or Jackson.