Two men from New Era believed to be associated with the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were considered "excellent suspects" in the murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris, according to an FBI informant in March 1965.
Additionally, other suspects were two men from Ferriday, one from Winnsboro, three law enforcement officers and a Vidalia man. Some were likewise prime suspects in a number of fires targeted against business owners and in other acts of violence.
An informant told the FBI that members of the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Concordia "maintain liaison" with members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Adams County and that the Concordia Klan "is presently engaged in extensive acts of burning of juke joints and houses of prostitution in and around Vidalia and Ferriday. Members of this organization feel that they can commit these acts without incurring opposition from the Federal Government, as they are white-owned and operated, and no Negroes are involved."
The Monterey unit of the Original Knights with 70 members was the largest in Concordia, according to an FBI informant, while the Ferriday unit was "just about dead" and members there were now involved with the Clayton unit. In the summer of 1964, a number of Klan rallies were held in the parish.
At that time, the Original Knights had an estimated 1,000 members statewide and 46 klaverns (local units), but by 1965 many members were getting out of this Klan because of leadership squabbles. Some were joining the United Klans of America, led by Robert Shelton of Alabama.
A Natchez Police Department detective, according to government documents recently obtained, told FBI agents on March 4, 1965, that a "very reliable source" informed him that two New Era men were responsible for the fire that destroyed Reef Freeman's club -- The Blue Heaven -- on Horseshoe Lake at Monterey in February 1964. When Freeman began operation of the Morville Lounge in early 1965, the Klan threatened to burn down that building, too, and Freeman pulled out of the venture.
The Natchez detective said he agreed with his source's information that the two New Era subjects may also have been responsible for the Ferriday shoe shop fire on Dec. 10, 1964, which resulted in Morris' death four days later. The detective also learned that a female source "was threatened by an individual" who warned that two Natchez businesses, one identified as the Village Inn Tavern on Hwy. 61 North, might also be burned.
Threats against the Village Inn Tavern were "because of girls which" an unidentified man "was allowing to stay around" the establishment. The women were believed to be prostitutes.
Among several men considered suspects in the Morris' murder, the burnings and threats were:
• A Winnsboro man "well-known in that area," who was believed to have been "involved in illegal acts in Tensas Parish" and "is suspected of having taken part in recent burnings of business houses in Concordia Parish."
• A Ferriday man who lived in Lancaster Subdivision and worked for International Paper Company.
• Another Ferriday man who was employed by Southern Bell Telephone Company.
• A man in law enforcement "involved in acts of violence" who was "furnishing protection" for anyone arrested "with regard to acts of violence."
• A Vidalia man "who acts as a lookout and scout for the individuals perpetrating the acts of arson in Concordia Parish." The man "is the owner and driver of a 1964 Chevrolet convertible with red body and black top, bearing 1965 Louisiana license 37E325." The vehicle was registered to a white female resident of Vidalia.
In an FBI interview conducted in New Era on May 6, 1965, one of the suspects told agents he had nothing to do with the burning of Morris' shop, had no knowledge who did, only heard about the fire two weeks afterward, and rarely went to Ferriday and then only during the day time.
In another interview in Lismore on the same day, the FBI talked to a woman in connection with the other New Era suspect, whom they could not find. The woman said the man lived with her until 10 days earlier and that she had no knowledge of his whereabouts. She added that he "usually stays away for a month or so and then just comes home." The man, she said, was not employed, had no trade and worked "when he can" as "a laborer."
In Ferriday on the same day, the telephone worker was interviewed at the office of Southern Bell in Ferriday. The man denied involvement in Morris' murder, could name no suspects and said he "first learned of it the next morning when he went to work, as just about everyone in town was talking about it."
At the home of the other Ferriday suspect in the Lancaster subdivision on May 7, 1965, this man said he didn't know anything about the fire either, but did have some comments the FBI noted.
In the report, FBI agents said the man doubted that Morris' murder "happened like everyone was saying it did, namely that two white men had set the fire and wouldn't let Morris get out when the shop was ablaze."
The man said that "every time something happens to a Negro it is immediately blamed on white people. He stated that he is not for integration, however, he does not participate nor condone acts of violence to foster his views."
Additionally, the man said he "didn't think white people had set the fire."
Many of the men suspected by the FBI in Morris' murder and in other acts of violence in the parish at this stage of the investigation in early 1965 were believed to be members or sympathizers with the Original Knights. This particular organization, according to a Congressional committee that investigated the Klan, entrusted "terroristic duties" to "so-called wrecking crews" appointed in each klavern. These crews were made of up of "at least one team of six men," who operated in secrecy, sometimes without the knowledge of other Klansmen.