Newly-obtained FBI documents add more details on the formation and growth of the militant Klan cell known as the Silver Dollar Group, which was organized by men from this region whose defense of racial segregation had bloody and deadly consequences.
Those FBI documents, along with oral histories and interviews with key players and observers of the days of great civil unrest in the 1960s, describe the growing momentum for white resistance that led to a series of race-motivated murders here.
That period comes to life this week through the voices of Sonny Boyd, then the 16-year-old son of a Concordia Klansman; of E.L. McDaniel of Natchez, who was 30 years old in 1964 and a Klan leader; and of Marge Baroni, a 40-year-old white Civil Rights activist in Natchez in 1964 who would wonder until her death in 1986 what happened to Joseph Edwards, a 25-year-old black motel employee.
Edwards disappeared in Concordia Parish in July 1964. A 34-month Concordia Sentinel investigation indicates that he was the first Louisiana victim of the Silver Dollar Group. Edwards' life and his murder will be the subject of a Sentinel series in the weeks to follow.
Edwards became a marked man not long after he went to work at the Shamrock Motel in March 1964. Freedom Summer was nearing and forces on opposite sides of the divisive issue of public school integration were battling. At this time, teenager Sonny Boyd sat alone at a table in the Shamrock Motel restaurant in Vidalia eating a hamburger. In a room nearby his father and other Klansmen discussed a clandestine Klan organization still in its infancy.
Sonny remembers the day clearly for two reasons: He had just wrecked his car and was nursing a broken leg. He also engaged in a conversation that day with Joseph Edwards.
That spring, Sonny recalled his father attending several Klan meetings at the Shamrock. Once, Sonny peeked through the doorway into the Klan meeting room and saw men holding silver dollars and in angry voices vowing to stop desegregation in its tracks.
Now 61 and living in Portland, Ore., Sonny recalled for The Sentinel in a previous interview: "The silver dollar became a symbol of exclusivity among these men and their beliefs."
What Sonny witnessed that spring at the Shamrock was the formative days of the Silver Dollar Group -- known as a Klan within a Klan -- which during the 1960s, according FBI records, left a trail of arsons, beatings, intimidation and murder in two states.
While Sonny Boyd ate his hamburger and visited with Joseph Edwards, across the river in Natchez, Marge Baroni was preparing for Freedom Summer. She was a native Mississippian, born in Brookhaven, but reared in Adams County where she lived until her death in 1986. A sharecropper's daughter, Baroni, the oldest child, and her five siblings grew up picking cotton. They lived for a while in the old slave quarters on China Grove plantation in Adams County, the only white family among a handful of black families.
Precocious as a child and well-read, she early on lamented the wholesale poverty of her black neighbors and friends, their inability to escape it and the discrimination they suffered on a daily basis. By the 1960s she was a fervent supporter of Civil Rights. As a result, she, her husband and her children faced open hostility, ostracism, threats and insults from the white community. Once a woman spit on Baroni.
But never did she deviate from her course and through the years she wrote down her thoughts in essays and in notes. Her papers are housed at Ole Miss in Oxford.
Baroni recalled returning home following a trip in the summer of 1964 when George Metcalfe, the president of the Natchez NAACP, called and asked her to notify the Justice Department of recent violence. "The Klan had burned down three churches," wrote Baroni, "had run one black family out of town, their supper still on the table, and a young man, Joseph Edwards, was missing. George was afraid to call the Justice Department in Washington collect, as we had been instructed to do. The telephone operators were known to be in collaboration with the police and the Klan. In fact, one of the highest officials in the Klan worked for Southern Bell's repair service."
The mystery of Edwards' disappearance would never leave Baroni's thoughts. Before she died, she wrote that rarely would a day pass that she didn't wonder "whatever happened to Joseph Edwards, for he has never been found."
While Baroni stood on one side of the Civil Rights' issue, she faced a powerful Klan on the other. When James Meredith, a Mississippian, became through federal intervention the first black admitted into Ole Miss in September of 1962, one Natchez man, like others in this region, decided that the Klan was the way to fight desegregation.
E.L. McDaniel would go on to be a leader in three Klans -- the Original Knights of Louisiana, the White Knights of Mississippi and the United Klans of America. Born in 1934, the oldest of seven children, McDaniel drove a truck for Red Ball in 1962.
Interviewed in 1977 by Southern Mississippi University historian Orley Caudell, McDaniel said that in 1962 he was growing "bitter towards the federal government...I saw that my kids were going to suffer in the years to come." He thought the races in Natchez got along fine, that everyone was satisfied and that the federal government had no right to "force" integration on the South.
"So one day I was delivering some freight in a little town of Clayton, Louisiana," he said. "We was discussing the civil rights situation. Everywhere you'd go people were cussing the federal government and the blacks and everything else. Hatred was building up. It was such an outrageous pace that it was dangerous."
At that time there was no Klan organization in Adams County. In Louisiana, an old Klan group -- the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (OKKKK) -- was rising again. FBI records show that J.D. Swenson of Shreveport, the leader of this resurging group, made trips to Concordia Parish in 1962 to organize local Klan units in Clayton, Ferriday, Vidalia and Monterey/Black River.
McDaniel said he went with a group of white men to a location on Old River north of Vidalia where a number of trailers and camps were situated. There, he became a Klansman. "I made a decision that evening," he said, "and then I...was sworn in in the Klan, and I guess thirty or forty guys (were) robed out and everything. It was a real experience. And when they took the robes off, I knew half of them or more...this was the old original Klan, based in Shreveport, Louisiana. And they told me that I was the first man to be sworn in the Klan from Mississippi in the '60s."
McDaniel has never been linked to violence, and was not a member of the SDG, according to FBI records. But with his leadership beginning in 1963, the Klan took off in Mississippi. The Original Knights would spawn the White Knights and both of these organizations would soon lose membership to the United Klans of America. McDaniel was instrumental in the organization and growth of all three in Mississippi.
"And it just went like wildfire," said McDaniel. "The people were ready for it." But a problem emerged. He said maintaining control over the membership became a major challenge.
Klansman Jack Seale of Natchez, who became an FBI informant known as JN-229, told bureau agents that the Klan grew so quickly that by early 1964, the Klan in Natchez/Adams County may have had a membership of 1,000. But he said the members were unruly, would act without authorization and talked too much.
There was "no selectivity," said Seale, and "just about anybody could get in." Because of the numbers, he said Adams County was split into five groups and the Sligo unit was out of control, acting without Klan authority. To combat this, Seale said talk circulated among Klan leaders that a secret unit of the Klan should be formed. He said Klansman Ernest Finley of Natchez first approached him in 1964 about joining this secret unit which would become known as the Silver Dollar Group (SDG).
Seale said Finley took him to Vidalia -- to 113 Lee Street -- where he met with Raleigh Jackson "Red" Glover in his home. The FBI identified Glover, then 42, as the leader of the Silver Dollar Group. Sonny Boyd, who chatted with Joseph Edwards as the SDG met at the Shamrock, said Glover was a frequent guest in his father's home and that he once saw a cache of automatic weapons in the trunk of Glover's car.
Jack Seale told the FBI that in the beginning Glover was the SDG recruiter in Louisiana and Finley in Mississippi. When Finley died in 1965, Seale said he took a leadership role in Mississippi although Glover was always considered the top man in the SDG in both states.
SDG Klansman James Horace "Sonny" Taylor, a pulpwood hauler from Harrisonburg, La., told the bureau that the SDG was composed "of the tougher, more fanatical members of the Klan units in Louisiana and Mississippi, men who could keep their mouths shut."
Seale told the bureau that the first meeting of the SDG he attended was on a sandbar on the Homochitto River in Franklin County near Meadville. He said the discussion centered on how the SDG would operate and maintain secrecy. He said the men agreed "that if one of the group had a job he wanted to pull, he would just select the help he felt he needed and go do it."
Klan leader Ernest Gilbert of Brookhaven, an FBI informant, said that Ferriday Klansman James Scaroborough, an employee of International Paper (IP) in Natchez, visited him at work and said, "We are forming a secret, secret organization in the Klan." Scaroborough said all members were "hand picked." Over the next few days, Gilbert said Natchez Klansmen T.L. Torgensen and Tommy Lee Jones, also employed at IP, individually delivered him the same message.
In 1967, Sonny's Boyd's father -- Earcel Boyd Sr. -- showed an FBI agent the silver dollar Glover had given him. Boyd said the coin was minted in the year of his birth, 1923. He said Glover gave Doug Nugent, who managed the King Hotel in Ferriday, a silver dollar dated 1922.
Records show, however, that Glover gave other men silver dollars that were not minted in the year of their births. Jack Seale told the FBI that when he went to visit Glover in Vidalia with Ernest Finley, that Finley presented Seale as a new SDG recruit. Seale said Glover went into his bedroom and returned with a "leather pouch of silver dollars" with the date of 1899. He said Glover indicated that he had given some early Louisiana recruits silver dollars with the dates of 1886.
Now that a new Klan force was in place, FBI records show that members of the SDG, some regular coffee drinkers at the Shamrock, began to take notice of Joseph Edwards. By mid-July 1964, his Buick was spotted abandoned on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. and would remain there for days, records show.
In Natchez, as the years passed, Marge Baroni would wonder what happened to Edwards and would wonder "what happened to all of his innocent counterparts -- lost somewhere under the earth or in the water."
(Editor's Note: New information on the SDG and Joseph Edwards is found in the FBI file on Wharlest Jackson, who was murdered in 1967 in a carbomb near the Armstrong Tire Plant in Natchez. The Sentinel and the Syracuse University Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI) were granted access to the file, called "WHARBOM," through the Freedom of Information Act. CCJI provided The Sentinel copies of the file.)