At Riverland Medical Center in Ferriday in the winter of 1988, Earcel Boyd Sr., 64, was near death.
He didn't want to die, one of his sons says.
On occasion, Boyd rubbed his hands together as if he was attempting to wash away some invisible stain.
Leland Boyd said the family watched as his daddy, once a "feisty" man, was "brought to his knees" by a heart attack and paralysis on his left side. "He fought hard to overcome that disability and then he was hit with the most cruel and agonizing cancer I think one could have," said Leland.
He said his father became "a frail weakling of a man in no time. It was a debilitating sickness that broke him down physically and mentally."
This was a man, both Leland and his brother, Earcel "Sonny" Boyd Jr., remember as being brutal at times, angry and violent. Yet he was also a man they deeply loved.
Boyd had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s, a high-ranking officer of the United Klans of America, and a firm believer in the separation of the races. Boyd was also, his sons say, a founding member of the militant Klan cell known as the Silver Dollar Group, formed at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia in 1964.
"One night when I was sitting with him he tried so hard to speak but his words were laboriously coming out," said Leland. "I told my Dad that I thought he had lived a full life and should just give it up and go to be with his Maker."
Leland said as "tears rolled down" his father's cheeks, that Earcel Boyd no longer struggled to breathe or gasped for air for the next 30 minutes. "He told me he was afraid to die because of all the things that he had done wrong in his life."
As a boy, Leland had been at his father's side at many Klan functions. Leland drove his dad to Klan meetings, sold Klan paraphernalia at Klan rallies along with his brothers, and watched his mother sew Klan robes. He and Sonny often wondered how their father could attend Klan rallies on Saturdays and preach in black churches on Sundays.
BLOOD ON HIS HANDS
The Boyd brothers think many of their father's demons in adulthood related to life-changing experiences Earcel Boyd suffered during World War II, experiences that caused great mental, emotional and physical distress for both Boyd and his family.
"Daddy went into the Navy on his 19th birthday," said Sonny, "on July 9, 1943, only two months after the birth of his first child. He went through boot camp and his initial training in San Diego during the summer of 1943."
Earcel Boyd trained as a Boatswains Mate Seaman Apprentice, said Sonny, and learned to operate a LCVP -- the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel -- also known as a Higgins Boat, before being deployed to the Pacific. Once there, Sonny said his father "saw his first action in the Marshall Islands where he manned shipboard anti-aircraft guns and machine guns during Japanese attacks. During landing assaults, he was acting Coxswain on an LCVP."
In June 1944, Sonny said Boyd's Naval group moved to the Marinas Islands to land Army and Marine troops on Saipan "where they were going to build an air field from which bombers and escort planes could reach Tokyo." After taking Saipan, Boyd's group was sent to Guam to land more troops.
Sonny said his father "probably because of the loss of so many LCVPs, was made a member of a shore party that was to blow up two fuel/ammo dumps in a raid on Guam." It was during this raid that Earcel Boyd Sr. committed a wartime act that left bloodstains on his hands and arms he spent a lifetime trying to wash away.
"During the raid," said Sonny, "he spotted a Japanese guard whose position put the operation at risk." Under the cover of darkness, Boyd silently "crawled about 150 yards up a ditch," grabbed the guard from the back and slit his throat with a knife.
Boyd slipped back "into the heavy grass in the ditch," but "before he could get back to his unit, the explosives at both of the dumps were detonated leaving him stranded with the guard's blood drying on his hands."
While separated from his unit, Sonny said his father was hidden for three weeks by a local family before Boyd "was captured and held by the Japanese for three more days, days which he did not talk about, until he was liberated by the Marines in their attack on July 23 or 24. Since his unit and ship had moved on while he was separated on Guam, he was transferred to another ship at the end of July."
Sonny learned much about his father's wartime experiences after he was drafted by the Navy following graduation from high school in 1967. Sonny was stationed on Guam from 1971-72, where he traced his dad's tracks. While there Sonny tried to locate the family who had sheltered his father briefly "only to find that they had moved to California many years earlier."
During a later war operation, Sonny said, his father shot an American soldier who attempted to return to the LCVP after debarking. Trained to allow no one to reboard unless wounded or dead, Sonny said Boyd shot the soldier, who recovered, after the man fired a rifle in Boyd's direction.
A KLANSMAN'S HAUNTING MEMORIES
His sons say that the nightmares of the war, particularly the death of the Japanese guard, were a source of anguish for Earcel Boyd throughout his post-war life. Sonny said that following a family crisis in which Boyd attacked one of his children, "Daddy was committed to a mental ward of a hospital in Jackson, Miss., at the end of March, 1963," where he received medicinal therapy and shock treatment.
"Occasionally he would become compulsive in his hand washing routine," said Sonny, "washing his hands several times in one hour as if trying to remove the dried blood of the Japanese guard that he had killed on Guam." It was not uncommon, say both Sonny and Leland, for their father to get up in the middle of the night and lean over the bathroom sink in the dark and wash his hands for up to an hour.
Boyd developed other eccentricities, too, said Sonny. Sometimes the ring of a telephone sent Boyd "into the 'fight or flight' reaction of his conditioning for 'general quarters,'" a time when sailors were signaled by bell or gong to prepare for battle and to man their stations.
Sonny said he has often wondered how one breaks the conditioning of war once back in civilian life. "How do you ever return to a world of peace in which you hope to raise your children without the horrors that haunt your dreams?"
These are questions none of Boyd's six children -- five sons and a daughter -- can answer. Yet as they grew up in the Earcel Boyd household in the 1950s and 1960s, they watched their father become a man obsessed with the Klan and so committed to the Silver Dollar Group, that he carried a silver dollar -- the identifying symbol of a member -- in his pocket every single day.
Silver Dollar Klansmen, according to FBI documents, were responsible for the murders of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris on Dec. 10, 1964, and of Wharlest Jackson in Natchez in a car bombing on Feb. 27, 1967. The group was also blamed for the attempted murder of George Metcalfe in Natchez with a car bomb on Aug. 27, 1965, and may have been responsible, according to an investigation by The Concordia Sentinel, for the July 12, 1964, disappearance and murder of Joseph "JoeEd" Edwards of Clayton. Edwards worked at the Vidalia Shamrock Motel at the time the Silver Dollar Group was formed in the motel's cafe.
None of these crimes have ever been solved although the FBI launched a second probe into Morris' death in 2007 which remains active today. Silver Dollar Klansmen were bomb-makers and the Boyd brothers remember their home on Crestview Drive in Concordia as an arsenal with bombs stored in the attic and in a shed in the back yard.
Although Leland and Sonny say their father may have been capable of many things, they do not believe he was involved in Morris' murder. Each said Morris was a friend of the family who their father often visited at the shoe shop and hosted for occasional meals with the Boyd family at their home.
They also say their father spent many hours trying to find the men responsible for the arson which took Morris' life.
Leland and Sonny say they rejected their father's Klan ideals at an early age, and they saw through his hypocrisy and his hate.
"I loved my Dad and I know he loved me but he had no idea how to show that love for me and my brothers and sister," said Leland. "He was one of 15 children and suffered egregious abuses. But I can tell you that my Dad instilled in me a love for God, a love for my country, and unknowingly helped us develop a love of family. I learned a lot of things from my Dad. I learned what to do and what not to do just by the things he did.
Leland said Boyd liked to tell stories, and had "a great sense of humor and quite often used that to his advantage. It was from his stories I learned most of the things that I know about him and his family and because of those stories I learned the truth of something Maya Angelou penned, 'There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.'"
BEARING THE UNTOLD STORY
The Boyd brothers have talked openly about their life in the Earcel Boyd household in articles published in the Concordia Sentinel this year. For that, they have faced some criticism and Leland, who lives in Texas, has been threatened.
Leland said it has been "my privilege" to reveal "a portion of my life to the community I once dearly loved. Since I have been so open and have shared what I know, I have had everything from a 'pat on the back, well done' to 'are you crazy?' to 'how can you say such things?'"
His decision to talk openly about his life and that of his father is for one reason only, he said -- to help find justice for Frank Morris, who Leland said was "a good man." Most people, he said, go through life every day choosing between "what is right and what is easy. I want mine to be right. Easy is for those who don't care."
In January 1988, Earcel Boyd was hospitalized just down the hall from Room 101 where Frank Morris died years earlier after the arson of his shoe shop in 1964. In Earcel Boyd's hospital room, Leland Boyd comforted his dying father.
"We talked a few minutes about his beliefs and how those beliefs may be interfering with his 'home going' to see Jesus," said Leland, who was reared in the Baptist church but is a member of the Assembly of God church today and also preaches on occasion. "He and I together prayed a sinner's prayer and at the end of that prayer my Dad looked at me and said 'Thank you.' Those were the last words I heard my Dad speak."
Moments later that day -- January 28, 1988 -- Earcel Boyd Sr. died.
The Rev. Steve Casteel, Director of Connectional Ministries for the United Methodist Conference in Mississippi, and who is also involved in efforts of racial reconciliation, said those who carry burdens of guilt have three basic tracks to take.
"The first one is to say I did what I did and I'm not sorry -- what happens happens," said Casteel.
"Then there is the Judas track which after his betrayal of Jesus he decides what he has done is unforgivable and puts it on himself and takes his life," said Casteel. "The burden was just too great. He judged himself."
But Casteel said Peter, who denied Jesus, sought forgiveness afterward and started anew. He said this is the path to heaven.
"People who bear the burden of guilt take the whole responsibility of judge and jury of life," said Casteel. "They think what they have done is unforgivable and they undergo a cancerous self-destruction."
He said "God is more than willing to forgive although it doesn't mean the consequences of our bad decisions will go away."
Earcel Boyd, says Leland, struggled until the end in dealing with his guilt.
"I believe in all of my heart according to God's Word that when we ask forgiveness that God forgives, regardless of what it was we did wrong," said Leland. "I believe that my Dad is in heaven with the Heavenly Father and is awaiting my Mom and each of his children he was so proud of. I believe this came about because my Dad humbled himself before God in prayer and in essence and in great agony gave God the untold story he held inside of himself."
Leland said his father's death was hard to watch but he believes Earcel Boyd Sr. left this world in peace.
"I do not know what he poured out to God from his heart but I do know that there was immediate and great relief in him," Leland said.