A nationally recognized authority on the Ku Klux Klan says those who believe the organization still operates in Louisiana and Mississippi are greatly mistaken.
In this region, says retired FBI agent Jim Ingram, the Klan is dead.
"Don't confuse the Klan with some Redneck waving a Confederate flag," said Ingram, who has spent most of his adult life chasing Klansmen in Mississippi. There is a big difference, he noted.
His comments came during an interview with The Sentinel this week over the issue of whether the Klan still exists and operates in Louisiana and Mississippi.
During the recent trial of James Ford Seale for the murders of two Mississippi teenagers in 1964, Ingram said "all kinds of reporters kept telling me that the Klan still exists in Mississippi, but I said it does not. There is no longer a Klan organization in this region." Following a march on Jena two weeks ago, a CNN reporter said later that she witnessed first hand evidence of the Klan in Jena.
While hate groups exist all over the country, it is erroneous to say the Ku Klux Klan still operates here, Ingram said, adding that the only Klan organization he knows of today is in Indiana.
James Bernazzani, Special Agent in Charge of the New Orleans Division of the FBI whose jurisdiction covers all of Louisiana, told The Sentinel Tuesday that the Klan no longer "represents an organized threat" to the state.
While noting that a few individuals may espouse traditional Klan beliefs, he said these expressions come without benefit of followers or organization.
"The Klan that existed in the 1960s and 1970s" no longer exists in Louisiana today, Bernazzani said.
The Klan is believed to have been involved in the murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris 43 years ago. The FBI is presently reassessing that and other Civil Rights-era murders.
Morris shoe shop was set on fire on Dec. 10, 1964, at 2 a.m. He died from severe burns suffered in the blaze four days later.
Ingram said that during the mid-1960s, Natchez drew Klan rallies that attracted hundreds.
"At Liberty Park, Natchez held the biggest Klan rallies I personally ever saw," he said. "They'd come from all over Mississippi and all over Louisiana."
When Morris was murdered, the Klan was holding rallies in both Concordia Parish and Adams County. Some of the Civil Rights workers who came to Ferriday and Natchez in 1964 and 1965 were beaten, threatened, shot at and the homes in which they stayed were firebombed. Blacks and poor whites were the common targets of the Klan's terror for decades here.
Ingram spent more than 30 years with the FBI and worked on some of the most recognized Civil Rights-era murder cases in Mississippi, including the 1964 murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Philadelphia, MS, and the 1966 murder of Vernon Dahmer in Hattiesburg. In these two cases, the victims were involved in registering blacks to vote.
This past June, Ingram testified against James Ford Seale for the May 2, 1964 murders of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. He worked on all of these 1960s cases immediately after the murders occurred, and was brought out of retirement by the FBI in recent years to assist in prosecuting the accused in these same cases again. Seale was convicted and sentenced to three life terms this past summer.
In 1998, Ingram testified against the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi -- Sam Bowers -- who was convicted at that time for the 1966 murder of Dahmer. In 2005, Ingram testified against Edgar "Preacher" Killen in the murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. Killen, too, was convicted and is now in prison.
There may be no person in the United States today who knows more about the Klan than Ingram. For decades, he investigated and hunted Klansmen. Just recently, he spoke on civil rights to a group of retired FBI agents.
In 1998 prior to Bower's trial for the Dahmer murder, Ingram said "the prosecutor in Forest County (Hattiesburg) asked the highway patrol whether the Klan still existed."
Ingram headed up the highway patrol at that time.
"We did an investigation and concluded that there are no known pockets of Klan organizations in this region," he said. "I haven't seen anyone in a robe for years."
There are several older men living in this region today who once donned Klan robes and attended cross burnings.
One former Klansman from Natchez, who left the organization in the late 1960s, said Saturday he is not aware of any Klan groups in this region nowadays.
"Naturally, you have people who don't like the federal government and feel as if the federal government has pushed things upon them that they don't like," Ingram said. "But I don't know why this belief still persists that the Klan is still here. It is not."
During the height of the Klan's power in the mid-1960s, FBI agents worked to keep a tab on Klan activities.
Ingram said that any known active Klansman "who had any violent tendencies" and was suspected of being involved in incidents such as "a church burning, a beating" was shadowed by an agent.
"That agent was responsible for accounting for the Klansman's time and movement," said Ingram.
In Mississippi as many as 300 FBI agents were involved in fighting the Klan in the mid-1960s, he said.
In the Natchez region, including Concordia, Ingram said many Klansmen worked at International Paper Company, in the pulpwood industry and at Armstrong Tire.
"Those involved saw each other all the time and because they worked in shifts, they were moving about all the time," said Ingram. "Some of these men were out all hours of the night and the (FBI) agents were too."
But, said Ingram, there was a difference in those who sympathized with the Klan and those who committed acts of violence for the Klan.