Did a "wrecking crew" from the Tallulah unit of the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan set Frank Morris' shoe shop on fire in 1964?
A Klan informant told the FBI that a few months after the shoe shop arson that he learned the Ferriday-Clayton unit had an agreement with the Tallulah unit to "swap jobs" in order to do each other's local "dirty work."
Such an arrangement was common for Klansmen, according reporter Jerry Mitchell with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., who for the past 20 years has written about Klan-related murders.
"The Klan often used members from other places to carry out its dark deeds," he said. "That way the local Klansmen, the first to be questioned by authorities, would all have solid alibis. This is what the Klan did in the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Mississippi. Most of the more than 20 men involved came to Neshoba County from neighboring Lauderdale County. The Klan did the same thing in the 1966 killing of Vernon Dahmer in Hattiesburg, Miss."
Klansmen O.C. "Coonie" Poissot told the FBI in 1967 that Ferriday Klansman E.D. Morace told him in 1965 about the agreement between the two Klans that could have led to Morris' death. Then a member of the Ferriday-Clayton Original Knights unit, Poissot said he was on a wrecking crew in the fall of 1965 that went to Tallulah to kill a black man identified only as "Mose," who he said owned a tire shop and a barbershop and was a civil rights' leader. Poissot said despite two trips to Tallulah, the project never took place.
Yet Adam Fairclough reported in his 1999 book -- Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972 -- that the leaders of the black Voters League in Tallulah, located in Madison Parish, were targeted by the Klan in a number of arsons in October 1965. He wrote that "Moses Williams saw his tire shop go up in flames," likely the same man Poissot said the Concordia wrecking had targeted.
Poissot said the agreement between the two Klan units was reached by Morace and the Tallulah leader, known as the Exalted Cyclops, whose name Poissot said he could not recall but described him as "a tall, red headed person, about 37 or 38 years of age."
Poissot claimed Morace called the hit off on both trips because there was "too much traffic" at the location. Poissot identified four of the five-man wrecking crew as himself, James "Red" Lee of Wildsville, Raleigh Jackson "Red" Glover of Vidalia and Morace, the Klan Investigator for the Ferriday-Clayton unit. On each trip, Poissot said Glover and another member wanted to shoot into the tire shop, and that Glover wanted "to drop explosives in the area" that were in the trunk of the car.
Glover, Lee and Morace were each identified by the FBI at the time as members of the Silver Dollar Group (SDG), a militant Klan cell dedicated to fighting integration and Civil Rights with violence. Glover was identified by the FBI as head of the SDG, whose members were believed responsible in masterminding and/or physically carrying out the murders of Morris; teenagers Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Moore of Meadville, Miss., in May 1964; Joseph Edwards, a Vidalia Shamrock Motel porter in June 1964; and Natchez NAACP officer Wharlest Jackson in February 1967.
In exchange for the hit on Moses Williams, Poissot said, the Tallulah Original Knights' unit was to burn down the Morville Lounge, a gambling and prostitution den at Deer Park operated by the New Orleans-based Carlos Marcello mob. Poissot told the FBI that some local Klansmen opposed prostitution but that another reason for the proposed arson was that several Klansmen had been beaten at the lounge. He said that for reasons unknown to him the Tallulah Klan never did the project.
Poissot's comments are found in the FBI case file on the Wharlest Jackson murder obtained by The Sentinel and the Syracuse University College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative through the Freedom of Information Act. The Sentinel has interviewed scores of witnesses concerning local Klan operations in the 1960s as well the murders.
Frank Morris was inside the shop when it was set on fire during the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 1964. He died four days later. Natchez Klan leader E.L. McDaniel, a paid FBI informant in 1967, said E.D. Morace, also a paid FBI informant, contacted him two weeks before the fire asking for authorization for Mississippi Klansmen to assist in whipping Morris for allegedly flirting with white women. McDaniel said he never authorized the whipping.
Yet McDaniel told the FBI that Morace called him on December 9 and said the whipping had been called off. After the fire, McDaniel said Morace told him that Morris was killed "because he made us kill him."
McDaniel said Morace also told him that if he, Morace, along with Klansmen James L. Scaroborough of Ferriday, and Tommy Lee Jones and Thore L. Torgerson, both of Natchez, were arrested that McDaniel should bond them out of jail. McDaniel indicated to the FBI that he took the comment to mean that these men committed the arson. Scaroborough, Jones and Torgerson were also identified by the FBI as SDG Klansmen and early members of the Original Knights. Scaroborough was Exalted Cyclops of the Ferriday-Clayton unit in 1964-65.
Morace, however, indicated to agents he had nothing to do with Morris' death. He said there were complaints filed by local Klansmen about Morris, most of which accused Morris of flirting with white women or being too friendly with white people. As Klan Investigator, Morace said he looked into the complaints, five in all, and found them to be untrue.
But Morace and Poissot separately told agents that Concordia Parish Sheriff's deputy Frank DeLaughter, a known Klansman with a violent reputation, was furious with Morris after the shoe shop owner refused to repair DeLaughter's cowboy boots without payment in advance.
Red Glover, who was 42 in 1964 and died in Adams County at 62 in 1984, was also implicated in the Morris murder by an employee of the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia. Roberta Carlos Walker of Natchez, who had been employed as a registration clerk at the Shamrock in February and March of 1964, told the FBI in 1967 she knew Glover because he hung out at the motel.
Walker told the FBI that two months after Morris was killed she was at the Crossroads Store in Natchez and overheard Glover talking to three other men about the arson. She said she heard Glover say: "I hated to burn that son of a bitch up but I had to do it."
On December 9, 1964, a proposed whipping apparently turned into an arson project and it appears possible that a wrecking crew could have done the job during the early morning hours of December 10, 1964. Throughout 1964 Original Knights' wrecking crews left a trail of violence throughout Louisiana.
The establishment of wrecking crews was part of the constitution of the Original Knights, an old national Klan organization -- called the "Old Original" by members -- that was brought back to life by John Deason Swenson of Bossier City in 1962. Swenson, 56 in 1966, was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) which investigated the Klan.
Swenson was so successful in recruiting statewide that HUAC called him "the father of the modern Klan" in Louisiana. At its peak in 1964, the Original Knights had an estimated 1,000 members statewide and 47 klaverns (units) including three in Concordia -- Ferriday-Clayton, Vidalia and Monterey. As Civil Rights activities and the push for integration grew, so did the Klan, and Swenson developed Original Knights' strongholds in northeastern and southeastern Louisiana.
Swenson swore E.L. McDaniel into the Original Knights in a ceremony in Concordia in 1962. In the fall of 1963, Swenson, along with McDaniel, Douglas Byrd of Doloroso in Wilkinson County, and Ernest Gilbert of Brookhaven, recruited 200 to 300 hundred Mississippi Klansmen into the newly-created Mississippi Realm of the Original Knights, HUAC records show.
But there were arguments over leadership and Klan finances and in late December 1963, McDaniel, Byrd and Gilbert were banished from the Original Knights for "revolting" and inciting "an insurrection" in Mississippi against the Old Original leadership. Almost immediately, these men revised the Original Knights' constitution and took the Mississippi men into a new Klan known as the White Knights. McDaniel quietly held the position of Klan Investigator for the White Knights in the Natchez area until he emerged as Mississippi Grand Dragon of the United Klans of America in August 1964.
In March 1964, an open revolt also broke out in Louisiana and two new leaders from the northeastern region emerged for the Original Knights -- Murray Martin and Henry Pierce Morris. These two men were also subpoenaed before the HUAC hearings in Washington, but refused to answer any questions.
Martin, then 40, lived in Winnsboro. He would not comment when asked by the committee about the existence of wrecking crews. Yet E.D. Morace told the FBI he and other Concordia Klansmen heard three months before the Morris arson that Martin, now dead, wanted to mold Klansmen from different klaverns into "one hard-knit unit."
Morace said he ascended to the Klan Investigator post for northeastern Louisiana in the fall of 1964 after Glover stepped down. The Klan Investigator fielded complaints by Klansmen about both black and white citizens and if he felt action was warranted, called upon a wrecking crew, almost always from outside the area, which would explain why Morace may have contacted McDaniel originally.
Houston Pierce Morris, 30, of Monroe, who helped Martin take over the Original Knights' leadership, was asked by a HUAC investigator what he would do if he learned a Klansmen killed a black man. The Rayville native responded: "(I) don't give a damn if they went out and killed 100."
Poissot also said Robert Fuller of Monroe was well known to Concordia Klansmen. In 1964, Fuller, age 40, served as the Original Knights' statewide Klan Investigator.
Of all of the Original Knights' Klansmen called before HUAC in 1966, none provided more compelling testimony than 29-year-old John Hugh Gipson of Slidell, a logger with a seventh grade education. Gipson exposed the Original Knights' highly-effective strategy of putting together wrecking crews trained to act on a moment's notice and whose silence was guaranteed by threats of death.
Gipson was named to a wrecking crew for the Pearl River Klavern in St. Tammany Parish which like Bogalusa and Washington Parish was a Klan stronghold. He said he took part in a project in which a young white man accused of spending too much time in bars and neglecting his family was severely whipped with a belt and left "in a pretty bad way." He said when a wrecking crew was called on to burn two black churches, a project which he said was successful, he made up an excuse not to take part and soon realized he had to get out of the Klan.
Given police protection during his testimony in Washington, Gipson said Klansmen were secretly indoctrinated into a wrecking crew by two men from northeastern Louisiana whose names he never knew.
"They told us that there had to be something set to stop all these smart niggers and things," said Gipson, "and that laws was made for something, but sometimes they had to be broken and there had to be some good men to do it. Then they swore in a few of us that night, and we took a different oath than they have in the regular Klavern...one part (was) if you reveal any secrecy, ever talk, that you would get your head blown off from your shoulders."
He said the two men from northeastern Louisiana "said it might even become necessary to have to murder somebody...They said if a fellow ever talked that they would get him, that they might not get them then, it might be five or 10 years later, but he would be gotten."