'Tee-Wee' Kelly

In the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 1964, when Frank Morris' shoe shop was set ablaze by two men, an eyewitness stood in the shadows and watched.

Because of what he saw, the lives of Junios "Tee-Wee" Kelly and his family were forever altered, as were the lives of Frank Morris' grandchildren and family.

Morris, however, paid the ultimate price. He lost his life four days later after being severely burned in the blaze that destroyed the building that housed his shoe shop and home.

Tee-Wee Kelly may have held the key to unlocking the now 43-year-old riddle of who killed Frank Morris. Although Kelly died a few years ago, what he saw didn't die with him.

As the FBI reinvestigates this civil rights era murder, the number of people stepping forward to talk about the case for the first time ever is growing.

Leonard Kelly, 61, is the son of the late Tee-Wee Kelly. His father, said Leonard, saw the two men outside Frank's shoe shop the night of the fire. When Tee-Wee Kelly lay on his deathbed, he told his son more details about that life-changing event in Ferriday so many years earlier.

Tee-Wee Kelly was 41 in 1964, and he was known by many in Ferriday as a man who walked the streets at night. If anybody knew what was going on when most in town slept, it was Tee-Wee Kelly.

Kelly's son Leonard, who still lives in Ferriday, said the Kelly family lived on the corner of Carolina and Third streets in 1964.

Tee-Wee Kelly "liked to drink Country Club Malt Liquor," said Leonard Kelly of his father. "He was a pulp wood driver and at night he would get home, clean up, put on his khaki pants, a white shirt and Florsheim shoes and hit the clubs."

Haney's Big House was one of his favorites, but Tee-Wee would hit most of the black-owned clubs on any given night.

Around 11:30 p.m. on the night of Morris' murder, Leonard Kelly and a relative walked into Lee's Grocery along Fourth Street, now E.E. Wallace Blvd (Hwy. 84). Lee's was located across the street from Frank's Shoe Shop. The building still stands.

Leonard, then 19, bought "some bananas and grapes" and an item for his mother. He and his cousin crossed Fourth Street and walked home.

A few hours later around 2 a.m. in the morning, Tee-Wee Kelly was on his way home when he noticed some activity outside Frank's Shoe Shop. What he saw was an arson that resulted in murder.

In the hours after the arson of Morris' shoe shop, the FBI moved into town from across the river at Natchez, where agents had been investigating the murders of at least three black mecon and the beatings of several others, all believed to have been at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. As the Morris' probe became a federal investigation and no longer a local police matter, someone got nervous and realized that Tee-Wee Kelly might be a problem.

On two occasions not long after the arson someone in a car passing by the Kelly residence fired shots into the house. One shotgun blast blew out a plate glass window.

Morris said from his hospital bed that one of his two white attackers pointed a single-barrel shotgun at him.

A short time after Tee-Wee Kelly's house was rattled by a shotgun blast the last time, two Concordia Parish Sheriff's deputies came by to visit.

Tee-Wee Kelly walked outside and approached the two deputies sitting in the car.

"The best thing you can do is leave town," the deputies told him. Leonard Kelly saw the deputies and watched from a distance.

"It was a message to keep his mouth shut," said Leonard. Either those two deputies, whom Leonard identified, were the culprits or they knew who the culprits were, Leonard said.

Tee-Wee Kelly had to make a decision. He quickly realized that if what he knew was passed on to his friends or family that their lives might also be in danger.

Frank Morris' granddaughter, Rosa Williams of Las Vegas, NV, was 12-years-old when Morris was killed. She said Monday that she recalled seeing Tee-Wee on Fourth Street a few days after Morris' death.

"He came up to me," she said.

Tee-Wee told her, "I know what happened to your grandfather."

That's all he would say.

"He was afraid," said Rosa. She was just a child and didn't even consider pressing him for information.

"But I never forgot that moment," she said.

A short time after that meeting on the street, Leonard Kelly said Tee-Wee "called us all in and told us he had to leave town. I was 19. I told him I was staying."

Tee-Wee was taken to a downtown Natchez motel, while his wife and some other family members went to Eudora, AR.

"I don't know who took him there," said Leonard. "I heard one time that it was the FBI to protect him."

Meanwhile, at the Concordia Parish Hospital, Margarite Milton, now dead, visited Morris as he lay dying.

"She was my mother-in-law," said Kelly.

Morris told Milton of his murderers: "I didn't know my friends would do me like that."

Why was Morris targeted? Because, said Leonard Kelly, a white man who owned a business on the north end of town along Hwy. 84 had a beef with Morris involving a domestic manner. Morris and the man argued on the day of the fire.

Tee-Wee Kelly, who lived the remaining years of his life in Monroe, died on Dec. 20, 2000, at the age of 77. After leaving Ferriday in a hurry in late 1964, Tee-Wee Kelly never returned.

Leonard Kelly visited his father when he was on his deathbed in Monroe. Father and son talked about old times and then the conversation turned to that night in Ferriday on Dec. 10, 1964, when the lives of many people were forever changed.

"Who killed Frank Morris?" Leonard Kelly asked his father.

"Son," said Tee-Wee Kelly, "you don't have to look no further than the police department."

Leonard Kelly doesn't know if he meant police officers with the Town of Ferriday or deputies with the Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office.

"They were all the same to us," said Leonard Kelly.

But the two deputies who told Tee-Wee Kelly to leave town are well-known to anyone familiar with Concordia Parish in 1964.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.