Shortly after newspaper editor Stanley Nelson began writing about the 1964 murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris in 2007, Morris' granddaughter called to thank him.
“I said, ‘For what?'” Nelson recalled. “She said, ‘I learned more in these two articles than in all the 40 years'” after Morris' death.
“No newspapers had covered it,” Nelson said about the death of this 51-year-old black man and 73 others cited in a 2007 federal government investigation to determine whether their deaths were racially motivated.
Nelson will talk about his research on the Morris case at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19 at the Lincoln Parish Library. He also will talk about other unsolved Civil Rights-era homicides he has investigated in the Concordia Parish delta region.
Nelson is editor of the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday. He is a 1977 Louisiana Tech journalism graduate who served as editor of the school newspaper, The Tech Talk.
“It just bothered me immensely,” Nelson said of the call from Morris' granddaughter who apparently was seeking closure on the situation.
It was that call that ignited Nelson's passion (some would call it a crusade) to report what happened that December in 1964 and to bring those responsible to justice.
“All of these years, and families still don't know what happened to their love ones,” he said. “I think that is an awful thing not to know what happened to loved ones.”
Morris died from third degree burns after two men torched his shoe shop while he was still inside during the early hours of Dec. 10, 1964.
He lived in a room in the back of the shop and confronted the men that night, but never identified them by name. Before he died four days later from burns received in the blaze, he told visitors in his hospital room that his attackers were “two white friends.”
After initiating an investigation into Morris' murder, Nelson discovered 20 other unsolved Civil Rights-era homicides in the Concordia Parish, Natchez and southwest Mississippi region. He believes some of the murders were committed by members of a violent offshoot of three Ku Klux Klan organizations — the White Knights, the Original Knights and the United Klans of America. He said 20 deaths may be too low a number.
“Nelson's work should remind us that we should continue to take this seriously,” said David Anderson, the coordinator of this Black History program and an assistant professor of history at Louisiana Tech. “It reminds you of the danger and risks that people took if they were seen as threats by the white supremacists and that segregation was not a passive, benign system. It was a system of intimidation, terror and murder. We had terrorists among us.”
As part of his research on Morris' death, Nelson has interviewed the sons of one of the Klansmen involved in the Silver Dollar Group, a militant Klan cell of about 20 men, dedicated to the violent defense of segregation and white supremacy.
In all, he has interviewed more than 300 individuals, written more than 100 stories and has joined with other print and film journalists in a national effort to resolve these almost forgotten crimes.
In December, the FBI offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Morris' killers.
The program is sponsored by the Tech history department, Lambda Rho Chapter of Phi Alpha Theta history fraternity, the Tech journalism department and the library.
Written by Reginald Owens