This one apparently solved by the work of a local newspaper. Morris may have been murdered by the KKK for nothing other than the perspicacity of being a black man operating a successful business with both black and white customers.
Early on the morning of December 10, 1964, Frank Morris ran out of his shoe store, his clothes and skin on fire.
People who saw him in the hospital afterward said the African-American businessman was so badly burned they didn’t recognize him.
“Only the bottom of his feet weren’t burned. He was horrible to look at,” said the Rev. Robert Lee Jr., now 96.
Morris survived for four days before dying — long enough to tell the FBI that two men had broken into his store while he slept, smashed windows, doused the place in gasoline and told him: “Get back in there, nigger.”
Locals in Ferriday, the small Louisiana town where Morris lived and died, remember him as having both white and black customers, which was rare for black businesses in the segregated South in the days before civil rights. He would come out of his store onto the sidewalk so white female customers wouldn’t have to go inside alone.
No one has ever been charged with killing him. But Wednesday, more than 46 years after his death at age 51, a local newspaper has named two men it believes were part of a Ku Klux Klan “wrecking crew” that torched his store and murdered him.
One, Arthur Spencer, is still alive. The second, O.C. “Coonie” Poissot, died in 1992.
The Concordia Sentinel, based in Ferriday, reports Spencer’s son and the brother of his ex-wife both say Spencer told them he was involved in the killing.
Spencer’s ex-wife, Brenda Rhodes, says Poissot told her that he and Spencer were on the wrecking crew that burned Morris’s store.
“It came at a time of great lawlessness in this parish, when the Klan was in control of this parish — or if not in control, a great influence,” said Sentinel editor Stanley Nelson, using the Louisiana term for county.
The newspaper’s sources all indicated that the Klan wrecking crew didn’t necessarily expect Morris to be in the store when they burned it.
Spencer’s former brother-in-law, Bill Frasier, said he’d once asked Spencer if he ever killed anyone.
“We did accidentally one time,” Spencer said, according to Frasier.
Sentinel editor Nelson said many racially motivated killings in that era were done by people who might not have planned to commit murder — but should have known what they were doing.
“Almost all of the people that were killed in those days, no one set out to kill,” he said. Some beatings got too violent, for example, he said.
But, he added, “When you go to burn a building, you run the risk that a person is going to be there.” (more…)