The Best Little Whorehouse in La. and the Ku Klux Klan

June 4, 2008

Thursday, June 5th, 2008
Ferriday, Louisiana

 

THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN NORTH LOUISIANA

AND THE KU KLUX KLAN

 Forty Four years ago this month, the FBI opened a widespread murder investigation in my old hometown of Ferriday, as well as across the river in Natchez, Mississippi. As many as 20 local black citizens were reportedly killed by the Ku Klux Klan.  And there were ties by Klan members to one of the busiest whore houses in the South, as well as the Jim Leslie murder that took place a few years later in Baton Rouge.

  Few arrests were made, and a number of cases ended up on back burner as years went by.  But sparked by the dogged reporting of Stanley Nelson with the Concordia Sentinel, the FBI once again is taking a look at what happened just about the time I landed in Ferriday with a new law degree. 

 In 1964, worldwide attention was focused on the deaths of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi.  FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered several hundred agents all over the state.  The widespread investigation quickly focused on the Silver Dollar Group, an offshoot of the Klan based in Natchez, but terrorizing a number of black males on both sides of the river.

 In late December of that year, the KKK burned down a local shoe shop in Ferriday with the owner, Frank Morris, in it at the time.  Morse was severely burned, and died a few days later.  Why was he targeted?  He was black, running a successful business, and had a number of white customers. 

 Another major fire attributed to the local Klan was the burning of Haney’s Big House, one the best known black music nightclubs in the Deep South. Every jazz great from New Orleans from Louis Armstrong to Fats Domino played at Haney’s.  And local cousins Jerry Lee Louis, Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart all were know to sneak into Haney’s by the back door.  When white fans started to come to Haney’s, it was quickly burned to the ground.  (See photo of the burning at www.jimbrownla.com)

 One of the busiest establishments in lower Concordia was the Morville lounge, a popular and busy house of ill repute and local gambling establishment.  Morville was located some 15 miles south of the bridge that connects Natchez and Ferriday, and the parking lot over the levee was usually filled up by customers from as far a way as a Baton Rouge and Jackson, Mississippi. The girls of Morville traveled a regular route from Atlanta then Birmingham, on to Jackson, then down the Morville and on into New Orleans.  That’s how popular this small rural lounge off the beaten path and over the levee had become.  And the local Klan was reportedly active in the running of this red-light stop.

 When I ran for Louisiana State Senator in 1971, Klan activities throughout this area had moved north towards Franklin Parish.  One of my opponents had strong support from the local Klan, and I receive my share of threats that I did not take that seriously at the time.  But signs and billboards in support my campaign rarely lasted the night after they were put up.  Fortunately for me, the local white knights were fairly old guys by then, and had little support in the local community.

 The notorious Jim Leslie murder that took place in Baton Rouge in 1972 had ties to Concordia Parish and the Klan.  The purported trigger man, Rusty Griffith, was gunned down in a lower Concordia wildlife refuge a few months after the Leslie killing,  Griffith  was supposedly hired by the Dixie Mafia tied to Shreveport’s top law officer at the time, the Public Safety Commissioner named George Dortois. The assassination money, some $100,000, was allegedly funneled via the local Natchez-Concordia Klan to Griffith and his accomplices.  When Griffith got greedy and wanted more money, so the rumors go, he too was gunned down.

 When the gang that bumped off Griffith was arrested, yours truly was appointed by the court in Concordia Parish to represent Clay Kimble, one of the ring leaders.  So I’m well aware of all the gory details, and where the skeletons are buried. Well, maybe not literally (or at least I’m not sayin nothin).

 Now, after forty four years, a fresh investigation is underway.  Old wounds have opened back up, and many older folks who were there at the time seem to be pleased that some justice may eventually come to a number of families who suffered the loss of loved ones.  A number of Klansmen in the Natchez-Concordia got away with murder.  At least up until now.  With so much renewed interest, maybe this will change.

 

                                                               ********

I ran into Ku Klux Klan and the threat of hurricanes, and those two things made me decide not to build on the Alabama coast, so we came back to Memphis.”
Shelby Foote  (Southern writer and historian)

 

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s column appears weekly, and is published on a number of newspapers and websites throughout Louisiana.  You can read past columns by going to Jim’s website at www.jimbrownla.com.     Jim’s regular radio show on WRNO, 995fm out of New Orleans can be heard each Sunday from 11:00 am till 1:00 pm.

 


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