Syracuse University

Selected Case Histories

Beginnings

In March 2007, CCJI received a request from family members of Frank Morris to reopen his 1964 murder investigation. Morris was a 51-year-old African American business owner in Ferriday, Louisiana. On December 10, 1964, Morris was pushed at gunpoint back into his burning store by suspected members of the Ku Klux Klan. He died four days later of burns over nearly 100 percent of his body. Although the FBI identified witnesses who pointed to two local law enforcement officers, no charges or indictments followed, and the case was dropped. CCJI’s work has greatly expanded after receiving requests for assistance from other victims’ families and upon examining a list of 75 such cases that have been identified by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice, the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Urban League. CCJI has identified far more cases not on any list and is pursuing numerous cases for potential reopening and prosecution by state and federal law enforcement officials.

CCJI assists a number of families in Louisiana, Mississippi, and other states whose loved ones were victims in the 1960s of unsolved murders motivated by racial terrorism. Those cases include:

Corporal Roman Ducksworth Jr. was 27 years old at the time of his death on April 9, 1962. Stationed at Fort Ritchie, Maryland, he was on emergency leave to his hometown, Taylorsville, Mississippi, where his family had lived for more than 50 years. He was going home to be with his wife during a difficult pregnancy. When his bus arrived in Taylorsville, Ducksworth was shot through the heart by Policeman Bill Kelly, reportedly for “refusing to move.” Ducksworth’s wife gave birth that same morning to their sixth child. A grand jury refused to indict Officer Kelly.

Joseph “Joe-Ed” Edwards, a porter at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia, Louisiana, was 25 years old when he disappeared on July 12, 1964. The Shamrock was the center of activity for the violent Klan organization called the “Silver Dollar Group.” Each member carried a silver dollar with the date of his birth as an identification of group membership. The group had working crews who conducted severe beatings and killings. 

A week later, Edwards’s car was found on the levy near Ferriday, Louisiana. Law enforcement officials reportedly found a noose and blood in the car.  The local sheriff, who was identified as a member of the Klan, refused to treat the case as a murder investigation. Joseph Edwards’s mother, Bernice Conner, filed missing persons reports on her son and was interviewed in November, 1964, by the Mississippi Highway Patrol, but the law enforcement organization made no further contact with her.

CCJI conducted research in 2007 to find out what happened to Joseph Edwards. The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office denied any reports existed. In 2009, students from CCJI, while photographing 7,000 documents from another file, discovered hundreds of pages of FBI reports filed in 1967 on the “Joseph Edwards Murder Investigation.” These materials were turned over to the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Justice Department and the local law enforcement offices, but no official case has been opened or reopened. Connor died without knowing anything more about her son’s disappearance.

Wharlest Jackson Sr. was the treasurer of the NAACP in Natchez, Mississippi, and the father of five children. In 1967, he accepted a skilled position at Armstrong Tire and Rubber Company that previously had been held only by whites, and for which he received a 17 cents an hour increase in pay. On February 27, 1967, he left the factory and headed to his home which was near the plant. His truck exploded about a block from his home–a bomb had been planted under the carriage directly below the driver’s seat. His son, Wharlest Jackson Jr., who was nine years old at the time, heard the noise, jumped on his bike and rode toward the explosion. He was one of the first people on the scene. No one was ever charged with the murder and the death certificate called it an accident.

Frank Morris was a well-respected owner of a shoe repair shop in Ferriday, Louisiana. On December 10, 1964, he was awakened at 2 a.m. by a loud noise and found two white men at his shop. One man had a can of gasoline and the other held a shot gun. They set his shop on fire, forcing Morris back into the shop at gunpoint. Morris was able to get his 11-year-old grandson and an employee out of the shop safely; however, he did not escape the flames, suffering severe burns over most of his body. He died four days later from his injuries. His assailants are widely believed to be members of the Klan and likely associated with local law enforcement. No arrests have been made in his killing.