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

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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 whorehouses 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 the 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.

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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 Lewis, Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart all were known 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 away as 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 received my share of threats that I did not take that seriously at the time. But signs and billboards in support of 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 1976 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 D’artois. 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 44 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 area 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.

6 Responses
  1. David Rains

    Mr. Brown,

    I don’t know how much room I will have here, so I will cut to the chase and you can write me at the above e-mail address if you wish to continue the conversation.

    I was with the La. State Police Intelligence unit from 1972 until Edwin Edwards abolished it in 1985. Had a lot of contact with the Dixie Mafia as well as the Italian Mafia.

    I was only on the fringes of the Leslie/Griffith/D’Ortois/Cliff Guevera situation and cannot speaking very specifically with any authority concerning that matter; however, I am well acquainted with the activities of the Dixie Mafia and many of the individuals who were involved with that group.

    The only bone I have to pick with your comments is that I believe that all of events and clubs you mention should be considered orchestrated and owned by Dixie Mafia associates, some of whom were Klan members…not the other way around.

    By the way, do you remember that snot of an FBI agent, John Pfeifer, who worked Concordia Parish in those days?

    Take Care,

    David C. Rains

  2. Jim Montgomery

    For the sake of accuracy, Jim Leslie was murdered in July of 1976, not 1972, and the Public Safety Commissioner’s name was George D’Artois, not Dortois.
    Very interesting column. It could be fascinating to see what finally gets uncovered.

  3. Jock Scott

    Dear Jim: Very interesting article. Jim Leslie was a very nice guy and talented PR man. I got to know him during Johnston’s 1972 gubernatorial campaign and always liked/admired him. He was a major figure in the Right to Work campaign in 1976, my first year in the legislature. Your article offers no explanation or reason why the Dixie Mafia or KKK would target Jim Leslie. What’s the connection? Any theories?
    Hope all is well. Cordially, Jock Scott

  4. Dorothy

    Hi Jim,

    First of, I just love your selection of music. I’m from Tensas Parish,Waterproof, LA
    I can remember traveling down Hwy. 65, going to New Orleans and comming to the junction of Ferriday and Clayton. I was told by my parents that the old building across the way was “The Ole Rowdy” Haney’s Big House. Thanks for the memories.

  5. Dear Mr. Brown: We (at the Syracuse University College of Law) started working in early March 0f 2007 with Stanley Nelson,of the Concordia Sentinel at his request and the request of Rosa Morris Williams, the granddaughter of Frank Morris. Mr. Morris’ December 10, 1964 murder has still not been solved but Mr. Nelson’s incredible investigative reporting and the efforts of over 50 law student volunteers has resulted in getting the FBI and the Justice Department to focus in on the horrible death of Mr. Morris. (He suffered burns over 100 % of his body after two suspected Klansmen forced him back into his shoe repair shop and then set it on fire. He lived for four painful days before he died.)We need all the support possible to get information and pressure on the Justice Department to do a real investigation (not a paper review) of this case. You can provide information on this and other unsolved civil rights era murders in the Miss/Lou area to us at coldcase@syr.edu or visit our website at coldcaselaw.syr.edu. Janis L.McDonald, Paula C. Johnson, Professors of Law, Co-Directors, Cold Case Justice Initiative

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