Investigations by Louisiana Newspaper Prompt Feds to Investigate Civil Rights-Era Murders

The murders of Frank Morris and Clifton Walker are cold cases that are now hot.

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ColorLines is reporting that Stanley Nelson (not to be confused with the documentary filmmaker), editor of the Concordia Sentinel, is reporting compelling evidence that Leonard Spencer, an admitted former member of the Ku Klux Klan living in Richland Parish, La., helped set a 1964 fire that killed Frank Morris. Morris was a 51-year-old, black shoe-shop owner who was burned alive inside his store in Ferriday, La. On his deathbed, Morris told the FBI how his store was broken into and how the two white intruders had poured gasoline inside the store.

The murder of Clifton Walker, which occurred less than 50 miles away outside Woodville, Miss., on Feb. 28, 1964, is also being investigated. Driving home late at night, after work at the International Paper Plant in Natchez, Miss., Walker was ambushed by gunmen who riddled his car with bullets, shattering all the windows and shooting him multiple times in the head. He was 37 years old. Nelson and Brian Greenberg have reported their findings in the Concordia Sentinel and are also partners in the Civil Rights Cold Case Project, a collaborative, multimedia investigation of the untold stories of unsolved civil rights-era murders in the South.

These unsolved cases are indicative of many unsolved murders during the civil rights era, some politically motivated and others, like Morris and Walker, based on perceived slights and suspicions. Morris was self-employed, financially established and serviced all of the Ferriday community, notwithstanding race. Rumors about liaisons with white women persisted, which is thought to be the reason for his murder. Walker made a good living, dressed well and drove a nice car, which was thought to be "above" the "station" of a Negro.

Whatever the case may be, these investigations are aiding the FBI in solving the murders of those killed during the civil rights era. Although the FBI revealed that it was closing without prosecutions approximately half the civil rights cold cases it had identified in August 2010 (this is after a formal announcement to solve these murders in 2007), investigations like those being carried out by Nelson and Greenberg and reported in the Concordia Sentinel will force the FBI to continue to seek justice for these murders. That is a very good thing.

Read more at ColorLines.

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