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The Silver Dollar Group
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Within days after he published a story that the FBI was offering $10,000 for information about the 1964 arson-murder of a black shopkeeper in Ferriday, Louisiana, newspaper editor Stanley Nelson got a memorable phone call.
The caller said he had known Frank Morris, the black shoe repair shop owner. He had visited Morris’ shop many times as a young boy. He had some information—a lot of it, really—that might be helpful.
But he didn’t want a reward.
The caller said he was impressed with Nelson’s reporting in the weekly Concordia Sentinel—by then, in December of 2008, Nelson had been writing about the Frank Morris and other civil rights murders for 21 months—and he just wanted to discuss what he knew.
The caller was Leland Boyd. He was, he told Nelson, the son of Earcel Boyd Sr.
“Earcel Boyd, the Ku Klux Klan leader?” Nelson asked.
“Yes,” said Leland.
Thus began months of conversations with Leland and two of his brothers as Nelson examined the Gothic tale of Earcel Boyd, life inside the Boyd home, and the origins of the notorious Silver Dollar Group, a Klan offshoot that pledged to inflict more violence than other Klan groups.
Since that first call, the Boyd brothers have described how their father would take them to meetings of the Silver Dollar Group, set them up to sell Klan paraphernalia at outdoor rallies, and order them to haul bomb-making material from his car trunk to the family’s attic, where their father kept 30 to 40 bombs stored. So tense was the household, Leland Boyd recalled, that when a military fighter jet on maneuvers over their house generated a sonic boom, Earcel Boyd’s wife shrieked in terror because she thought the house had exploded.
In Nelson’s articles, the Boyd brothers have provided disturbing accounts of how their father, who was a tire builder at the local Armstrong Tire & Rubber plant, would show a sense of humor only to lose control, beat and belt-whip them, and keep the family in a state of fear. Picnics with other Klan families featured children playing baseball, women frying catfish and men testing explosives.
Their father harbored a fanatic’s hatred for the civil rights movement. When President Johnson advocated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, “Dad and the Klan went berserk,” said Earcel Boyd Jr., who goes by his nickname Sonny. “This was the match that lit the fuses for all those bombs and violence.”
The Silver Dollar Group’s militant attitude about civil rights, and evidence that the FBI gathered at the time, made the Klan group and its members prime suspects in the murders of Frank Morris, Joe Edwards, Wharlest Jackson and the injuries to George Metcalfe in eastern Louisiana and southwest Mississippi from 1964 to 1967.
The FBI is known to have a strong interest in those cases, and is well aware of the Silver Dollar Group, some of whom are still alive. As the FBI continues to dig into unsolved civil rights murders, it is unclear how much evidence will lead back to Earcel Boyd, who died in 1988.
But on the day Leland Boyd first called Nelson, he told a story that unfolded in unexpected ways. “My dad and Frank Morris were good friends,” he said. “They had known each other a long time. I was in Mr. Frank’s shop at least twice a week with my dad.” Earcel Boyd even hosted Frank Morris in the Boyd home for dinner, he said.
The Boyd brothers cannot say for sure why their father was comfortable being a Klansman and claiming a black man as a friend. Morris was not active in civil rights, and was not seen as a threat.
“My dad's views were that everyone should be treated equally but the races should not mix,” Leland Boyd said. “He was a hypocrite and I learned that at an early age. But he always treated Mr. Frank as a true friend and was determined to find out who killed him.”
He recalled hearing his dad tell someone over the phone, “I’ll find out who did this and will get it taken care of.” Added another Boyd brother: “We understood that two of the men who killed Frank either left town or were taken care of in another way.… Dad said the two men were given a choice—turn yourselves in or be taken care of in another way.”
Indeed, Nelson had already reported that two Klansmen had been run out of town for unexplained reasons shortly after Morris’ shop burned.
But Morris was only one of the victims of Klan activity in the area, and Leland Boyd does not know if his belief that his father did not kill Morris extends to other victims. “All I want is the truth to come out,” he said during a recent visit to Ferriday. “If it comes out that my dad is the guilty party, my dad is the guilty party, period.”
For Leland Boyd, a recent visit with Nelson to the weed-covered remains of Frank Morris’ shop was emotional, filled with conflicting feelings. Boyd, even though he loved his father and was with him when he died, has emphatically rejected the racist attitudes his father tried to beat into him.
Offering to help, Boyd has said the family of Frank Morris should not have had to wait this long to find out what happened to him and who did it. “I’m hoping and praying,” Boyd said, pausing to hold back tears, “they’ll get to see closure.”