Stanley Nelson: A humble hero

By TERRY MATHEWSArts/Copy Editor of The Winnsboro News

I’ve got news.

Just heard that Stanley Nelson’s book, “Devil’s a-Walkin’: Klan Murders along the Mississippi in the 1960s,” is set for release in October. (LSU Press)

And that’s not all.

Nelson has agreed to make some stops in East Texas during his book tour and Winnsboro made the list.

Nelson, long-time editor at The Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday, Louisiana, (just across the river from Natchez) has been covering cold cases from the Civil Rights era since 2007.

frank-morris-shop-1950s_wide-50eb0a03bbf675766f46859825813b7b81dd4e23-s900-c85
Frank Morris (with apron and cap) stands in front of his shoe repair shop in Ferriday, Louisiana. Morris died in 1964, four days after he was badly burned when his shop was firebombed. The FBI interviewed Morris in the hospital, but the shopkeeper never told the agents who was behind the horrific crime. (Courtesy Photo)
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began with the story of Frank Morris, a black man who owned a shoe repair business in Nelson’s home town. Morris died four days after he was severely burned when his shop was fire-bombed. Although no one was charged with the crime, Nelson believes he knows who was responsible.

According to Nelson’s extensive investigation, Morris crossed the wrong white man. Morris charged Concordia Sheriff Deputy Frank DeLaughter for repairs done to his boots. DeLaughter didn’t want to pay the bill, but Morris insisted.

While Nelson doesn’t believe the men with DeLaughter intended to kill Frank Morris, he does think DeLaughter set the fire to put Morris out of business and show other blacks that “you don’t talk to a white deputy that way.”

Morris’ story is just one of more than 150 articles Nelson has written about tragice and mysterious deaths during the Civil Rights Movement. The stories have earned Nelson more than his share of death threats.

On the upside, he’s won numerous awards and has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

And, he caught the eye of best-selling author and Natchez native Greg Iles, who created a character in “Natchez Burning” based on Nelson. Iles also dedicated “Natchez Burning” to Nelson, “A Humble Hero.” The book is part of a trilogy that has been optioned for the small screen by Amazon Television.

I can hardly wait to read Nelson’s book and to hear him tell stories about the cold cases, how he tracked down witnesses and how his work prompted the FBI to revisit some of this country’s most brutal crimes.

In an 2014 interview, he told me, “I’m happy to do anything for Frank Morris and all these folks. One thing I want people to do is to care about them. The next step is for their stories to be taught in the classroom. This is our history.”

We need more Stanley Nelsons in this world.

 

 

 

 

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