First come a in three parties series.
Although 57 years have passed, Leland Boyd still can’t forget the smell of burning human flesh.
In December 1964, Lelandthen 12, stood in the doorway of a hospital room, where Frank Morris, a 51-year-old black man man from Ferriday, Louisiana, lay in critical condition after two men had burned down his shoe store.
Morris was a friend of the Boyd family. Leland and his father, Earcel Boyd father, had spent many afternoons after school in Morris’ shop. He fixed shoes for Leland and his siblings and even dined with the white family on occasion.and the friendship continued after Earcel joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1962.
“Frank, who did this? Leland, now 70, remembers his father repeatedly asking Morris as he lay in his hospital bed. “I thought they were my friends,” Morris kept replying.
Morris died of his burns four days later in what the FBI believed was a racially motivated arson attack. Prior to his death, friends, family members and FBI agents desperately probed Morris to identify his attackers, but he said he did not know them.
Leland is still haunted by this scene in the hospital room. “Human flesh smells different when burned than beef, pork or chicken,” he said. “It has a smell that you will never forget. That’s all I could feel. This is one of those experiences that I wish I could get out of my head.
His brother Sonny74, noted their father’s anger at horrible murder also reflected more than his love for Morris.
Earcel was a member of the United States Klans of America in Louisiana, a branch of the KKK, and he was furious, Sonny said, “that someone would enter his territory without his permission and do something like that.
Earcel Boyd’s reaction to Morris’ death illustrates the conflicting impulses in himsay his sons, and how he gradually changed from a man who had taught his Young the children to to treat everyone with respect, regardless of skin colorto an ardent segregationist.
Earcelan ordained Baptist pastor, preached to black congregations before and after he became a Klansmen, sometimes frequenting clan gatherings on saturday and then preaching in black churches on Sundays.
But he “also had a rage in him,” Sonny said, hitting his children with his fists or any object he could find, especially as they began to questioning his beliefs and what the Klan stood for.
Earcel also belonged to the Silver Dollar Group, a violent offshoot of the Klan believed to be implicated in several murders, although he was never charged with a crime or listed as a suspect by the FBI in any of the cases.
In several interviews, Sonny, who now lives in Oregon, and Lelandwho lives in Natchitoches, Louisiana, offered a rare preview of what it was like to grow up in a Klan household. They also spoke candidly about how’s it goinghat shaped their lives and who they are today.
Both say they felt from an early age that their father was a hypocritegiven that he acted in a way that seemed so paradoxical. “Enigma” is the recurring word Sonny uses to describe him.
There are common elements between the Boyds and other Klan families whoto Lives were filled with hate and insults.
Stanley Nelson, who wlike a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the Klan murders during the vswrong rlights–era in Louisiana and Mississippi, said the children of Klansmen often grew up in unstable homes.
“Most of the Klan kids that I know and have known have had tremendous difficulties in their lives,” Nelson said. “In some cases, fathers were authoritarian, cruel, had total control – were often not good providers.
“Race was not a barrier”
Sonny said the seeds which would lead him to question his father’s racial views were posed when he was only four years old and the Boyd family lived close a 99-year-old black woman who had spent it childhood as a slave.
Son reminded that he and her older sister, Lilly, would like makeand their way on a dirt road shootan empty red Fsleeping car for their black neighbors‘ house, about 300 yards behind theirs, in Fenwick, Mississippi.
Soon their cart will be filled with free state goods, such as eggs, spam and milk, this black family shareD with the same poor Boys. sonny referss to the family there as an uncle Levi, Uncle Perry, Aunt Luela and granny corawho said to children’s stories of his emancipation and survival of the civil war.
“They treated us like their own children,” Sonny said. “They were so nice to us.”
Sonny said his Parents I trusted themr neighbors and counted on their altruism to share food.
“I never thought about their color when I walked into their house,” he said.
Living on the edge of poverty, Boys traveled a total of nine times to Mississippi and Louisiana late 1940s to late 1950s.
He said his father play a way the family’s home and land during a poker game in 1949, forcing the family to live on dirt floors in a Quonset hut at a chicken farm belonging to from Earcel brother.
Around this time, Earcel started making decent money at the Armstrong Tire plant in Natchezbut much of it did not return home or reach its creditors.
“Dad didn’t like paying the bills,” Sonny said.
Earcelle also religion rediscovered. HI had walked away from this after fighting in the Pacific The Second World War corn later became a Baptist pastor and began preaching in black churches around Natchez, Mississippi.
The rest of the family, at the time three boys and their big sister, often accompanied their father to services, where they were the only white faces in the swaying crowd of worshipers. Sonny said their family is well known in the black community around Natchez and that Earcel at the time taught his children to respect everyone, white or black.
“Did you probably say something to him about Klans at that point he probably would have slapped you,” Sonny said. “My father, at that time, taught us that we must show respect and have respect for everyone. And race was no barrier to that.
“As a Christian, you can’t be like that”
But in the 1950s, their father’s racial views began to change. Like many white people around him, he became increasingly concerned about the growing civil rights movement.
Earcel at one point had Recount his sons that the sky would be a place of spirits without body or skin color. At other times he said that blacks and whites would go to heaven, but eternal heaven would be separated.
from Earcel violent the trends became clearer, Sonny said, and you could never tell how far he would go or predict who would bear the brunt of his punches.
Sonny called back this the first time he witnessed his father’s violence it was when they lived near the Black family in Fenwick. Earcel picked up another brother, Shelbywho was then only 2 years old, by one arm and beat him “with the sole of his shoe” for laughing during family prayer.
When Leland was nine years old, he asked one of from Earcel religious beliefs on a family car ride a church or their father had just given a sermon. Earcel often asked What his children thought of his sermonscorn he did notohI do not tolerate any questioning.
Leland didnotoht like the idea of “once saved, always saved,” a Protestant view that claims that someone who turns to a life of Christ will continue to do good deeds and stay on the path to heaven.
When Leland expressed his opposition, Earcel pulled the emergency brake while driving on a gravel road, got out of the vehicle and beat Leland to the side of the road with his belt, all in a sweeping motion that ended before the cloud of dust behind the car cannot dissipate.
“He threw me at my sister and said, ‘Boy, as long as you live in my house, you are going to believe what I tell you to believe,” Leland said. “And it was kind of a scary experience for a 9-year-old.”
No more violence at home
Armstrong Tire was a hotbed of Klan recruiting efforts, and Earcel was brought into the fold by a colleague there in 1962.
As the Boyd brothers grew older, they questioned their father more and more.especially on the Klan.
“‘Dad, I understand enough to know that as a Christian you can’t be like that,'” Leland recalled challenging Earcel for his involvement in the Klan. “I had a hard time getting out of it. How could my father encourage us to have a relationship with Aunt Luella, Uncle Levi and Granny Cora, and be friends with Frank?
Leland, in his teens, was much stronger than his father, and at one point nearly killed him.
After Leland and his younger brother were badly beaten one day, Leland pointed a loaded gun at the back of from Earcel head as he walked out of the room where he and his father had just yelled at each other.
“He was ruthless that day,” Leland said. “I was just fair ready to pull the trigger. And my mother came between him and me. And she said, ‘Leland, it’s not worth it.’ »
A particularly violent explosion of Earcel towards her daughter Lilly landed him in a mental hospital, where he received shock therapy.
“So he was gone for five or six months, and during that time we didn’t really have any income,” Sonny said.adding that the episode “got us in such bad shape that we also lost this house”.