Nation & World

Daughter of Louisiana Ku Klux Klan member recalls her father’s reigns of terror

DAVID J. LAPLANTE| MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE

COURTESY DAVID J. LAPLANTE
Debra Taylor, haunted by her past, looks out over the Amite River houseboat near Port Vincent. Her father was a notorious Klan member in east central Louisiana during the 1960s.
COURTESY DAVID J. LAPLANTE Debra Taylor, haunted by her past, looks out over the Amite River houseboat near Port Vincent. Her father was a notorious Klan member in east central Louisiana during the 1960s.

Debra Taylor remembers many things these days, nightmares she tried hard to forget.

She remembers throwing up as she got off the school bus and walked up the road to her home in the small Louisiana town of Harrisonburg, fearing the abusive father awaiting her.

She remembers her father being so irate after a black 15-year-old boy from a recently integrated high school wrote a harmless note to a female classmate that he led a cross-burning in the teen’s yard.

And she vividly remembers her father confessing near the end of his life to disposing of the bodies of black people by bundling them in barbed wire and dumping them into Alligator Bayou near their Harrisonburg home.

These and more memories so rattled her that at 62, Taylor decided to reveal her family’s secrets. In interviews with the LSU Manship School Cold Case Project from her modest houseboat at Port Vincent, she recounted painful details of life with James “Sonny” Taylor, identified in FBI files as a member of the Silver Dollar Group, a Klan unit that believed violence was the only way to keep black people from gaining rights as the South struggled with embryonic integration.

Debra Taylor was immersed in the racial violence and hate culture that thrived in Klan pockets of 1960s Louisiana. She did not agree with her father, but for the longest time, she said she felt guilty because she said nothing.

Sonny Taylor was mean, she said, exercising his violent anger on anyone — spouses, children, friends and strangers — but especially on black people who didn’t know “their place.”

Debra’s grandfather, her hero and a veteran city marshal, despised his son, she said, and the rest of his family feared him.

The Silver Dollar Group, regionally centered in Concordia Parish, terrorized, assaulted and killed black people in east central Louisiana and nearby Mississippi in the 1960s. Some area lawmen either were sworn Klan members or sympathizers. Either way, they turned a blind eye to justice.

Debra Taylor remembers serving these men coffee and beer when they visited her father as she was growing up.

To read the rest of this story, visit the New Orleans Advocate.

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