In 1960s Laurel, Edwards acts as one-man Klan

Laurel Leader

Part 1 of this series described local terrorist incidents in 1966 that were all led by Francis Raymond Edwards, a North Laurel-based leader of the Ku Klux Klan, who was a master at manipulating the media and garnering publicity for himself. His narcissistic addiction to self-promotion eventually led to his downfall in the secretive racist organization.

All quotes in this article, unless otherwise referenced, are from Edwards’ FBI file, which I received after filing a Freedom of Information Act request. Repeated attempts to contact Edwards were unsuccessful.

In 1967, Edwards, who went by the name “Xavier Edwards,” concentrated his Klan activities to mostly Laurel and Howard County.

In June of 1966, after he was expelled from the national Klan organization, Edwards announced the formation of his own splinter group that “would cooperate with the American Nazi Party (ANP) as they had similar aims.” At the end of 1966, Edwards announced he was moving the headquarters of his organization, the Interstate Klan Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, to Main Street in Ellicott City after naming Baltimore its “target city” for 1967. He told the Baltimore Sun he needed his own headquarters because the national Klan “is not militant enough,” and he called its members “cream puffs.”

Although space was rented on Main Street, his gas station in North Laurel on Route 1 continued to be his headquarters, and he received plenty of publicity for the idea of moving into Ellicott City. The Central Maryland News reported that Edwards said that the Klan “expects a lot of trouble this year.”

In January 1967, Edwards met with Philip Jenkins, the director of Freedom International, a “militantly anti-Communist civil rights group,” according to the Sun, who just happened to have a reporter there. Jenkins “was accompanied by eight steel-helmeted Negro youths who belong to Freedom International’s rifle club” and two attack dogs. Jenkins supposedly asked to meet after Edwards bragged in the Sun that “the Interstate Klan was going to use the same methods in its Baltimore project as it used in the deep South.”

“I wanted to sway him from violence and inform him that the Baltimore Negro was different from the Southern Negro,” Jenkins told the Sun. Incredibly, this meeting, with a Sun reporter present, took place in front of the Laurel Police Department on Montgomery Street. After a short conversation, Edwards “did engage in friendly target practice with the group in a woods about two miles from the police station.” Afterward, the Sun quoted “14-year old Leonard Couplin,” one of the “steel-helmeted Negro youths,” as saying Edwards “was all right.”

In February, a month after their “meeting,” Jenkins and Edwards worked together to harass a Jewish-owned bookstore in Baltimore by smashing the front window, firebombing the doorway and other acts of vandalism. Jenkins was soon extradited to Massachusetts to face felony charges.

In March, a confidential informant advised the FBI that, at a meeting of the Maryland Klan in Baltimore, “Vernon Naimaster, the Great Titan of Maryland, warned the membership present against Xavier Edwards of the IK and stated that he (Edwards) is a ‘nut’ and felt that eventually Edwards would wind up in jail.”

Over the Easter weekend of March 25-26, three crosses were burned in Laurel: one on Main Street in front of Hank’s Billiards, a “pool hall frequented by Negroes,” another “near the Carver Memorial Cemetery along Rt. 1 near Beltsville,” and the third at an abandoned gas station a few doors from Edwards’ Phillips 66 gas station on Route 1, according to the Washington Star. An unlighted fourth cross was discovered in front of St. Marks Methodist Church in the Grove, Laurel’s historic black community. “A package of matches was found nearby,” according to Laurel police.

The next day, Edwards called the Associated Press at 4 a.m. to announce his resignation as head of the Interstate Klan. “Edwards blamed what he called harassment from police and the press for his resignation,” said the AP. Edwards also added that “he feared the Interstate Knights would resort to violence in the future and that he did not want to be a party to such behavior.”

Edwards told the AP that 15 crosses were burned in the Laurel area over the weekend by Klansmen in an effort to get him to change his mind. When the AP reporter said three crosses were burned, “Edwards said that the Laurel Police Department was of poor quality and did not know anything.” In the AP story about the “resignation,” Laurel Police Chief Robert Kaiser is quoted as saying, “hogwash” and noted, “the Chief termed Edwards a publicity seeker.”

The day was far from over. On Laurel’s radio station WLMD, “Edwards stated that several people had come to him stating that it was not safe for whites or Negroes to walk the streets of Laurel” and that the cross-burnings over the weekend “were a warning to the City of Laurel about the problem.”

At 11a.m., Laurel Mayor Merrill Harrison received a telegram from Edwards: “Dear Sir Request appointment at 1pm Monday 27th March 67 to bring to your attention racial problems in Laurel Xvier [sic] Edwards Imperial Wizard Interstate Klan”

Harrison phoned Edwards and invited him to appear at that evening’s City Council meeting to be heard. With Edwards’ assent, the entire, brief conversation was recorded, and he agreed to attend the meeting. Predictably, Edwards didn’t show up. Kaiser, however, advised the FBI that “four white males in a gold Dodge Dart did appear at Laurel with what appeared to be Klan robes in the back of this vehicle. These individuals were dressed in civilian clothes and alternated leaving the council meeting and returning.”

The bizarre day ended with an article in the Evening Sun in which Edwards claimed that “the Klan burned dozens of crosses in Laurel and elsewhere in Maryland the night before as a personal salute to their outgoing chieftain.” Chief Kaiser, Howard County Police Chief J.L. Larrimore, PG County Inspector Roland Sweitzer and officials with Baltimore County, Baltimore City and the Maryland State Police all felt, according to the FBI, that Edwards “exaggerates or lies when furnishing information to anyone, including the press, and is probably trying to harass the entire law enforcement community.”

His actions on April 25,1967 are hard to understand. At 3 a.m., witnesses observed Edwards stealing a movable oil rack filled with 50 quarts of motor oil from the Hardesty Service Station on Route 1 in Beltsville. “Edwards took the oil to a Phillips 66 Service Station on Route Number 1, Laurel, Maryland, which he reportedly operates and broke open the moveable container which contained the oil.” On May 2, he was arrested at his gas station on a warrant based on a Grand Jury indictment that charged him with Grand Larceny. Edwards was released from the PG County Jail on $2,500 bail.

Even with his trial date set for July 19, Edwards saw no need to lay low. A week later, Howard County Police observed Edwards, in his Klan robe, burning a cross at his Phillips 66 station. “Inasmuch as Edwards burned the cross on his own private property there was no violation of the law.”

On June 9, for the second time, there was an attempted arson at Hank’s Billiards on Main Street.

On June 17, a simmering feud with a neighboring business boiled over, with the potential for violence. A month earlier, John Morris, owner of Allen’s Town House restaurant, which was located near the Phillips 66 station, refused to serve Edwards and 20 robed Klansmen. This time, when Morris refused to serve 10 robed Klansmen, things got ugly. Howard County Police reported that “after a man came into the restaurant on Saturday night and flashed a Klan card, Mr. Morris’ son, Robert, assembled about 25 of his friends who are University of Maryland students to guard the restaurant.”

According to the Sun, “The presence of the students caused Mr. Edwards to round up a group of about 50 persons. Howard County Police said they were just a ‘bunch of hoodlums.’” Howard County Police advised the FBI “that these groups faced each other for approximately two hours but no clash occurred between them. He believes that only a show of police force caused the clash to be averted.”

Three days later, according to the Sun, “seven carloads of Klansmen rode through Howard and Anne Arundel counties for about 2½ hours … led by Xavier Edwards. Each car displayed a Confederate flag. ‘I don’t know what they were trying to prove,’ Sgt. R.O. Matthews, of the Howard County Police, said.”

On June 27, Edwards broke into the New Yorker Inn, a motel on Route 1 in Waterloo, and stole an air conditioner. A Howard County Grand Jury returned an indictment of Edwards charging him with Breaking and Entering. He was released on $11,000 bond.

The worst was yet to come.

In Part 3, Laurel experiences the worst racial incident in its history

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