Clifton Walker Family Marks Bitter 50th Anniversary
On February 28, 1964, near midnight, Clifton Walker’s ride home from work was cut short. On the twisty unpaved road he took as a shortcut on the final leg of the drive from the International Paper plant in Natchez, Klansmen stopped his car and shot him multiple times in the face at point blank range.
Catherine Walker Jones and Shirley Walker Wright hold a picture of their father, Clifton Walker, and stand on Poor House Road, where he was killed. (Photo by Ben Greenberg)
Fifty years later, Clifton Walker’s children still wait for justice and search for answers about who was responsible for what happened that night on Poor House Road. In 1964, state and federal authorities conducted an unsuccessful investigation. Numerous suspects were considered but the documented evidence was thin, motives unclear and the case was dropped after nine months.
In 2009, following passage by civil rights hero and US Representative John Lewis of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, the Department of Justice re-opened the Walker murder along with 109 other unsolved cases.
Today, at Colorlines, I report on how the initial hopes of the Walker family for belated government action were ultimately dashed.
“At last somebody was going to talk to surviving old folks that could be witnesses,” Catherine at first had hoped, “and they could find the name of people who actually pulled the trigger. If they’re dead or alive, maybe we’ll know who did this.”
Since then, however, there has been a series disappointments from the Justice Department, culminating this past November. One week before Thanksgiving and on the birthday of Catherine’s late mother, Ruby Walker, an FBI agent appeared unannounced at Catherine’s New Orleans home to hand deliver a letter from the Justice Department, informing her that the case was closed.
“[A]fter determining that many of the individuals mentioned in the 1964 reports, including all the individuals alleged to have had any motive to harm your father, are now deceased,” the Department of Justice wrote to Catherine, “it became apparent that continued investigation would not lead to a viable prosecution of a living suspect. Accordingly, we have no choice but to close this investigation.”
“They only repeated things already written, things that came from the files,” in the letter’s summary of investigative results, Catherine says. “They did no work themselves at all. They never met with any of the family members. Their interest was not there.”
We’re also marking the 50th anniversary of the murder of Clifton Walker at Jerry Mitchell’s blog, Journey to Justice. There, I write about the family life that was shattered by the senseless and cowardly actions of a white mob in 1964, the family’s struggle to cope with the murder, and their determination to find the truth with or without the help of the government.
In the days following the funeral, Walker’s widow, Ruby, had a breakdown that frightened her children. “When Mama didn’t recognize her children, I knew we were in trouble,” said Catherine.
Ruby recovered from the breakdown, but she had to take medication to sleep each night until her death in 1992 at the age of 65.
Walker’s son, Cliff Jr., was 10 at the time of the slaying.
“He didn’t realize or know Daddy,” Catherine recalled. “He was the kind of man a son really should have known.”
Today’s reports are not the end of the story. I will be reporting on avenues of investigation unexplored by the FBI—so stay tuned.
(Cross-posted from benlog.net.)