Exerlena Jackson’s husband died as a result of a car bomb outside of the International...
Wharlest Jackson Case
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One of the largest United Klans of America (UKA) rallies ever, which even featured the...
George Metcalfe and Wharlest Jackson survived 1964, one of the bloodiest and most...
The night Wharlest Jackson was murdered will remain in his wife’s memory forever....
Exerlena Jackson was proud of the job promotion her husband was offered in early 1967. He’d worked 12 hard years at the Armstrong Tire & Rubber plant in Natchez, and now was being offered a position in the chemical mixing plant.
Wharlest Jackson, her husband of 13 years, told her he’d be making 17 cents an hour, enough that she could quit her job as a cook at the black school and spend more time with their five children.
Exerlena felt Wharlest deserved a step up the short, elusive ladder available only occasionally to black employees. But she was not happy about the offer. The position had previously only been held by white men, and Jackson had won it over two white co-workers.
“I begged him not to take that job,” she would say later.
She reminded him that two years earlier, their good friend, George Metcalfe, had taken a promotion at Armstrong. It happened about the time Metcalfe had become president of the local NAACP and Jackson had been named treasurer.
In late August 1965, at about noon, Metcalfe crossed the parking lot at Armstrong Tire, got in his 1955 Chevrolet and turned the ignition switch. Instantly, an explosion shattered the calm.
He suffered broken limbs, facial lacerations and burns. Pieces of skin were torn from his body and his right eye was damaged. The Jacksons had nursed Metcalfe back to health and he was able to go back to work at Armstrong a year later. No one was ever charged.
Was Wharlest Jackson next? There was good reason to worry.
Scores of black men in the post-war civil rights era had been abducted, tortured, maimed and killed by Klansmen, some of them in law enforcement, with near impunity. Investigations, most by the FBI, were piling up, unsolved and unresolved. Many of those were in Southwest Mississippi and eastern Louisiana.
In Natchez and, across the Mississippi River, in Ferriday and Vidalia, Louisiana, and in many small towns around them, the close-knit black communities knew the victims, or their families or friends, and they knew the stories.
So Exerlena Jackson knew that Metcalfe had been fortunate. He had survived. She knew that many, like arson-murder victim Frank Morris in nearby Ferriday, had not. And she likely knew that some, such as Joe Edwards, whose parents lived in Natchez, had simply disappeared.
Edwards was a 25-year-old porter and handyman who had been working at the Shamrock Motel in Ferriday for about two years when the motel’s restaurant became the meeting ground for the Silver Dollar Group in 1964.
These were Klansmen who—as the 1964 Civil Rights Act was being passed in early July—believed the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and the United Klans of America were not aggressive enough against civil rights. They signaled their oath by carrying silver dollars minted in the year of their birth; several were in law enforcement.
Near midnight on July 12, 1964, Edwards was stopped by a police car while driving his 1958 Buick. He had spent the day shuttling his mother and siblings to and from a family barbeque, and was headed to the Shamrock. The motel had a reputation for housing prostitutes who worked at a legendary brothel in Natchez; some of Edwards’ relatives said he had been enlisted to transport the women and had crossed the racial barrier in his own sexual liaisons.
Edwards never made it to the Shamrock that night. His car was found where police had stopped it; a banker who was driving by told the FBI he had seen the law enforcement vehicle and a group of men surrounding Edwards’ car. Where Edwards went, or was taken, and by whom, was never discovered.
Three years later, the FBI was still gathering evidence that pointed to top brass inside the sheriff’s office—evidence that came from inside the sheriff’s office, from a white pastor, from the white banker. One FBI agent who worked the case recalled last year that his office received a report that Klansmen had taken Edwards to a remote barn, “hung him up and skinned him alive,” before they “disposed of his body.”
By 1967 when Wharlest Jackson was offered a promotion, the Southwide resistance to civil rights had become less violent. Jackson sought the opinion and NAACP field secretary Charles Evers (who had replaced his brother Medgar, who was murdered in 1963), and received encouragement to take the job.
A month after taking the promotion, Jackson worked his new dayside shift plus four hours of overtime. Soon after 8 p.m., he got in his pickup truck and headed toward home in a cold rain.
As he got near home, he put on his turn signal, triggering a massive explosion from a bomb planted below the truck frame beneath the driver’s seat.
Exerlena heard the explosion and knew instantly. “Oh, Lord,” she cried. “That’s Jackson. They got Jackson.”
The FBI investigation into Jackson’s murder generated 10,000 pages of documents that pointed to suspects, including the Silver Dollar Group. But more than four decades later, Jackson’s killers—like those who caused Metcalfe’s injuries and Edwards’ disappearance—have escaped prosecution.