White’s son remembers ‘simple man’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 25, 2000

Jessie White has typical childhood memories of his father — from helping his dad pull corn to receiving a homemade toy wagon his father carved for him.

But White also has more painful memories than most sons ever endure — of reports of his father’s brutal murder and trials that ended without justice for his alleged killers. White’s father, black Natchez farmhand Ben Chester White, was murdered 34 years ago. His decapitated body was found in Homochitto National Forest. He had been shot more than a dozen times.

Three white men were charged with the crime; one man’s trial ended in a hung jury, a second man, Ernest Henry Avants, was acquitted in a 1967 state trial and a third man was never tried.

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&uot;It was hard to expect justice in those days,&uot; said Jessie White, who sat through much of the trial proceedings. &uot;Especially in the South.&uot;

But this month, FBI agents arrested Avants, 69, the only surviving suspect, on federal charges because White’s murder happened on federal property.

Avants is free on $50,000 bond and faces an August trial.

&uot;I’m glad to see that justice is going to be served,&uot; White said.

White, 62 now, was a young man when his father was murdered. Raised by his grandparents in Baton Rouge, La., where he still lives, he often visited his father in Natchez.

&uot;I remember when I was a young kid helping (my father) pull corn,&uot; White said. &uot;I was maybe 3, 4 years old. I remember him making me a wagon out of a whitewood tree.&uot;

Although White’s murder is one of several Civil Rights-era cases that have been reopened in recent years, White was not a typical Civil Rights-era victim. He was never involved in the Civil Rights movement or outspoken for blacks’ rights, his son said.

&uot;He was a plain, simple, mild-mannered Christian man&uot; from a &uot;very good, humble family,&uot; White said.

The years since his father’s murder seem to have eased some of White’s pain over the events. &uot;It’s kind of hard for you to realize,&uot; White said. &uot;But you bear with it, and you accept it. It’s something that you have to live with, and you have to look for some peace.&uot;

But time has not dulled White’s quest for justice. &uot;Maybe I can see daylight at the end of the tunnel,&uot; he said.