Civil rights cases deserve new attention

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 17, 2005

&8220;There is no act in the long history of Natchez that is as wanton, dastardly, brutal and senseless as the murder of Wharlest Jackson, highly valued employee of Armstrong Rubber Company and highly respected citizen of the community on Monday night.&8221;

So began the front-page editorial in The Natchez Democrat on Wednesday, March 1, 1967. Jackson had been killed when dynamite planted in his truck exploded as he drove away from work.

His wife and children were waiting at home.

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Three years earlier, two families lost loved ones when Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore went missing in Franklin County. Their beaten, mutilated bodies were found weeks later in the Mississippi River south of Tallulah, La.

But for decades, there has been no justice in either case.

The U.S. attorney in Jackson, Dunn Lampton, is now pledging new investigations. He joins Natchez police, who reopened the Jackson case in recent years, and District Attorney Ronnie Harper, who considers the Dee and Moore case never closed.

&8220;All of our citizens Š have indeed been shocked by the news of the tragedy and are calling upon the peace officers here Š to absolutely leave no stone unturned regardless of the cost and effort to find out who was responsible for this dastardly crime, arrest those responsible and see that they are convicted in court and pay the supreme penalty.&8221;

The Dee and Moore case likely has a much greater chance of going to trial. Authorities believe the suspects in Jackson’s murder are dead, but two men originally arrested in Dee and Moore’s murders were never tried.

&8220;We believe that all of our people want fairness and justice for everyone and will cooperate with the officers in bringing to the bar of justice those who have destroyed the peace, harmony and understanding, and see that they are thoroughly punished for their actions.&8221;

We think terrorism is a buzzword of our own time, but Dee, Moore and Jackson were hunted and killed by no less than terrorists. They were killed by people who wanted to instill fear in their neighbors, who could murder in cold blood and in cowardly fashion.

Both cases were racially motivated: Jackson had been promoted to a so-called &8220;whites-only&8221; job at Armstrong, while Dee and Moore are said to have been killed by Klansmen.

Their families deserve justice in these cases, and their communities deserve justice. Southwest Mississippi has come a long way since the 1960s, but solving these cases could bring us even further. It isn’t about healing or closure, although those might certainly come with convictions.

It is about justice: The passage of time has not lessened the horror of these crimes, not for the families and not for Adams or Franklin counties or the entire state of Mississippi.

These two cases &045; though all of the names are inscribed on the civil rights memorial in Montgomery, Ala., alongside Martin and Medgar &045; have been almost forgotten as more high-profile cases finally went to trial.

But now it is time. As Lampton has said, &8220;We just owe it to them.&8221;

Kerry Whipple

Bean is editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3541 or by email at