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Wharlest Jackson remembered

Forty years ago Tuesday, Wharlest Jackson was murdered.

The 36-year-old father of five had finished his shift at Armstrong Rubber Company and was within a few blocks of his home when a bomb planted in his truck detonated on Minor Street.

Jackson was killed instantly. His son, Wharlest Jackson Jr. heard the explosion and jumped on his bike to go investigate. He has since said he saw his father dead in the street.

Wharlest Jackson was the treasurer of the Natchez branch of the NAACP, a position that placed him squarely in the crosshairs of the Adams County unit of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He had recently received a raise and a promotion at Armstrong to a position that was regarded as traditionally reserved for whites.

It was well known that for years the plant was infested with Klansmen and their sympathizers. In their eyes, Jackson’s acceptance of the promotion constituted a clear violation of the color line, and demanded violent reprisal.

For this, Jackson and his family paid the ultimate price.

As Black History Month nears its conclusion today, its intersection with the 40th anniversary of Wharlest Jackson’s death provides an opportunity to reflect on a painful moment in the history of Natchez.

According to Justice Court Judge Mary Toles, in the wake of Jackson’s murder, the mood within the black community was one of despair rather than rage.

“We thought things were getting better,” Toles said. “When Wharlest Jackson was bombed, people felt like it was all starting over. There was a sense of hopelessness.”

But leaders in the black and white communities appealed for calm.

“In the white community, I remember that Francis Trosclair, Mrs. Margie Baroni, Father William Morrisey and (Judge) Forrest Johnson were moderate whites who reached out to the black community,” Toles said.

Toles also remembers that the Rev. James Stokes, Mamie Mazique, George West and the Rev. Shead Baldwin, among others, worked to rally the spirit of the black community in Natchez in the wake of Jackson’s assassination.

No arrests were ever made in the case, and the murder of Wharlest Jackson has remained unsolved. The FBI reopened the investigation in 2005, but concluded last year that anyone connected with the assassination is probably dead. Wharlest Jackson Jr. remains unconvinced, however.

“They said the police records of the case had been lost or stolen. How can they say that everyone that was involved is dead, without having those records? I don’t really believe that. I won’t accept that. I’m a man of hope. I hope these records will resurface and that the truth will be told. That is my hope.”

The Wharlest Jackson Family will hold a candlelight ceremony at 7 p.m. Friday at the corner of Minor and Martin Luther King Jr. streets. The public is invited.