50 years later, historic bombing remembered

Published 12:01 am Sunday, August 30, 2015

NATCHEZ — Fifty years ago on Aug. 27, 1965, a bomb ripped through the car of a local Civil Rights leader and ignited a movement in Natchez.

That movement, Civil Rights activists say, has helped open doors for African-American leadership in Natchez and a better community for all people.

Work in Natchez for the Civil Rights Movement was under way when the NAACP’s Natchez chapter president George Metcalfe’s car was bombed, severely injuring him and causing uproar in the black community. Metcalfe was an employee at Armstrong Rubber Company and had been promoted, making him a target for local white supremacists.

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Nearly a year and a half later, Metcalf’s friend and fellow NAACP officer Wharlest Jackson Sr. would be killed after a bomb planted under the driver’s seat of his truck detonated on his way home from Armstrong, where he had recently received a promotion.

Former NAACP secretary Jessie Bernard Williams was to be picked up by Metcalfe and taken to the NAACP office that day when she received word Metcalfe’s car had been bombed.

“I was at the office at 9 St. Catherine St., and I heard it go off,” Williams said. “The phone rang, and it was a man’s voice and he said, ‘George’s car has been bombed. George is dead.’”

A phone call to the office two days before the bombing played vividly in Williams’ memory.

“A man called looking for George, and he was there, but I told the man he wasn’t,” Williams said. “The man said, ‘Well, you tell George that I have something for him that goes tick, tick, tick.’”

Williams would later find out after NAACP members went to the hospital that Metcalfe had survived. Metcalfe would never fully recover from his injuries, but he did later return to his job at Armstrong.

Charles Evers, brother of slain activist Medgar Evers, arrived in Natchez that afternoon, and the NAACP prepared for a mass rally at Metcalfe’s house.

“More than 1,000 people lined the streets that night as cameramen’s lights flashed,” Williams said, reading from notes she took then for the NAACP. “Mr. Evers reminded everyone that we must be careful and not let our emotions erupt into violence and then he asked them to disperse carefully to their homes.”

There would be no march.

“Charles cried that night because he couldn’t take them out there to march,” Williams said. “But he couldn’t, not in the state of mind they were in … to have a bloodbath.”

Meanwhile, the paramilitary group the Deacons for Defense and Justice mobilized to guard activists and members of the black community.

The Rev. James Stokes, who served as chairman of the Deacons, said members spread throughout the community to ensure African-Americans were protected.

“I was losing sleep over trying to figure out how we were going to protect people,” Stokes said.

On Aug. 28, the day after Metcalfe’s car was bombed, local black leaders presented a list of demands to Natchez mayor John Nosser and the board of aldermen.

Among those demands, the leaders called for the city to denounce the Ku Klux Klan, desegregate public facilities and schools, ensure black men and women were addressed as “Mr.” and “Mrs”, rather than uncle, auntie, boy or girl, appoint qualified black leaders to the school board, enact an adequate housing code to eliminate slums and other calls for action.

Those demands and the hard work to ensure they were met paved the way for a better life for all Natchezians, Friends of the Forks of the Road coordinator Ser Seshs Ab Heter-Boxley said.

That work also ensured African-Americans could serve on the school board, board of aldermen and as law enforcement leaders.

Natchez saw the election of its first black mayor in 2004 and the county’s first black sheriff since Reconstruction this year.

“Those are the types of far-reaching results of African-Americans finally gaining the right to vote and as part of the movement that was escalated by events like George Metcalfe’s car bombing,” Boxley said.

The aim, Williams said, is that elections of African-American leaders are not just victories for the black community.

“It’s not about separatism,” Williams. “Travis (Patten, newly elected county sheriff) was elected by the whole community, and that’s the goal. That’s what George was fighting for.”