‘Devil’s Walking’ author to give presentation about Martin Luther King Jr., Natchez Friday

Published 12:01 am Thursday, January 17, 2019


NATCHEZ — In 1966, a Natchez man was brutally murdered — kidnapped, shot multiple times and his body dumped over a bridge into a creek — but the men who did it walked free.

The victim, Ben Chester White, “wasn’t a part of any civil rights movement,” said Jeremy Houston, director at Miss-Lou Heritage Group and Tours. “He was just an old man who was only trying to live out his life.”

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This weekend, the next generation of Natchezians will have the opportunity to learn about Ku Klux Klan’s plot to kill White in an effort to lure Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Natchez and kill him, said Stanley Nelson, author of “Devil’s Walking” and editor of The Concordia Sentinel.

Nelson will give a presentation starting at 6 p.m. Friday at Miss-Lou Heritage Group and Tours, located at 199 St. Catherine St., and a $5 donation at the door will be given to Houston’s grandfather, Freeman Reason, whose house at Brenham Avenue and Minor Street burned last Saturday.

Nelson said the presentation focuses on White’s murder by three alleged members of the KKK — James Lloyd Jones, Claude Fuller and Ernest Avants.

Nelson spent a decade researching unsolved murders in the Mississippi, he said, during which he discovered a full confession Jones made to authorities, with all of the dirty details of White’s murder.

“One of the Klansmen thought that if they shot a black man in Natchez, it would draw Dr. King here so they could kill him, too,” Nelson said.

Jones, feeling a spiritual conviction for his crime, told authorities the entire plot. His confession, however, never made it to trial, Nelson said.

“This is one of many unsolved murders, or murders to which there was no justice,” he said. “We need to understand what happened and why. … Of course, things are much better today than they were in the 1960s, but there’s still a racial divide that exists here, even now.”

Houston said people today should understand the racial climate of Natchez, Mississippi in the 1960s and how it impacts them in 2019.

“Natchez was a dangerous place for a black man to be,” Houston said, “but there were still people who weren’t scared and fought for their freedom, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did. … The purpose of this program is to celebrate the life of Dr. King … and my hope is that it will bring the community together to understand our past so we won’t make those same mistakes again — to look at our past and move into the future.”