Black History Month: A time of reflection

Published 9:57 am Sunday, February 27, 2022

Fifty-five years ago today — at 8 p.m. on Feb. 27, 1967 — an explosion rocked Natchez. For many in our community, life would never be the same.

On his way home from work, just six blocks from Armstrong Rubber and Tire Company where he had worked for 12 years, Wharlest Jackson Sr. turned on his blinker on Minor Street. This simple action triggered a bomb mounted to the frame under the driver’s side of his 1958 Chevrolet pickup truck. The result was immediate, killing Mr. Jackson, and leaving to grieve his memory his wife Exerlena, his five children, Debra Jean, Doris Arlene, Delresia, Denise and Wharlest Jr., and a host of family, co-workers and friends.

Mayor Dan Gibson

Mr. Jackson, a 36-year-old veteran of the Korean War and Treasurer of the Natchez Chapter of the NAACP had just taken a promotion and a 17 cent per hour raise to a position traditionally held by whites. It is suspected that a conspiracy orchestrated by members of the Silver Dollar Group, an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan, was responsible for Mr. Jackson’s death. No one, however, was ever prosecuted and despite an investigation that yielded over 10,000 pages of documentation, the case was eventually closed.

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Many years later, the case would be reopened, only to be closed again. By then it was too late. Suspects and key witnesses were themselves deceased.

When I took the office of Mayor of Natchez in July of 2020, I pledged to be a Mayor who would tell “the whole story,” and this is what Black History is about — telling the whole story.

During the month of February, we have had many opportunities to reflect upon this history. In doing so, we must realize it is American history that affects us all. Lest we forget, we should go the extra mile to remember those, both black and white, who worked so hard so that Natchez could eventually become the place we know and love today: a city of unity, community, and opportunity, a city of peace and love. It is even more important to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice — people like Wharlest Jackson, Sr.

The war for Civil Rights has not been an easy one, but oh how far we have come. What was only a dream to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in August of 1963 when he addressed thousands from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, is now becoming a reality in our present time: “Even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

I do not take it for granted, not for a second, that I myself am a grateful recipient of the struggles that have gone before me. We all are so blessed to live in this time of expanded freedom and equality. This brings me to another important reflection: the Parchman Ordeal of 1965.

In honor of Black History month and those who were affected by this dark chapter in our city’s history, I would like to invite you to join our city, the Honorable Phil Bryant, 64th Governor of the State of Mississippi, and the Honorable Darryl Washington Grennell, 43rd Mayor of the City of Natchez in the re- dedication of the Proud to Take A Stand Monument.

Under the leadership of Mayor Grennell, and Committee Chairman Robert Pernell and a small group of hardworking volunteers, this beautiful monument was erected in 2019 as the only permanent structure dedicated to this very somber yet important part of our civil rights history. Recently, we have added new lighting, improved landscaping, new interpretative panels, and additional names of individuals involved in the Parchman Ordeal.
Please join us as we honor those who fought for equality and justice. It is Black History. It is our history. Natchez Deserves More.

Dan Gibson is mayor of Natchez.