Bombing of 1965 anniversary: Metcalfe remembered for courage, leadership
Published 2:21 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2023
By ROSCOE BARNES/Special to The Natchez Democrat
NATCHEZ – The bombing of George Metcalfe’s car on Aug. 27, 1965, was meant to kill him and cripple with fear the Black community. Instead, it became a tragedy that galvanized the Black community and led to one of the most successful civil rights movements in the South.
“The bomb that shook the earth below Metcalfe’s Chevrolet shook the black community out of its dormancy,” said Jack E. Davis in his book, “Race Against Time” (Louisiana State University Press, 2001).
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This week, on the 58th anniversary of Metcalfe’s bombing, local residents remember Metcalfe as a fearless leader who was bold and relentless in his fight for justice and equal opportunities for the Black community.
Denise Jackson Ford knew Metcalfe through her father, Wharlest Jackson Sr., who was a close friend of Metcalfe. Her father, who served as treasurer for the NAACP, was killed on Feb. 27, 1967, when his truck was bombed reportedly by members of the Klan.
“Mr. Metcalfe wanted equal rights for the citizens of Adams County and he stood up to the KKK’s and whites that thought differently” she said. “He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and was willing to do whatever he could for our city. Mr. Metcalfe shall be remembered for his courage, pleadings, and sacrifices for orchestrating and organizing the local NAACP here in Natchez.”
As president of the Natchez branch of the NAACP, Metcalfe’s work had resulted in threats from the Ku Klux Klan. Metcalfe worked at the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Company. After completing his shift at noon on Friday, Aug. 27, 1965, he got into his car. When he placed his key in the ignition and turned the switch, the car exploded. Metcalfe suffered burns and a broken arm from the explosion. His right leg was shattered in three places. His right eye was permanently damaged. Although many believe the bomb was planted in the car by the KKK, no one was ever charged for the crime.
Former Natchez Mayor Phillip West said the 1960s were a dangerous time for Natchez. “Metcalfe and many like him made many contributions to Natchez’s civil rights history,” he said. “They were living in a dangerous time when African Americans had few if any support from law enforcement and the local government. Natchez was a microcosm of the bigger and more wide-spread problem of racism.”
Natchez Alderman Billie Joe Frazier said he was one among many teenagers who participated in the marches. He said Metcalfe played an important role in the Natchez Movement.
“He deserved all the credit for helping to get things started in Adams County,” he said. “It all started at the grassroots level. We were the young people then who took everything to the forefront.”
Impact of bombing
The impact of the bombing was immediate and clear as hundreds of Blacks held rallies and began to March in protest. The protests included boycotts of White businesses, picketing, and armed protection.
“When Klansmen bombed Metcalfe, they intended to kill him and as a consequence so terrify the Black community that the fight for civil rights and equality in Natchez would end,” said Stanley Nelson, author of “Devils Walking” (Louisiana State University Press, 2016). “They failed on both goals. Not only did Metcalfe survive, but the attack on him inspired the Black community to fight harder and in a matter of weeks, the demands put forth by the NAACP for change in Natchez were approved by city officials.”
Local historian Jeremy Houston said the bombing impacted Natchez in many ways. For one thing, he said, it brought national and local attention to the movement in Natchez.
“It also sparked a sort of revolutionary spirit through the black community in Natchez,” he noted. “The bombing brought leaders like Charles Evers, Rev Al Sampson, Dorie Ladner, and William “Bill” Ware to the forefront of the Natchez movement.”
Houston said the bombing also led to the establishment of the Deacons for Defense and Justice in Natchez. The deacons provided armed protection for the civil rights activists and the black community.
“The black community came together socially, politically, and economically,” Houston explained. “After the bombing, the black community of Natchez organized the greatest economic boycott or protest in the state of Mississippi. The black community at that time damn near hurt the white community economically by not shopping in their establishments.”
In short, Black unity and organization towards a common goal showed that “white supremacy can be strangled and thrown in the Mississippi River,” Houston said.
Neither the bombing nor his injuries dampened Metcalfe’s courage. He and others like him laid the foundation on which Natchez’s progress would be built and experienced for generations to come.
“I can say this wholeheartedly, if it wasn’t for George Metcalfe, Natchez would’ve been a different place for someone like me to grow up,” said Houston.
Houston said Natchez can do a better job of commemorating Metcalfe. He honored him regularly through his company, Miss Lou Heritage Group and Tours, from 2016 to 2020, he said. “I will continue to educate and tell everyone who I encounter in this life about how George Metcalfe stood up for equality for his people in Natchez, Mississippi. Without George Metcalfe there’s no new generation of Natchez leaders to lead us into the 21st century.”
Nelson was impressed by the bravery Metcalfe showed after his recovery. “When I think of Metcalfe, I think of his amazing courage. After a year of recovery from his wounds, he returned to work at Armstrong Tire,” Nelson said. “This was where the attack on him was perpetrated, and this is where the Klan leader who ordered the attack worked. I believe very few of us would have the courage to do that. He didn’t run and he didn’t hide.”