Wharlest Jackson was murdered in Natchez, Mississippi on February 27, 1967. He was 36 years old at the time of his death. A native Floridian and combat veteran of the Korean War, Jackson served as treasurer of the Natchez NAACP. He was married to Exerlena Jackson and the couple had five children.
In February 1967, Jackson was offered a coveted promotion at the Armstrong Rubber Company, a tire plant in Natchez. Fearing for his life, Jackson’s wife pleaded with him to forgo the promotion. But Jackson knew the 17-cent an hour raise would help him provide for his family. After accepting the promotion to a “white” position, Jackson began to receive threatening messages at work.
According to the NAACP, the Armstrong Rubber Company was “infested with Ku Klux Klansmen.” Black employees at the plant had been organizing for fair treatment for years, including George Metcalfe, President of the Natchez NAACP and a close friend of Jackson’s. Metcalfe had led an effort to open jobs and desegregate the eating facilities, bathrooms and drinking fountains at Armstrong. In 1965, a bomb planted under the hood of Metcalfe’s car exploded just outside the Armstrong plant. Metcalfe survived, but was seriously injured. With Jackson’s help, he recovered and returned to Armstrong a year later. Metcalfe and Jackson had been riding to work together, but the two men went on different shifts shortly before Jackson’s death.
On February 27, 1967, as Jackson was driving home from work, a bomb exploded in his 1958 Chevrolet truck, killing him instantly. The Natchez Police Department arrived on the scene and found Jackson’s truck blown to bits – the blast blew out the top of the truck, the front and rear glass, both doors and the hood.
The Natchez community was shocked and appalled by Jackson’s murder. Charles Evers and the Natchez NAACP organized a protest, leading 2,000 demonstrators to watch the changing of the shift at the Armstrong plant. From the Armstrong plant, the demonstrators marched to the place where Jackson died, and then to Rosehill Baptist Church, where they had an hour-long meeting. Even Governor Paul Johnson, infamously hostile to the NAACP, called Jackson’s murder “an act of savagery which stains the honor of our state.”
After Jackson’s death, the FBI launched an intensive probe that it quickly expanded to include other Klan-related murders and crimes. Investigators speculated that Jackson was a victim of the Silver Dollar Group, a violent, heavily armed cell of the Ku Klux Klan. The Silver Dollar Group had about 20 members, each of whom carried a silver dollar minted in the year he was born as evidence of membership in the cell. Several members had experience with explosives. The FBI identified Raleigh Jackson “Red” Glover, the leader of the Silver Dollar Group, as the primary suspect in both the Jackson and Metcalfe bombings.
Although the FBI undertook an extensive investigation and identified Raleigh Jackson “Red” Glover as the primary suspect, there were never any arrests made in the case. Former Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff and investigators examined the case in 1998, but determined that those involved in the murder were dead. In 2005, U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton reopened the case, and met with representatives from the FBI, Mississippi Department of Public Safety and the Attorney General’s office, as well as local officials from Natchez. More than 40 years after the murder, the case is still open and no arrests have been made. As of May 2010, the case appeared on the FBI Cold Case List.
In August 2010, Wharlest Jackson’s family met its fundraising goal for a commemorative marker to place at the site of his death.