FEBRUARY 27, 1967

Natchez police and agents from the FBI inspect the truck that exploded in a bomb blast and killed Wharlest Jackson on 27 February 1967. Credit: Associated Press

Wharlest Jackson Sr., a Korean War veteran and treasurer of the NAACP branch in Natchez, Mississippi, became a Ku Klux Klan target after he was promoted to a whites-only position at his job in Natchez. It was a promotion his wife, Exerlena Jackson, wanted him to turn down because of what had happened two years earlier to their friend, George Metcalfe, who received a similar promotion — only to be injured by a bomb when he started his 1955 Chevrolet. 

The Jackson family helped nurse Metcalfe back to health. Wharlest Jackson had just finished his shift at the Armstrong Rubber and Tire Co. and was heading home. Four blocks later, the turn signal tripped the wire to a bomb that Klansmen had planted in his truck. The explosion killed him instantly, hurling his roof hundreds of feet. His 8-year-old son, Wharlest Jr., ran to the scene and returned home with his father’s shoe. 

“He was 36 and in the prime of his life,” recalled his son. “He had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and they took that away.” Despite an FBI investigation, his killers were never prosecuted. “A lot of people have tried to push my daddy’s death under the rug,” his son said. “We’re still trying to pull it out into the light.” 

Wharlest Jackson Sr. is among 40 martyrs listed on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.