Larry Crawford often watched people move about the parking lot at Armstrong Tire & Rubber Company when he took his lunch break at noon each work day.
On Aug. 27, 1965, Crawford, then 26, watched from his office window when George Metcalfe punched out for the day on the warehouse dock around 12:10 to 12:15 p.m. The two men were part of the Armstrong workforce of 1,200. Some 800 were at work at the time.
Metcalfe, 55, had put in overtime, clocking in at midnight and working an additional four hours after his shift ended at 8 a.m.
Crawford, who lives in Catahoula Parish, worked in technical services and this week he recalled watching Metcalfe four decades ago as he "walked by the guard house, down the fence and got into his vehicle."
When Metcalfe turned the ignition switched on his 1955 Chevrolet, it exploded.
"I saw the hood go off and sail into the company parking lot three quarters of the way to the guard shack," Crawford said.
The hood, whirling like a saucer, landed in an empty parking space next to Crawford's new 1965 white Dodge pickup.
In seconds, police cars and fire trucks, with sirens blaring, burst through the late August heat to the bombing site. Metcalfe was taken by ambulance to Jefferson Davis Hospital, now Natchez Regional. But at the NAACP office, the initial word of the bombing was stunning.
According to office records, a man called and informed the staff: "George was just killed; his car was just bombed."
Charles Evers, field secretary for the Mississippi NAACP, was immediately notified. Evers had lost his own brother, Medgar, to a Klan assassin two years earlier and his life had been threatened many times, too.
Metcalfe had been elected President of the NAACP chapter in Natchez earlier in 1965. He was despised by the Ku Klux Klan and had been threatened himself on a number of occasions. Someone shot into his home in January and he was sometimes harassed at work.
Evers later told the press that Metcalfe had led a voter registration campaign in Natchez over the summer in which hundreds of blacks had been placed on the voter rolls.
Evers asked Mamie Mazique and Jessie Bernard to go to the hospital and call him later with news on Metcalfe.
As Metcalfe was transported into the emergency room, Mary Lee Toles was one of the first to see him. Now a retired Adams County judge, she was employed in the x-ray department at the hospital in 1965.
Metcalfe's face was covered with blood, she said. Pieces of metal from his car had ripped skin from his body, his face was burned and he suffered broken bones.
"I didn't think he was going to make it," said Toles, "but he was a strong man and strong-willed."
She said he suffered a broken hip, and broken clavicle. "He was crippled after that, but I'm not sure if there were internal injuries."
Mamie Mazique said the blast "messed his leg up. He never recovered from that." Metcalfe's right eye was permanently damaged.
The Natchez Police Department, FBI and Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol were quickly on the scene and officers followed Metcalfe's ambulance to the hospital. The FBI had jurisdiction because it involved the misuse of an explosive.
Natchez Mayor John Nosser said "the perpetrators of this dastardly crime must be apprehended" and offered a $2,000 reward on behalf of the city.
Billy Bob Williams was an FBI agent who lived and worked in Natchez in the mid-1960s. Now retired and living in Portland, OR, Williams said the bomb planted on Metcalfe's car was a "device fashioned by stuffing a half gallon milk carton with primer cord. Primer cord is common in any oil field and most probably had been stolen" by the culprits.
"The cord resembles a rope of about a quarter inch in diameter and several hundred feet long," said Williams. "It is literally a rope of TNT and any length detonates instantly when the attached detonator receives an electrical shock. Compacted into a container it becomes a very powerful bomb."
Hidden in the engine compartment of Metcalfe's car, the device detonated when he turned his ignition key.
Once at the hospital, Mazique and Bernard learned that Metcalfe was alive. Bernard placed a call to Evers, reporting that Metcalfe was "gravely hurt," that he was being prepared for surgery and that the "community was in an uproar."
Evers left Jackson immediately for Natchez.
A mass rally was planned outside Metcalfe's home that night.
"He lived on St. Catherine Street across from the Holy Family Church," said Mazique.
While many citizens called to report their outrage over the bombing, the Ku Klux Klan bombarded the NAACP in Natchez with threats.
Evers arrived in town at 4 p.m., was briefed and not surprised to learn that tempers were boiling over. He feared violence.
Hundreds amassed outside Metcalfe's home for a meeting, which was covered by several out-of-town reporters.
"Everybody had questions," said Mazique. "Everybody wanted to know what was going on. What were we going to do."
Evers cautioned those in attendance to remain calm and warned that "we must be careful not to let our emotions erupt into violence." He asked everyone to go home peacefully and warned that "whites should not travel in Negro communities for the good of the community."
While Metcalfe survived the bombing, those who knew him said he was never the same afterward.
"He was a very quiet man already," said Mazique.
Toles, agreed, recalling that "he was all business and no-nonsense, but very dedicated to Civil Rights and human rights."
The Klan was believed responsible for the bombing from the outset, but no one was ever arrested. In 1967, Wharlest Jackson, also an officer in the NAACP and friend and co-worker of Metcalfe's, was killed when a bomb planted in his pickup exploded on Minor Street near the plant.
In 1964 in Concordia, Frank Morris died four days following the arson of his shoe shop and Joseph "JoEd" Edwards was kidnapped at the Shamrock Hotel in Vidalia and was believed murdered. His body has never been found.
All four of these crimes were believed to be the work of a loose confederation of violent Klansmen and law officers known as the Silver Dollar Group.
Williams said that FBI agents thought they had identified the main perpetrator in the Metcalfe bombing, but didn't feel they had the evidence to make a case. He said the inability "to bring a case of this nature to prosecution is a source of lifelong frustration and disappointment."
The Klan's intention to strike fear into the black community with the bombing of Metcalfe had the opposite effect, however. If anything, it gave new purpose to the Civil Rights movement in Natchez.