Wharlest Jackson's pickup

WHARLEST JACKSON'S pickup is pictured the day after Jackson was killed when a bomb planted by Klansmen beneath the driver's side of the truck exploded in February 1967. (Photo from FBI files)

The quest for justice sometimes seems eternal.

For 47 years, Rosa Williams has been praying that the murder of her grandfather, Frank Morris, be solved and his killers be prosecuted if alive or identified if dead.

Morris died from third degree burns suffered during the arson of his shoe shop by Klansmen in Ferriday in December 1964.

Denise Ford has been praying for justice, too. Her father, Wharlest Jackson, died in February 1967 in Natchez from a bomb planted by Klansmen beneath his pickup.

Julia Dobbins' brother, Joseph Edwards, went missing in Concordia Parish in the summer of 1964. Klansmen and law enforcement officers were believed responsible for his disappearance and apparent murder.

"I'm disgusted that we still don't know," Dobbins, 68, says. "I use to wake up at night thinking I could hear Joe knocking on the door. I pray that the Lord will let me learn what happened to my brother before too much longer."

These three cases are among only 39 civil rights-era murders that remain under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI. More than five dozen have been closed and more cases are expected to be closed this year.

Some unsolved civil rights-era homicides from the 1960s didn't make the FBI's cold case initiative list in 2007. One was that of Earl Hodges of Franklin County, Miss.

A Klansmen who may have been informing or pondering whether to become an informant on the KKK, Hodges died of a heart attack after having been savagely beaten by Klansmen in August 1965.

His two sons, Roy Earl Hodges, 13, and Frank Hodges, 12, saw their dad's battered body prior to his burial. Frank died in 2004 at the age of 51. Roy Earl died in 2011. He was 59.

Frank Hodges' widow, Anne Hodges, said the brothers "never got any answers." She said the murder "haunted my husband all his life."

FBI spokesman Chris Allen said federal authorization for these cold case investigations is pursuant to the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Act passed by Congress in 2007. Federal authorization, Allen noted, is "limited to unsolved civil rights murders and violations of criminal civil rights statutes that occurred prior to December 31, 1969." He said Hodges' case "would not be covered through the Cold Case Initiative as the attack was not motivated by race and there is no allegation under color of law."

Allen said the disqualifier in Hodges' case is not that he was white, but that the attack was not motivated "because of his race." The killings of at least one white man and one Hispanic are on the initiative list, he said.

In 2011, a grand jury was convened in Concordia Parish to investigate the murder of Frank Morris. Since that time two successive parish grand juries have heard testimony in the case.

To date, there has been no resolution.

Rosa Williams was 12 years old in 1964 when a family friend delivered the news that her 51-year-old grandfather was seriously injured in a fire at his shoe shop. Though she had slept soundly through the night, she said others in the household had heard the explosion that came from Morris' shop during the early morning hours.

When Morris died four days later, Williams said she began to question why it had happened.

“I sympathize with anyone going through something like this,” Williams said. “In Papa Frank’s case it’s a horrible thing to know that someone would just kill a man for no apparent reason.”

Now 58 years old and living in Las Vegas, Williams said her faith in God has sustained her and that faith has enabled her to live without bitterness.

“I never hated anyone in my life,” she said. “Now that I’m older, I realize more and more that people need to start loving each other because life is very short.”

She said she prays for the people involved in the investigation of the murder, including the DOJ, the District Attorney in Concordia who has provided the assistance of his office, and the FBI agents, both current and retired.

For relatives of the victims, each passing day without justice is a balance of both frustration and hope.

Denise Ford says she's disappointed that her father's murder has yet to be solved. Although Wharlest Jackson's death was a devastating event, Ford said she has "been freed through and by the spirit of God" and has been healed.

"I live in peace," she said. Yet the dream of justice breathes.

On some days, Rosa Williams is restless.

“Why is it taking so long?” she wonders about the latest and final investigation into her grandfather's murder.

“This case wasn’t re-opened just to be re-opened,” she believes. “It’s because God wants justice and there is going to be justice. My prayer is that I’ll be around to see it.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.