The 1967 carbombing murder of NAACP leader Wharlest Jackson might have been prevented if a Natchez Klansman who was an FBI informant had not withheld important information from federal law enforcement authorities, FBI records show.
Jackson, 36, was a longtime employee of Armstrong Tire in Natchez and had served as treasurer of the Natchez NAACP. His death launched the most intensive FBI investigation ever conducted in Concordia Parish and southwestern Mississippi involving scores of agents and the recruitment of several informants.
The FBI is presently re-investigating the 42-year-old murder.
Four days after Jackson was killed, Klansman E.L. McDaniel told the FBI he had been aware in late December 1966 of a plot by the militant Klan cell known as the Silver Dollar Group (SDG) to harm Jackson's best friend, George Metcalfe, who had survived a carbombing attack 15 months earlier.
The FBI felt at the time that if McDaniel had alerted them of a second plot to harm Metcalfe they might have been able to foresee the attack which left Jackson dead.
McDaniel's failure to alert authorities is documented in the FBI file known as WHARBOM, which was opened following the Jackson murder and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. McDaniel was contacted by The Sentinel in 2008 but said he was unable to answer any questions because of memory loss related to a stroke.
Like Jackson, Metcalfe worked at the Armstrong Tire Plant and was a leader in the Natchez NAACP. Although he suffered lifelong injuries from the August 1965 bombing, Metcalfe returned to work in the fall of 1966 following a yearlong recovery. From his return up until a week before the Jackson bombing, Metcalfe rode to work with Jackson.
On March 3, 1967, just four days after the Jackson murder, McDaniel was visited by FBI special agent Benjamin F. Graves. As agents fanned out, informants were designated as the initial contacts.
An FBI informant since 1966, McDaniel told Graves that around Christmas of that year, two months prior to the bombing, he heard that the Silver Dollar Group advised hardcore Klansmen to establish alibis for early January 1967 because "something was going to happen to George Metcalfe."
Thirty-three years old in 1967, McDaniel, who had served in leadership roles in three different Klans, said he took it upon himself to stop the attack on Metcalfe. He claimed that he went to a public telephone and called the Klansmen he thought most likely to plan such an attack. Disguising his voice, he said he pretended to be a police officer and on each call warned that if the attack was carried out "we are going to arrest you."
He identified four men he considered to be prime suspects: Raleigh Jackson "Red" Glover and Kenneth Norman Head, both of Vidalia, James L Scarborough of Ferriday and Tommy Lee Jones of Natchez. All dead, each man, according to FBI records, was a known Klansmen.
Glover, who was employed at Armstrong, was identified as head of the SDG and informants said he hand-picked each member. They also said he provided each member a silver dollar as a sign of unity in their violent opposition to civil rights.
McDaniel said he was confident his effort to diffuse a Klan attack on Metcalfe had worked and forgot about it until Jackson was killed on Feb. 27. McDaniel was severely admonished by the bureau for failing to provide the information, especially after the bureau's records revealed that an agent had contacted McDaniel on five occasions between mid-December and two weeks prior to the bombing and he had said nothing about the plot.
According to records, McDaniel said his lapse of judgment was due to depression and financial concerns. He told the bureau he no longer held the job as head of the Mississippi Realm of the United Klans of America, which paid $125 weekly, and that his jobless state was particularly distressing during the Christmas season.
A month before the bombing, Jackson sought and received a promotion at the plant based on his seniority over the other two applicants, both white men. FBI informants told agents that a handful of Klansmen working at the plant were outraged when Jackson received the job, which involved mixing rubber cement and other tire compounds. Records show that Armstrong's workforce at the time totaled 1,100. Of the total, 180 were black.
Throughout most of February 1967, Jackson continued to drive Metcalfe to work while he trained for his new job. One week prior to the bombing, Jackson's shift changed and Metcalfe had to make other arrangements for transportation.
Metcalfe said the two had developed a regular routine when riding to and from work -- Jackson checked under the hood, where the bomb that injured Metcalfe had been planted, and Metcalfe checked beneath the seat. He told agents the only reason he checked beneath the seat was that a white Armstrong employee had asked him after his return to work if the bomb that injured him had been placed there.
On the day of the bombing, Jackson worked the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift followed by four hours overtime. At 8 p.m., he clocked out. On this February night the rain, the dark and the cold had kept most residents living in the neighborhood around the plant inside.
At 8:11 p.m., a blast rocked Natchez when a high-order explosive charge detonated beneath the driver's seat of Jackson's green 1958 half-ton Chevrolet pickup. This force, according to FBI records, propelled Jackson from the vehicle, "shattered the driver's side of the seat, the floorboard under the seat, left running board area and a portion of the left door, blew out all windows, severed and bent the left frame, blew the roof off and caused damage throughout the truck." So powerful was the bomb, according to records, that Metcalfe, had he been sitting on the passenger side of the truck, likely would have died instantly as had Jackson.
The FBI concluded in one report in March 1967: "Metcalfe is of the opinion that someone at the Armstrong Plant set the explosive beneath Jackson's car. He also believes that the explosive may, in part, have been meant for him, Metcalfe."