The bomb that killed Wharlest Jackson in 1967 could have been the result of three years of experimentation with explosives by Klansmen who had one primary goal -- to murder George Metcalfe.
Jackson and Metcalfe were best friends, employees at Armstrong Tire in Natchez and leaders in the Natchez NAACP that they helped organize in 1964. In August 1965, Metcalfe survived the bombing of his car outside the plant; eighteen months later, in February 1967, Jackson died when a bomb placed beneath the driver's side of his pickup exploded six blocks from the plant.
Evidence gathered by the FBI in 1967 indicates Klansmen thought Metcalfe would be in the truck with Jackson, and the bomb would have enough force to kill Metcalfe, too. FBI records also indicate that 11 weeks prior to Jackson's murder an informant told agents with the bureau's office in New Orleans that Klansmen had a large cache of explosives stored in the home of a Franklin County, Miss., man. Records do not indicate whether the FBI attempted to substantiate that claim prior to the Jackson bombing.
Following Jackson's death, the FBI launched an intensive probe that it quickly expanded to include other Klan-related murders and crimes. The FBI also sought to neutralize violent Klansmen in Concordia and Catahoula parishes in Louisiana and Adams and Franklin counties in Mississippi. In this region, the FBI learned, a violent, secretive, heavily-armed Klan cell had emerged from three well known Klans: the White Knights, the Original Knights and the United Klans of America.
In the Jackson case file labeled as WHARBOM, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, documents show the leader of the Silver Dollar Group (SDG) lived in Vidalia. Raleigh Jackson "Red" Glover, 37, was identified by the FBI as the lead suspect in both the Jackson and Metcalfe bombings. He was also one of the suspects in the murders of two Louisiana black men: 25-year-old Vidalia motel employee Joseph Edwards in July 1964 and 51-year-old Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris in December 1964.
Edwards' body has never been found; Morris died four days after his shoe shop was torched with him inside.
Beginning in 1964 or 1965, SDG Klansmen began experimenting with explosives, according to FBI records. Documents in the WHARBOM file indicate that SDG members were men who despised blacks and were determined to fight federal civil rights legislation, specifically integration of schools and public facilities.
According to FBI documents, the militant group's motivation for violence was fear that if schools were integrated, their white daughters would be forced to attend classes with black male students. They also feared black men were planning an uprising against the white race. Another concern was something Klansmen detested -- romantic or sexual interracial relationships between black men and white women.
The accusation by Klansmen that Morris was involved with a white woman was among the motives probed by the FBI in his murder. In the murder of Edwards, evidence found in FBI records and during a three-year Sentinel investigation clearly indicate that his association with white women was the sole motive.
The FBI learned from informants that the August 1965 Metcalfe bombing was planned two months earlier in June 1965 when SDG Klansmen from Louisiana and Mississippi gathered in Concordia Parish for a fish fry at the home of James Frederick "Red" Lee of Lismore, an employee of Armstrong Tire. According to FBI records, Lee, 31, once told friends that during a stay in the Jefferson Davis Hospital in Natchez (now Natchez Regional) he awakened to find a black male patient in the semi-private room with him. He said he was so offended he called for a ride home and walked out of the hospital in his boxer shorts.
At the fish fry, attended by a dozen or more SDG members, their wives and their children, Klansmen experimented with explosives. Brothers Sonny and Leland Boyd say they attended several such fish fries, which featured experimentation with bombs, with their father, Earcel Boyd, an Armstrong employee and SDG member. Both Boyds, who over the past two years have been discussing with The Sentinel their upbringing in a Klan family, have said Glover was in attendance at these gatherings.
Leland Boyd told The Sentinel this week he once watched his father, Glover and four other men demonstrate "an explosive that was detonated by a nine-volt battery." Sonny Boyd said he watched Glover "fooling with explosives, a det (primer) cord, smokeless gunpowder and chemicals."
When questioned by the FBI in 1967, Vidalia mechanic and SDG member Kenneth Norman Head, 39, admitted Klansmen experimented with explosives at the Lee fish fry, adding they were preparing for "future warfare" between the races. He said he joined the Klan because he feared "an insurrection" by blacks and was preparing for civil war in this region.
Many of the SDG Klansmen at the Lee fish fry worked at Armstrong or International Paper Company. Some were loggers, farmers and mechanics. This fish fry was the only time, FBI records say, that the majority of the estimated 20 members of the SDG from Louisiana and Mississippi met at one time.
James Ford Seale admitted to the FBI in 1967 he was an SDG member and he attended the Lee fish fry in 1965. A year before in 1964, Seale had led a group of Klansmen in the abduction and murder of two black teens in Franklin County, Miss. Seale escaped prosecution for those murders for 43 years until he was tried and convicted in federal court in 2007.
Seale and his father, Clyde Seale, also an SDG member, according to FBI records, were implicated in the 1965 murder of Earl Hodges, a white man from Franklin County. Hodges was savagely beaten to death 12 days before the Metcalfe bombing. According to FBI documents and a Sentinel investigation, one motive for the murder was that Hodges had opposed Clyde Seale in a project to beat a Meadville businessman. But the most likely motive was that Klansmen suspected Hodges had committed an unpardonable sin -- informing to the FBI on the Dee-Moore murders.
SDG members had one thing in common, FBI records indicate: each despised Metcalfe, who, as a civil rights leader, had signed a petition calling for the desegregation of Natchez schools just a few days before his bombing.
A number of Klansmen and Klan informants told agents the explosive experiments attempted at the Lee fish fry failed. But the FBI learned that on August 23, 1965, four days prior to the Metcalfe bombing, Lee and James "Sonny" Taylor, an SDG member from Harrisonburg in Catahoula Parish, tried again. This time, when they had wired an explosive charge in a tree stump to the spark plugs of a car, it didn't detonate. But when they touched the wires to the ignition coil in the car, records say, the charge exploded. The ignition coil increases the power from the battery into the high-voltage needed to spark the spark plugs.
According to Taylor, an FBI informant after the Jackson bombing, Lee wondered aloud to Taylor if "the (ignition) coil was charged with electricity when the ignition was turned off" and asked if the coil on a six-cylinder Chevrolet, the model car Metcalfe drove, "could be reached by a person lying underneath the car."
Four days later, not long after noon on Aug. 27, primer cord, an explosive used in the oilfield industry, exploded under the hood of Metcalfe's car when he turned the ignition switch. FBI reports indicated that "it was not apparent what electrical circuitry was utilized to detonate the explosive charge; however, pieces of wire were removed from the coil."
Metcalfe was blown out of his vehicle and sustained a broken arm and leg, severe facial lacerations and cuts all over his body. He never fully recovered from the blast.
In 1967, a Klan informant named O.C. "Coonie" Poissot, a truck driver and drifter, told the FBI that a month after the Metcalfe bombing in 1965, Glover bragged about being the man "who planted the bomb in the nigger's car" and indicated it was meant to maim and not kill. He said Head admitted to having been one of the lookouts.
After the Metcalfe bombing, the SDG continued to experiment as the Boyd brothers watched.
Sonny Boyd, who was in his teens at the time, said cherry bombs, M80s, M100s and dynamite were easy to get. Leland Boyd, who is younger than Sonny, watched Klansmen experiment with bottle rockets, Silver Salute M80s, cast-iron homemade bombs, pipe bombs "and anything incendiary." He also watched Klansmen perfect directional blasts in which a bomb could be positioned and constructed to do just about whatever its maker desired.
In early December 1966, E.D. Morace, a Klan leader from Ferriday, SDG member and FBI informant, told agents with the New Orleans FBI office that at that time he had accompanied Glover to the residence of Elden Hester, an Armstrong employee who lived in Franklin County. There, said Morace, Hester displayed a cache of explosives including Nitramon S & Nitramon S Primer, both manufactured by E.I. DuPont. The material, according to FBI records, was primarily used for seismic work in the oilfield industry and could be ignited with "an electric blasting cap or primer cord inserted into the Nitroman S Primer container."
After the Jackson bombing, Klan leader and FBI informant E.L. McDaniel of Natchez said he learned of a second SDG plot to kill Metcalfe in mid-December 1966. SDG Klansmen were warned to establish alibis for early January 1967, McDaniel said. He said he thought he had diffused the plot by pretending to be a policeman, calling each SDG member, disguising his voice and threatening to arrest each if anything happened to Metcalfe.
By late January, Wharlest Jackson, due to his seniority, was promoted to a chemical mixer position at the plant over two white applicants. While the promotion appeared to anger a handful of Klan employees of Armstrong, FBI interviews of Klansmen and Armstrong workers after the bombing indicate Jackson was generally liked and known to be a hard worker, conservative and quiet. Metcalfe, meanwhile, was widely disliked and thought to be a troublemaker.
The second plot to kill Metcalfe alleged by McDaniel came only a few weeks after Metcalfe returned to work at Armstrong following a yearlong recovery from the 1965 explosion of his car. Jackson and Metcalfe drove to work together every day in Jackson's 1958 Chevrolet pickup until a few days before the Jackson bombing when their shifts changed due to Jackson's promotion. FBI records indicate that although his promotion was widely known in the plant, the change in their working shifts was generally unknown.
E.D. Morace told agents that a week before the Jackson bombing, Glover invited him to a "coffee-drinking" session of SDG Klansmen at the Shamrock Motel cafe in Vidalia. Unbeknownst to Morace, according to FBI documents, Klansmen feared he was informing to the bureau.
Morace said when no one showed up after 20 minutes he left and while passing the Chef Truck Stop in Vidalia he observed Glover and a number of other men paying their bills. He pulled over and was quickly greeted by Glover who apologized for not telling him that the meeting place had changed.
Morace said in addition to Glover, the seven men he saw included Kenneth Norman Head, Elden Hester, James L. Scarborough of Ferriday and three men Morace didn't know by name -- one he identified as the owner of a feed store in Meadville, Miss. The other two, Morace said, were Armstrong employees, one who looked to be about 22 years old. The FBI believed, records show, that final plans were established for the bombing at the truck stop. What remains a mystery is: was the bomb intended for Metcalfe with Jackson written off by Klansmen as collateral damage?
Around this time, records show, Glover visited Morace, an auto mechanic, at his home in Ferriday. During their conversation, Morace said Glover told him his pickup had faulty turn signals, and he was preparing to get the vehicle inspected. He asked Morace how to repair them, which Morace said he explained.
A few days later, Jackson, returning home from work alone shortly after 8 p.m. on February 27, 1967, was killed instantly when a bomb planted beneath the bottom of the pickup on the driver's side exploded on Minor Street. The bomb had enough force, records indicate, to have also killed Metcalfe had he been sitting on the passenger side of the vehicle.
While the FBI said at the time that the force of the explosion and rainfall destroyed much of the evidence, agents found fragments of a leg wire from an electrical blasting cap similar to those used for seismic work in the oilfield industry. Later, the FBI learned the explosives exhibited at the home of Elden Hester in Franklin County in early December 1966 "included what apparently were seismograph-type explosives believed capable of doing the type of destruction which occurred in the Wharlest Jackson explosion."
FBI explosive specialists reported: "An electric blasting cap could be caused to detonate when the left turn signal was turned on by stripping insulation from the turn signal wire, attaching one wire of the cap to the turn signal wire and the other wire of the cap to ground."
Sonny Boyd and two local mechanics told The Sentinel that such an explosive device could easily have been connected from beneath a 1958 pickup to the turn signal wiring in less than five minutes.
"Probably in a couple of minutes," Sonny Boyd said.