Murder of Korean War Veteran Wharlest Jackson Remains Unsolved

Just days after Stanley Nelson, a newspaper editor, published a story that the FBI was offering $10,000 for information about a 1964 arson-murder of an African American shopkeeper in Ferriday, Louisiana, he got a call.  The anonymous caller said that he knew Frank Morris, an African American shoe repair shop owner who was the victim of a hate crime during the Civil Rights Era and had visited his shop often as a young child.  He said that he had a lot of information, but didn’t want the reward.  He was impressed by Nelson’s reporting in the Concordia Sentinel.  By that time in 2008, Nelson had been writing about unsolved civil rights murders for almost 2 years.  The caller revealed his name was Leland Boyd, the son of Earcel Boyd.  Nelson recognized the name, Earcel Boyd was an infamous Ku Klux Klan leader.

This first call started many months of conversations where Leland and his two brothers talked about Earcel, their father, and their life growing up.  Also, the origins of the Silver Dollar Group, a relatively small KKK offshoot that pledged to be even more violent than their inspiration.  They were so named because each member of the group carried a Silver Dollar minted their year of birth as proof of membership.

The Boyd brothers described how their father would take them to Silver Dollar Group meetings, tell them to sell KKK paraphernalia at rallies, and ordered them to move bomb-making equipment from his car to the family’s attic.  They said their father had the capacity to make at least 40 bombs.  The house was always on edge.  At one point, Leland recalled, his mother letting out a shriek when a military jet made a maneuver near their house creating a sonic boom.  She thought the house exploded.

The Boyd brothers provided many disturbing accounts of their father, who seemed on the outside to be a normal man.  He worked as a tire builder at the Armstrong Tire & Rubber plant, where many of his fellow Klansmen worked.  Others worked nearby at the International Paper factory.  The family attended seemingly normal picnics where children played baseball and women fried catfish.  He had a great sense of humor, but he hid a deep dark side that raged with intense unfounded hatred, which like many of his friends would explode in the 1960s.  The brothers said he would fly into mood swings beating them.  The family was in constant fear.  And those picnics were attended by KKK members only.  The men would practice using weapons and making bombs just yards from their children.

Their father harbored fanatical feelings during the Civil Rights Era.  When President Johnson advocated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, “Dad and the Klan went berserk,” said Earcel Boyd Jr., who goes by his nickname Sonny.

“This was the match that lit the fuses…”

The Silver Dollar Group’s militant nature made them the prime suspect in the murders of not just Frank Morris, but Joe Edwards, Wharlest Jackson, and others.  Earcel Boyd died in 1988.  On the day that Leland Boyd first called Nelson, he divulged an unexpected story.  The Boyd brothers said that their father liked Morris and would never have hurt him.  They didn’t know why he liked Morris, they thought it was because he stayed out of the civil rights conversation.  They said he even came over for dinner one night.  They said he was infuriated by the attack and the two men who killed Morris fled the town or were “taken care of” by their father.  They weren’t sure which.  Nelson had previously reported that two Klansmen were run out of town not long after Morris’ death, for unexplained reasons.

“All I want is the truth to come out,” said Leland, “If it comes out that my dad is the guilty party, my dad is the guilty party, period.”

Leland Boyd has mixed emotions about his father and his childhood.  He still tears up when visiting the area where Morris’ shop was located.  He loved his father and was with him at his death bed, but rejected his father’s worldview and the way in which he violently tried to instill it in him.

Facts would later come to light that would show that the Silver Dollar Group was responsible.  Now, just Korean War Veteran Wharlest Jackson’s case remains unsolved.  Is the Silver Dollar Group responsible?

A MAN IMPLICATED IN THE FRANK MORRIS CASE

In 2011, Arthur Spencer, 71, of Rayville, was implicated by 3 people as being involved in the death of Morris.

Frank Morris was asleep in the back bedroom of his Louisiana shoe repair shop when he heard the sound of breaking glass.  In the dark early morning hours, he walked into his shop and saw two white men standing outside.  One was pouring gasoline around the base of the shop and breaking windows.  As Morris moved toward the front door, one of the men pointed a shotgun at him and yelled racial slurs forcing him to stay in the shop.

Morris saw as the two men lit a match and threw it inside.  He couldn’t escape.  Before he had awoken, the men had soaked the inside of his shop in gasoline as well.  The shop was an instant inferno and Morris was burned from head to toe.  He barely escaped out the back, but it wasn’t enough.  He died at the hospital.

On that morning, December 10, 1964, Morris would become just another unsolved civil rights era murder in the South.  He was 51 years old and an excellent craftsman.  He learned his trade from his father, Sullivan Morris, before opening his own shop in 1930.  His business catered to people from all walks of life and did not bar anyone because of their race.  Among the African American members of his community, he ran a good business, which gave their sons jobs and taught them how to work hard and treat people right.  White customers, especially women, enjoyed his shop because he would teach their children how leather was cut.  He wasn’t into advocacy and didn’t talk openly about the civil rights movement.  He was an all around great man whose life was cut short.

The KKK and related groups had announced a violent offensive not too long before Morris’ death.  They began to systematically kill African Americans as well as civil rights advocates across the South.

Morris survived for 4 days in the hospital.  He was able to give descriptions of his attackers and that he “thought they were my close friends.”  Perhaps a reference to the claim by the Boyd brothers that one of the leaders of the Silver Dollar Group, their father, was friendly with Morris.

Many of the witnesses were later intimidated by the KKK and related groups.  The case went cold.  But, 46 years after the crime, three people who knew the former truck driver Spencer said he was part of a KKK hit squad assigned to torch Morris’ shop that day.   Deceased Klansman O.C. Poissot was also involved.

There were two motives given for the crime both a common motive for the time.  Previously, Concordia Sheriff’s Deputy Frank DeLaughter was linked to the crime.  He was said to have been angry at Morris for refusing to provide free shoe repair for the police.  More KKK members were implicated in the past as well by FBI informants.  KKK leader E.D. Morace requested authorization to ride from Mississippi to Louisiana with a “wrecking crew” to whip Morris for flirting with white women.

The Boyd brothers said their father was against interracial couples.  Many members of the KKK and related groups viewed white women as off limits to African American men.  Some experts say it was because they viewed themselves as a knight like character and women as “damsels in distress.”  Others say it was because the groups saw African American men taking over their “territory”, not just politically, but socially as well.  Everything:  jobs, bathrooms, drinking fountains, restaurants, transportation, schools, relationships, etc. were a point of contention for these fanatics.  Anything to give them an excuse to act on their violent wishes.  In reality, there was no excuse or reason for the murder of Morris.

He reportedly didn’t receive permission.  But, it was said that Morace along with Tommy Jones, Thore Torgerson, and James Scarborough, local workers at the International Paper Co., torched the shop and murdered Morris anyway.  They belonged to the Silver Dollar Group.

DOJ CLOSES THE CASE OF JOE EDWARDS IN 2013

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice closed the investigation into the 1964 murder of 25-year-old Joe Edwards, who disappeared 49 years earlier.  Edwards’ 1958 white Buick was seen being pulled over by an unmarked police vehicle near the bowling alley at some point in the early morning hours of July 12th.  Six Klansmen, all members of the Silver Dollar Group, were identified as the suspects.  Four were law enforcement officers.  They were:  Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies Frank DeLaughter (also implicated in the murder of Morris) and Bill Ogden, Vidalia Police Chief J.L. “Bud” Spinks and Louisiana probation officer James Buford Goss.  Three additional men were identified:  Raleigh Jackson “Red” Glover, Kenneth Norman Head and Homer James “Buck” Horton.  All are deceased.  The motive was the fact he dated white women.

Edwards had been working as a handyman at the Shamrock Motel for about 2 years before the restaurant at the motel became the main meeting house of the Silver Dollar Group.

Edwards had spent the day he was killed taking people to and from a family get together.  He was headed to work when he was stopped by a police officer.  The motel had a reputation for prostitution and some of Edwards’ relatives said he sometimes transported the women for their dealings.

A banker who happened to be driving by that night saw Edwards’ car pulled over, surrounded by a mob of men.

The FBI began gathering evidence that pointed to the top brass of the local sheriff’s office.  The evidence came from white community members, like the banker and even inside informants at the station.

His body was never found.

MURDER OF VETERAN WHARLEST JACKSON IS STILL UNSOLVED

By the time of Jackson’s murder, it was no longer “Bloody ’64” and 3 years later, the Southern resistance to the Civil Rights Act had become less violent.  But, that did not save Jackson.

Wharlest Jackson, 36, was murdered in Natchez, Mississippi on Feb. 27, 1967.  He was a native of Florida and a Korean War veteran.  He also served as treasurer of the Natchez NAACP.  He was married to Exerlena Jackson.  The couple had 5 children.

Jackson worked at the Armstrong Rubber Company, a tire plant in Mississippi.  This is not the same factory as the one that many of the murderers of Morris worked in.  The Armstrong Rubber Company in Mississippi was just as filled with KKK and related group members as the one in Louisiana, however.

He was offered a promotion in 1967, a 17 cent an hour raise.  He wanted to accept it to help provide for his wife and children.  His wife of 13 years could quit her job and spend more time with the children. But his wife feared that he would be hurt or worse.   The position was a “white” position, always had been and her husband beat out two of his white coworkers.  She was proud of her husband who had worked at the plant for 12 years and she felt he deserved the promotion; African American workers rarely got the chance.  But, she was afraid and “begged” him not to take it.  She reminded him what happened to Metcalfe, but he accepted.

Two years earlier, African American employees at the plant had been attempting to organize for fairer treatment for years.  George Metcalfe, who also worked at the plant and was the President of the same NAACP chapter as Jackson was a member of, was injured in a car bomb attack in 1965 after he attempted to get desegregated facilities like bathrooms and more equal promotion treatment.  His car had been parked in the factory’s parking lot.

Jackson’s wife had good reasons to worry beyond what happened to Metcalfe, which is also still unsolved.  The KKK and other related groups had been reigning terror down upon African Americans and anyone who socialized too closely with or helped them.  They abducted, tortured, maimed, and murdered scores of people, mostly African Americans.  Some of the men were in law enforcement.  Many of the crimes occurred in Mississippi and Louisiana.  Natchez, Mississippi was just across the river from Ferriday and Visalia, Louisiana.  Areas where even more extreme groups operated, like the Silver Dollar Group.

Right before Jackson’s death, the two men were placed on different shifts.  They often carpooled to work together.

Jackson had worked his new job in the chemical mixing plant for a month and he worked the dayside shift plus 4 hours of overtime.

On February 27, 1967, at about 8 p.m. as Jackson was driving home from his shift, a bomb exploded in his 1958 Chevy truck.  He was killed instantly.  The Natchez Police Department found the truck completely demolished by the bomb.

It was determined that when Jackson arrived almost home, he switched on his turn signal, which triggered the bomb.  Unlike the bomb in Metcalfe’s car, which was hidden under his hood, the bomb was placed directly under Jackson’s seat.

The community was shocked by Jackson’s murder and the NAACP led a protest of 2,000 demonstrators.  Even Governor Paul Johnson, who was infamously hostile to groups like the NAACP, called the murder “an act of savagery which stains the honor of our state.”

The FBI launched an intense probe that quickly expanded.  Investigators speculated that the Silver Dollar Group, which had about 20 members, were the culprits in both the bombings of Metcalfe and Jackson.

The members of the group had experience with explosives.

The FBI identified Raleigh Jackson “Red” Glover (responsible for the murder of Edwards), as the primary suspect.

Although the FBI had a prime suspect, there were never any arrests.  The case was re-examined at least twice, but there was no resolution.

The motive is believed to be related to either Jackson’s promotion, his attempt to unionize African American workers, or his work with the NAACP.

Jackson and his family deserve justice.  More than 4 decades later, the bombers have escaped justice.

If you have any information concerning the Jackson case, contact your local FBI office or American Embassy or Consulate.

[Sources:  CIR, Cold Cases.org, Hanna PubFBI.Gov, Northeastern University School of Law]

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