Friday, February 18, 2011

Wharlest Jackson

Tonight Investigation Discovery launches a powerful television series called "The Injustice Files", a look at cold cases from the civil rights era. While many Americans may have forgotten or choose not to remember this painful era in U.S. history, the series is an emotional reminder that justice has not been fully realized.

Keith Beauchamp, a 39-year-old documentary filmmaker from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and CBS News, produced “The Injustice Files”. The first program centers on the case of Wharlest Jackson, who in 1967 was a father of five children and the treasurer of the NAACP's local office in Natchez, Mississippi.

Mr. Jackson worked in the Armstrong Rubber company plant in Natchez. He was a Korean War combat veteran trying to provide for his family. When he was offered a promotion his wife pleaded with him not to take it for fear of his safety. Back then it was generally understood that Blacks working in the plant were not supposed to be promoted to management jobs.

But Mr. Jackson could not pass up the 17 cent per hour raise. After accepting the promotion he began to receive death threats. On February 27, 1967, a bomb detonated as he drove his truck home, apparently triggered when he used his turn blinker, destroying his vehicle and leaving him fatally wounded. Mr. Jackson was 36 years old when he died.

Mr. Jackson's son, then 8-year-old Wharlest Jackson Jr., heard the explosion and raced to the scene. He recounts in the program, "When I made it to him, he was lying in the street...his shoe was blown off and the truck was mangled." The emotional impact of that memory is still vividly apparent today.

More than 45 years later the Wharlest Jackson case remains unsolved. But there are plenty of suspects. In an amazing sequence, Mr. Beauchamp confronts one alleged former Klansman in is driveway. The Klansman, who had been implicated in earlier bombings, denied his involvement in the Jackson bombing.

The FBI has brought renewed focus to investigating this and other similar unsolved tragedies. According to the New York Times, there have been two successful prosecutions out of 109 cases. The main problem is that most suspects are dead. Nonetheless, those with information on the cases highlighted in this series can contact the FBI through the Investigation Discovery Web site.

February is Black History month, which is why "The Injustice Files" series begins tonight. Because this nation has made progress over the past four decades, regretfully millions of young Americans do not have a full understanding of the painful fight for civil rights in this country. The Wharlest Jackson story is a compelling and important hour that tells of one family's struggle for closure.

In Dr. Martin Luther King's words, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

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