Saturday, August 22, 2009

Uncovering the truth

I was reading a detective novel today by James Lee Burke. His detective lives in New Iberia, Louisiana. The writer seems to have a little trouble with female characters though -- the ones in his book are two-dimensional figures who always want sex. I think life does not imitate art in this case. Anyway, I'm deep into this mystery when I get a mysterious e-mail of my own.

My father was a pathologist in Natchez, Mississippi, during the Civil Rights movement in the '60s. He was routinely called out to do autopsies after gruesome racially motivated killings. He used to talk about the cases to us kids, show us the murder slides, play the tapes of the trials where the white guys always got off, and so on.

Now the FBI is re-opening the cases. This is from the Natchez Democrat:

NATCHEZ — An FBI agent was in town Wednesday to do a little stone turning.

The agent, from the Hattiesburg office, is one of several federal agents working the recently re-opened Civil Rights case involving the 1967 death of Wharlest Jackson Sr.

And though FBI policy prevents agents from talking about their work, a press release from the agency said the goal in Jackson’s case and 42 others is to leave no stone unturned.

“We will explore every lead and every tip provided to us in our effort to bring closure to these cases,” said Frederick T. Brink, special agent in charge of the FBI in Mississippi.

“The FBI, together with our federal, state and local partners, will work diligently in these cases to uncover the truth, should it be hidden, and to bring to justice anyone who so heinously violates the rights of our citizens.”

Jackson, a black man, died when his truck exploded from a planted bomb. He had recently received a job promotion at Armstrong Tire. The new job was widely considered a “white man’s job.”

No arrests were ever made.

An investigator e-mailed me to see if I could give him any information about the unsolved murder of Clifton Walker. He wrote:

"Walker was driving home from the 3-11 shift at International Paper on Friday night, February 28, 1964, and was ambushed when he turned onto Poor House Road, which he always took as a shortcut off of 61 to Old 61. There was probably a mob of white men firing at the car to bring it to a halt and then several stood around the car and fired in at close range and blew his face apart."

If only I could reach back into time and bring back some of that information for the families of the victims who still have no details about what really happened. My father kept everything about his cases but now he's dead and all of his stuff -- well, who knows what happened to it?

It's frustrating to me to think that at one point in my life I had access to all the information the family would need, but now it's gone, and I can't help them.


Casey Ann said...

Aren't there certain rules about what happens to a doctor's files after death or retirement? I bet those files are available somewhere.

Elizabeth said...

Here is a different point of view from a Natchez resident. I thought I'd put it here in the comments section in case anyone wants to discuss this:

Wharlest Jackson was not promoted into a "white man's job". That is a bit of propaganda that has been promoted for so long it is now accepted as truth.

Jackson, like everyone else at the Armstrong plant, was affected by a reduction in force; job assignments were purely on the basis of seniority. Most everyone took a lower paying job, as Jackson did- his job in the cement house paid $2 an hour less than his former job as a machine serviceman. The cement house was the most dangerous place to work in the plant because it had thousands of gallons of naptha and other chemicals stored in it that were used to make the glues that held the layers of tires together. This wasn't a favored job.

Also, a week prior to the bombing Jackson, who was treasurer of the NAACP, confronted Charles Evers over money missing from the NAACP treasury. This is the same Charles Evers whose brother was murdered by a Klan member. Evers was so upset over this he went into the furniture business with a sheriff believed to be a Klan ally- after the white owned Allen furniture store, which was one of the few businesses that would extend credit to blacks, was firebombed by black rioters.

The truth of this whole business is likely to be far more convoluted than race activists want to imagine.

Here, Elizabeth, is a link to an article that discusses the Morville Lounge mentioned in that Ile's book you just read:

While the FBI was busy busting up vice in Concordia Parish, vice was happily ensconced in gambling parlors and brothels in downtown Natchez. No black houses of prostitution, also no doubt linked to organized crime, were busted up during this time period. Nelly Jackson operated one such house with impunity for many years in Natchez- it seems like the only people who didn't know about her, or the gambling in Natchez, were the FBI.

If the FBI is interested in justice, they ought to take care of things still happening in this area today instead of focusing on things that happened more than half a century ago.

Gwen said...

I can't believe I missed this discussion. In regard to doctor's files, in this day and age, they are usually handed over to another office or sometimes the hospital where he practiced. My doctor was retiring and my files went to the hospital. I had them returned to his office where one of his partners still practiced. Patients are usually told where their records are going. Back then? Who knows.

Bob Cardwell said...

Just read Greg Iles books and you will be up to date!