Natchez's Deacons For Defense HQ on National Register of Historic PlacesBreaking News
tags: Mississippi, public history, Deacons for Defense, Historic Register
The night of Feb. 27, 1967, Wharlest Jackson Sr. left his job at Armstrong Rubber and Tire Company in Natchez, Miss., tired from a long day after his first shift in his new position. Jackson had been promoted over two white applicants, and the position came with a 20-cent-an-hour raise and a better schedule.
Jackson and his co-worker, George Metcalf, also were treasurer and president, respectively, in the NAACP. Their workplace had functioned under Jim Crow segregation rules, like many places of employment at the time. However, Jackson and Metcalf pressured Armstrong to end segregated conditions until they finally succeeded, resulting in the company starting to hand out promotions regardless of race.
But that victory didn’t come without consequences in an area where many white workers at plants like Armstrong and International Paper in southwest Mississippi were associated with the Ku Klux Klan, which was extremely violent and active in the region. On Aug. 27, 1965, shortly after receiving a promotion, George Metcalf got into his car, turned on the ignition, and the Chevrolet truck exploded without warning. Metcalf survived the bombing, but suffered extensive injuries.
Bombings then were a favorite tool of the Ku Klux Klan in South Mississippi.
Jackson, 36, would not be as lucky as he drove to his nearby North Natchez home after work the evening of Feb. 27, 1967. His wife was home cooking dinner; he had four daughters and an 8-year-old son, Wharlest Jr., who heard the blast from the front yard. His father made it to the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Street and Miner Street before his truck exploded from a bomb placed under the hood. He died instantly.
After the attempt on George Metcalf’s life in 1965, James Jackson, a local barber at Donnan’s Barbershop, had founded a chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice in Natchez. A group of Black men founded the original organization in Jonesboro, La., under the leadership of Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas and Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick on July 10, 1964, to protect local Black people, churches and businesses, as well as civil-rights workers, against Ku Klux Klan violence.
The frequently armed Deacons’ second chapter in Bogalusa, La., protected local African Americans trying to register to vote, as well as both Black and white civil-rights workers.
The Deacons also provided security for the March Against Fear in 1966. One of the first visible Black self-defense forces in the South, the Deacons represented a more direct and armed self-defense approach, in contrast with the non-violent tenets of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi and Louisiana where white terrorism was expecially vicious with no end in the site in the mid-1960s.