‘Frontline’ revisits Louisiana editor’s work on Ku Klux Klan murder case

By: - February 14, 2022 12:56 pm
LSU Cold Case Project

LSU Cold Case Project Students Matthew Clark, left, and Alyssa Berry, right, interviewed Henry Austan, who was a member of the Deacons for Defense and Justice. (Courtesy of LSU Cold Case Project)

The work of a longtime Louisiana newspaper editor will be included in a PBS “Frontline” documentary Tuesday on the 1967 Ku Klux Klan murder of Wharlest Jackson, a 37-year-old Black man in Natchez, Mississippi.

Jackson, who had five children, was treasurer of the Natchez NAACP. He was killed when a bomb planted beneath his truck exploded while he was riding home from work.

The editor, Stanley Nelson, researched the Jackson case and other Klan murders for many years before retiring from the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday in December.

Nelson was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for his work on a similar case, and he has written two books on cold case murders from the civil rights era. He also helped found the LSU Cold Case Project at the Manship School of Mass Communication, where he works as an adjunct professor.

Entitled “American Reckoning,” the Frontline film also follows the work of Jackson’s wife, Exerlena, a civil rights activist who has since died.

In the film, the couple’s surviving children tell the story of their family and of their quest to find justice for their father.

The program will air nationally on Tuesday at 9 p.m. Central time. It can be seen on Louisiana Public Broadcasting stations throughout the state.

The Jackson documentary is part of Frontline’s Un(re)solved multi-platform initiative investigating civil rights era cold cases.

The show looks at the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act–signed into law in 2008–in which the FBI reviewed or investigated dozens of killings involving over 100 victims during the era. Almost all of the 1960s cases investigated by the FBI remain unresolved.

Cynthia Deitle, who headed the FBI’s cold case effort, said she felt the FBI should have done more in the modern investigations.

“I feel like I failed the families, I feel like I failed communities,” she says in the film.

Co-directors and co-producers of the documentary are Brad Lichtenstein and Yoruba Richen.

According to Frontline, the film includes never-published film footage from the Ed Pincus collection at the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University.  The footage, from 1965 and 1967. offers a window into the Black self-defense movement in Natchez as well as Jackson’s funeral and its aftermath.

“Woven alongside interviews with family members, experts and witnesses, American Reckoning shines a light on the life and legacy of Wharlest Sr. – including his work with the Deacons for Defense, an organization of Black men who armed themselves to protect activists and their community against racist violence, and the NAACP, which led boycotts for civil rights change in Natchez.”

 “American Reckoning” also explores the formation of the Silver Dollar Group Klan and follows Nelson’s reporting that links Jackson’s and other murders to the underground Klan terrorists, who, as a sign of unity, carried silver dollars minted in the year of their birth.

No arrests have ever been made in the Jackson homicide, although Raleigh Jackson “Red” Glover, a Klansman from Natchez who died decades ago, was the FBI’s prime suspect in the killing.

LSU’s cold case reporters have investigated the Jackson case and released a four-part series on the Deacons for Defense and Justice in 2020.

Student reporters also wrote a four-part series last fall on a 1960 bloodbath near Monroe in which a white employer, Robert Fuller, shot five of his Black employees, killing four, in a dispute over back pay.

The serious raised serious questions about Fuller’s self-defense claim and the quality of justice at the time. Fuller went on to become a state leader of the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.


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