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|Explosives and weapons: KKK attacks from Concordia to McComb, 1964-1967|
The House un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), after an intensive probe including hearings on the Ku Klux Klan in the mid-1960s, found that Klansmen had amassed and used an array of weapons and bombing material during that period.
HUAC said federal, state and local authorities confiscated "many shotguns, rifles and hand-guns in a variety of gauges and calibers, as well as sizable quantities of ammunition. Many seizures disclosed stores of blasting powder, dynamite, fuses and caps. Others uncovered home-made bombs complete in every detail. Many caches included knives, bayonets and clubs..."
In this region -- from Concordia Parish eastward to McComb in Mississippi -- more than 30 bombings were reported from 1964 through 1967. Some caused little to no damage, but many were destructive. The last one was deadly.
Beginning with the bombing of the Blue Flame cafe in Bude, Miss., in April 1964, the nightmarish period ended three years later with the car bombing that killed Wharlest Jackson in Natchez, an employee of Armstrong Tire & Rubber Company who was involved in Civil Rights.
Many of the bombings were linked to the United Klans of America, while the attack on Jackson and an earlier car bomb attack on George Metcalfe, also an Armstrong Tire employee, were linked to the Silver Dollar Group, a gang of violent Klansmen, including members of the UKA, White Knights, and Original Knights. The group was dedicated to the violent opposition of segregation, according to the FBI. The sons of one Klansman -- the late Earcel Boyd Sr. of Concordia Parish -- identified their father as a member of the Silver Dollar Group.
In almost every case, the victim of bombing attacks were targeted for various reasons, ranging from involvement or perceived involvement in civil rights or for speaking out against Klan violence. Following is a chronology of known bombings and information relating to weapons and explosives from the files of HUAC, the FBI, Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol (MHSP), Adams County Sheriff's Office, the Natchez Police Department and from wire service stories:
March 14, 1964: Natchez police officers told a HUAC investigator that on this date a shop owner on Shields Lane in Natchez reported that a case of dynamite stored in the attic -- brand name "Hercules" -- had been stolen. The dynamite was purchased on Oct. 25, 1963, from Perkins & Perkins Hardware in Brookhaven to "blow some slush pits in the oil field."
April 15, 1964: The Blue Flame cafe in Bude was bombed with dynamite. The African-American owners of the business were husband and wife John and Lillie Clark. The blast "jarred" homes a mile away. The business was closed at the time Lillie Clark said two vehicles pull up, and she heard someone shout "take off, take off." When the vehicle was a block away, the dynamite exploded.
May 17, 1964: An informant told MHSP that several members of the Adams County White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were contacted by an unidentified individual from Hammond, La., who offered to sell them 1,000 "live hand grenades" for $7.50 each. The grenade supplier was said to be located in Arkansas.
July 1964: Billy Bob Williams, a retired FBI agent who was a resident agent in Natchez in the mid-1960s, traveled to McComb where "the kluckers had bombed a church." In a tree on the grounds authorities found a gallon ice cream container with three to four dynamite sticks, each ringed with ball bearings. Williams said it was believed the culprits intended for the dynamite to explode when Civil Rights workers arrived to inspect church damage, which was severe. Instead, said Williams, authorities realized that had the bomb exploded they would have been the victims.
July 12, 1964: A pop bottle filled with rags soaked with gas or kerosene was thrown at the home of Willie Washington, a black contractor who lived at 44 North Pine in Natchez. The bottle fell short of Washington's home, landing instead on the concrete steps leading to the front door and broke on contact. A witness saw a white over green Chevrolet with a Louisiana license tag speed away. Inside were two white men.
Sept. 14, 1964: A stink bomb, a device filled with an offensive odor that is long lasting, was thrown in the grocery stores -- Jitney Jungle and Nosser City -- owned by Mayor Joe Nosser at 1:15 a.m. Windows were knocked out and a chemical containing acid was thrown which police said would "eat up a floor." Also hit with a stink bomb that night was George Auto, the local Chevrolet-Cadillac dealer, owned by Orrick Metcalfe. In addition, a brick was thrown through a window and a new Cadillac drenched with acid.
Sept. 25, 1964: A bomb was thrown onto Mayor Nosser's lawn leaving an eight-inch deep crater, a foot across. The bomb landed eight feet from Nosser's front porch, blew the cornice off a pillar, cracked the brick foundation and plaster in the living room. Nosser and his wife were inside watching television. Neither was injured. Windows in two neighboring homes were shattered. The blast shook the Mississippi River Bridge and could be heard across the river in Vidalia.
Minutes later, a second blast was heard on the other side of town. This bomb was thrown into the lawn of Willie Washington, who had been targeted in July. The bomb landed in hard gravel on the drive, and blew out all of the front windows in neighbor Lewis Berry's home. In the Washington home, plaster was broken on the inside, and glass knocked out of windows. Washington's wife, Georgia, was home alone at the time, but not injured.
Police Chief J.T. Robinson said the bombings were first in which explosives were used inside the city limits of Natchez.
Oct. 5, 1964: Authorities arrested several McComb area men -- all members of the United Klans of America (UKA) -- for a series of bombings and arsons, more than 25, in which churches and homes of blacks were targeted from April to September. One man booked was Emery Allen Lee. Inside his home, HUAC said police found "pipe bombs, capped and fused, and ready for detonation, as well as hand grenades and a large quantity of blasting powder."
At a gravel pit near Lee's home, police found a "cache of arms that included military-type hand grenades, 15 shrapnel and dynamite bombs, a five-gallon can of explosive powder, several thousand rounds of .30 caliber ammunition, some carbines and black jacks." FBI said Lee, 35, had experience in weapon technology having worked at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.
Oct. 13, 1964: An informant told MHSP that:
-- Known Klansmen were flying in dynamite from Texas to Parker's Island in Louisiana.
-- Machine guns could be purchased for $150 each but had defective barrels.
- Carbine refills were being bought at a war surplus store in Vicksburg.
-- Klansmen who belonged to the National Guard were furnishing hand grenades and ammunition to other Klansmen.
-- Fifty members of the Klan in Fayette, Miss., had purchased burp guns and grease guns. Both were military-type submachine guns. The burp gun, which shoots in short spurts, was used by soldiers in World War II, and a grease gun was an M3, a .45 caliber sub used by the Army to replace the Thompson series of submachine guns.
-- Part of the dynamite -- 15 sticks on all -- found in a junked car had been used to bomb the Blue Flame Cafe in Bude.
Mid-October 1964: A White Knight official advised all members to bury explosives and weapons as part of a moratorium on violence put into place because of the heat the FBI was putting on Klan groups.
Oct. 19, 1964: Informant said hand grenades were being stored at a service station in Natchez.
Oct. 23, 1964: Nine UKA members pled guilty in state court to the bombings in McComb in which thousands of dollars of damage was done to the homes of black citizens and to black churches. Judge W.H. Watkins Jr. said the bombings wouldn't be tolerated but said the men were young and from good families. Because of that all nine men, some facing five-year prison terms for the use of explosives, received suspended sentences and were put on probation.
Oct. 26, 1964: A survey team found a "quantity of dynamite" -- 24 pounds, three ounces -- strewn along the rocks at the edge of the Mississippi at a point where the Natchez sewerage line entered the river. MHSP identified the dynamite as "40 percent Strength Dupont explosives, Special Gelatin, mfg. by E.I. Dupont...Wilmington, DE."
Aug. 27, 1965: George Metcalfe, a black, 20-year employee of Armstrong Tire, president of the NAACP and a civil rights advocate, was seriously injured by a bomb attached to the steering shaft under the hood of his 1955 Chevrolet. The vehicle was heavily damaged and Metcalfe survived with a broken leg, broken arm and facial lacerations. The bomb was made of primer cord stuffed in a half-gallon milk carton and ignited when Metcalfe turned the ignition switch. Ten additional MSHP officers and 10 additional FBI agents moved into town to investigate.
Nov. 20, 1965: Robert "Buck" Lewis' home in Ferriday was damaged when a gasoline bomb exploded on his lawn at 9:30 p.m. Lewis, president of the Ferriday Freedom Movement, was inside with his wife and five children, none of whom were injured. The blast damaged the front of Lewis' home and broke out several windows. The homes of other civil rights advocates in Ferriday were also bombed during this period, including Richard Thompson, the Rev. A.T. White and David Whatley, while Leroy "Lucky" McCraney's filling station was targeted. Only minor damage was recorded in each case.
July 26, 1966: Four UKA members -- three from Natchez -- contacted the Neshoba County Sheriff's Office in Philadelphia, Miss., to advise "they had a case of dynamite." MSHP and the FBI were notified. One of the Klansmen was the late Myron Wayne "Jack" Seale, the brother of James Ford Seale, currently in federal prison for the 1964 murders of Meadville, Miss., teenagers Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore.
The material was turned over to an FBI agent who had it stored at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Meridian. The Klansmen would not reveal where the dynamite came from, but the material included a case of dynamite and 23 spools -- more than 1,000 feet -- of electric wiring caps.
Nov. 19, 1966: A Natchez business and an Adams County residence was bombed. On Dec. 5, 1966, UKA member Myron Wayne "Jack" Seale was indicted by the Adams County Grand Jury for the bombings .
At 1 a.m. on Nov. 19, 1966, a bomb was thrown onto the lawn of Adams County Board of Supervisors member June Callon, landing six feet from his residence at Washington. The blast blew out two windows. A handle from a grenade was found at the scene.
At 1:17 a.m. an explosion rocked Irvin Oberlin's jewelry store inside the Ritz Theatre on North Commerce in Natchez. Police spotted a red Volkswagen speeding from the scene and later found it parked outside the Fountain Lounge on Homochitto. Inside, police found the driver, Jack Seale. The Volkswagen was "pock marked" with what appeared to be grenade fragments.
Inside Seale's back pocket was found a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson Body Guard designed with a shroud over the hammer.
Feb. 27, 1967: An explosion near the Armstrong Tire Plant at 8:11 p.m. shook Natchez. A 1958 Chevrolet pickup was completely demolished and debris blown 150 feet away, truck parts landed in front yards and debris smashed holes into two nearby homes.
Killed was Wharlest Jackson, a Korean war veteran, and treasurer of the Natchez NAACP who had days earlier taken a job at the tire plant that previously had been filled only by white men. Constantly harassed by known Klansmen at the plant, Jackson continued his civil rights work and friends and family say never once backed down to a taunt or a threat.
The bomb had been placed left and slightly to the rear of the floor of the truck on the driver's side. A pathologist said the "enormous magnitude of the injuries inflicted upon this unfortunate man indicated that the explosive device was of a large size."
(Stanley Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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