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|Ambush on Poor House Road: Who killed Clifton Walker in 1964?|
On February 28, 1964, Clifton Walker, 37, an employee of International Paper Company in Natchez, was gunned down in an ambush on Poor House Road in Wilkinson County, Miss., near his home.
His murder was investigated but unsolved almost a half century ago. The FBI reopened the Walker case in 2007. In all, the bureau says it has reviewed more than 100 civil rights-era crimes.
Other local cases reopened include the 1964 murders of Joseph Edwards and Frank Morris in Concordia Parish, the 1965 shooting death of Johnny Queen in Fayette, Miss., and the 1967 murder of Wharlest Jackson in Natchez.
Ben Greenberg, a freelance reporter from Boston, Mass., and a founding member of the Civil Rights Cold Case Project (coldcases.org), housed by the Center for Investigating Reporting in Berkeley, Calif., has been investigating the Walker murder for five years.
His story on the case is published today in The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss. (www.clarionledger.com) and USA Today. A video trailer by Paperny Films on the Walker case can be found at: http://blip.tv/ben-greenberg/clifton-walker-investigation-6261839 and at Greenberg's website: hungryblues.net.
Greenberg's investigation is ongoing; to supply information on this case, contact him at email@example.com or 617-440-4635.
Greenberg discussed the Walker case and the Walker family in an interview with the Concordia Sentinel.
WHO WAS CLIFTON WALKER?
GREENBERG: Clifton Walker was born in Woodville, Miss. in 1927. The youngest of nine children, he was nicknamed "Man" as a child, which stuck through adulthood, as his older siblings tended to look up to him.
Clifton Walker met Ruby Phipps on her way home from Sunday school in 1943. They were married in 1945 and had five children together. The Walker children remember their parents as a strong unit. After they were put to bed, the children would hear their parents talking about life and planning for their needs, how to pay for a car or a washer or what to buy their kids for Christmas.
Clifton Walker served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War. After his discharge, following a knee injury, Walker went to work at International Paper plant in Natchez, where he was a laborer in the wood yard and a member of the black union, St. James Local 747 Pulp, Sulfite and Paper Mill Workers. At the time of his death he made a good wage for a black worker, reportedly $8/hour.
WHAT HAPPENED TO WALKER ON FEBRUARY 28, 1964?
GREENBERG: His last day alive, Clifton Walker carpooled to his 3–11 p.m. shift at International Paper with four other men, three whites and one black. On their way home after work, they stopped at a club outside Natchez and bought three fifths of whiskey. Though they rode together as a racially mixed group, they drank out of separate cups, rather than share a bottle.
Walker picked up his 1961 cream-colored Impala at Ford's Creek, on U.S. 61, about seven miles outside Woodville, and drove solo the last stretch towards home. His family land was off of 563, east of U.S. 61. Walker liked to take a shortcut over to 563 on Poor House Road, rather than drive several miles out of his way to pick up 563 further down the interstate.
Near midnight on February 28, Walker turned left onto Poor House Road. There were gunmen waiting for him about 300 yards down the road. They stopped his car. Several men came in close and fired in at Walker at extremely close range, blowing his face apart.
Clifton Walker was found in his car by a neighbor the next day. All the windows were shot out and the car was riddled with bullets. Walker was still seated at the wheel but his upper body was flung across the passenger seat. His keys were hanging from the open glove compartment door, showing his chrome-plated .38, which he never reached. The seat and floor were drenched with his blood.
WHAT WERE THE MOTIVES FOR THE MURDER AND WHO WAS INVOLVED?
GREENBERG: Ballistics information and other evidence in Mississippi Highway and Safety Patrol investigative documents from 1964 suggest there were at least three gunmen firing in at close range. Walker's daughter Catherine remembers hearing from her mother that the FBI found shell casings all along the banks of Poor House Road, where the victim's car was stopped. This suggests there was also a crowd of men on both sides of the road, firing on the car.
The motives for the murder remain uncertain. Clifton Walker was not involved in civil rights activity. He was self-possessed, earned a good living, dressed with flair, liked to drive recent model cars and provided well for his family. His independence and his sense of style made him "uppity" to some. Unsubstantiated rumors abounded of his having made sexual advances towards white women.
It was a very dangerous time for blacks in Mississippi in 1964. The White Knights of the Ku Klux had just officially formed in February. Many of the first recruits came from southwest Mississippi. Such rumors about a black man and white women were enough to get him killed. Whether something more specific triggered this highly orchestrated lynching is still an open question.
HOW HAS WALKER'S FAMILY COPED WITH HIS MURDER?
GREENBERG: For the rest of her life, until she died in 1992, Ruby Walker often needed sleeping pills to sleep. She died without any sense of closure about her husband's death.
Catherine, Shirley and Clifton Jr., who are closely involved in my investigation, all report lifelong difficulties making and maintaining close relationships outside of their family. Catherine in particular has struggled greatly with depression and broke with her religious upbringing. They all work and have families and are tightly knit as siblings. Catherine and Shirley are especially close. They speak on the phone everyday. When we talk together, the two sisters share sentences, without ever seeming to interrupt one another.
About a year after the murder, it became too hard for the Walkers to remain in Woodville. Ruby Walker moved her family to Zachary, La. Though the children all live elsewhere in Louisiana and around the South, they continue to maintain the house that they moved to with their mother. They convene there frequently to be together as a family and remember and honor their parents.
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