Docu-Series Breathes Life into Civil Rights-Era Cold Cases, New Meaning to Cry “No Justice, No Peace”

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Beverly Terry

Last week, Investigation Discovery, partnering with the NAACP, hosted the premiere of  their new reality three-part investigative docu-series, ‘The Injustice Files’ with narrator/host, film-maker Keith Beauchamp at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Feb. 16th, 2011.

The atmosphere was abuzz with anticipation, hundreds of guests flocked to the Schomburg Center to view this monumental show. Keith Beauchamp — the force behind the recent ground-breaking documentary film The Untold Story of Emmet Louis Till — developed the idea with the ID channel out of his experience working on the Till documentary.
He told Our Time Press, “The Wharlest Jackson, Sr. story {“The Secrets of Natchez”} was one of the hardest cases I’ve ever had to work on during my career as an investigative film producer.  It is a haunting story.”

In 1967, one month after taking a promotion at the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Factory in Natchez, Mississippi, Wharlest Jackson, father of five and treasurer for the local chapter of the NAACP, was murdered in a car bombing, one block away from his home. Hearing the explosion, Wharlest Jackson’s son rode his bike to the scene of the crime and unfortunately witnessed the results of this sophisticated murder plot.

Of special historic note, Mr. Jackson, Sr. was appointed to the NAACP Natchez chapter by Charles Evers, brother of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, NAACP field secretary who  was assassinated four years earlier in Jackson, Mississippi, a 90-mile stretch from Natchez.

Mr. Jackson, Sr.’s remaining family members and everyone else involved in the reinvestigation of the case feel Mr. Jackson’s ascension to a position that was previously held for whites only was the “reason” for his murder. Wharlest Jackson, Jr., age 9 at the time of his father’s death.  Forty-four years later, almost to the day of his father’s death (February 27), Wharlest Jr., now a civil rights activist, participated on the panel following the screening.
The two other surviving Jackson siblings were also in attendance for the docu-series.

Eldest daughter Debra Jackson Sylvester seemed pleased with the final cut of the episode detailing her father’s murder. She states, “Beauchamp and Investigation Discovery put love (into the effort).”  It is not “thrown together,”  she told us,  as if it were a “Hollywood” movie.

The murder of Wharlest Jackson, Sr. launched one of the biggest FBI cases in the civil rights era. NAACP President Hazel Dukes spoke highly of Jackson’s determination, stating,  “Here we are today in 2011 still crying out for justice for those who gave their lives to be treated and just to be (respected) as human beings.”

Mrs. Sylvester told this reporter, “The FBI dropped the ball in the 60’s; they really let us down by closing their investigation and turning the case back over to the local authorities.”
With the agency’s Civil Rights-Era Cold Case File Initiative packed with 110 mysteries, the FBI is now hoping the series will draw out new leads on racists who danced with the devil from onlookers, witnesses and even their relatives and children.

FBI Unit Chief Cynthia M. Deitle, a consultant on the show stated, “I understand the disappointment the Jackson family must feel for the FBI for dropping the ball back when the investigation first began.”   The agency’s promotional materials are poignant.  In one sepia-toned image, Beaucham sits in front of what could be an old country courthouse with a clock against the wall.  In another, it looks as though he could be in prison.  Both are reminders of a past that haunts and tethers us to an American tragedy and acts of domestic terrorism.
The cards and flyers read: “110 unsolved civil rights murders; 110 grieving families’. 110 reasons to keep looking for justice.”   Deitle and Beauchamp acknowledge that these cases are the tip of the iceberg of “secrets” frozen in time and hidden in towns across the nation, including Brooklyn, New York, where Beauchamp is a Fort Greene resident.

Wharlest Jackson, Jr., the victim’s only son stated, “Keith, CBS and Investigation Discovery did an honorable job with the show.” He also concurred that Mr. Beauchamp, ID and CBS put heart, soul and dedication into the project, a memorial to his father. Henry Schleiff, President and CEO of Investigation Discovery said, “Even though (these tragedies occurred more than 40 years ago), we will not forget.”   He also spoke very highly of the Jackson family, calling them  “courageous.”

The series, now presented in three parts, may turn out to be the Civil Rights America’s Most Wanted – something undoubtedly Investigation Discovery would like to see.  But its importance to all Americans can not be understated.  And the producer’s decision to screen the docu-series not only in the heart of Black America, but in the towns where these tragedies took place reveal, too, how far we’ve come in this technological and visual world, where entertainment can impact reality.

Wharlest Jackson, Jr. and his siblings are strong in their conviction that the series and their work in telling their father’s story will spark interest nationwide in bringing forth new evidence in the Cold Case Initiative so that families of these victims can gain closure.

For Wharlest Jackson, Sr., time has not passed; there will be no peace if there’s no justice.  For Wharlest, Jr., too much time has passed, but the faith in the story will always be told.
So Beauchamp is to be applauded for having a screening at Harlem’s Schomburg venue, the institution that holds the largest collection of African-American and African Diaspora information in the world.
The second episode in The Injustice Files series airs tomorrow night, February 25, on Time-Warner channel 23 in New York City.  The third will be broadcast next Friday, March 4.  Episode descriptions are below:

Episode Guide

The Ghosts of Bogalusa – Friday, February 25 at 9PM ET
The first two African-American police officers in Bogalusa, Louisiana were gunned down while on patrol. Deputy Sheriff Oneal Moore died instantly, but Deputy Sheriff David Creed Rogers was able to call in a description of the pick-up truck used in the drive-by shooting.

He Walked Alone – Friday, March 4 at 9PM ET
William Lewis Moore was an activist who planned a peaceful protest — a solo Freedom Walk from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi to hand deliver a letter to the Governor of Mississippi urging for full human rights to African Americans. Despite friends, family and law enforcement warning him about the dangers of the journey, Moore started his walk, which ended when his body was found on the side of a road in Alabama.
(Photojournalist Beverly Terry’s work can be seen in the new group-show, “Harlem Views, Diasporan Visions: The New Harlem Renaissance Photographers,” currently on exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture through June 30. She also is the underground reporter for examiner.com, and a recurring contributor to Our Time Press.)

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