By Matthew Schafer | LSU Student
In the early morning hours of March 7, 1967, a bomb ripped through a real estate office in Jackson, Miss. The following day, the FBI opened a yearlong investigation of Joseph Daniel Hawkins that led to the arrest of the Jackson resident.
In spite of strong evidence, including an eye-witness account, the charges didn't stick.
Hawkins, a self-avowed white supremacist and member of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, allegedly bombed the Blackwell Real Estate Office to intimidate a real estate agent who sold houses in white neighborhoods to blacks.
At the time of the bombing, Hawkins was only 23 years old. He lived with his wife and young son in Jackson, working an unassuming 8-to-4 job on the loading dock of a freight line.
Hawkins' life outside of work, however, was far from unassuming. According to FBI documents obtained by the LSU Manship School's Unsolved Civil Right-era Murders Project team, Hawkins claimed membership in numerous white-supremacist groups, including the Original Ku Klux Klan of America OKKKA), Americans for the Preservation of the White Race and the United Klans of America.
He was thought to have held the position of "exalted cyclops," or leader, in the latter group.
Hawkins, who is deceased, was considered an "action man" in the Jackson area, according to investigating agents at the time. He supposedly participated in a number of violent acts against Jews, civil rights advocates and blacks in and around Mississippi, said the report.
This behavior eventually won him the trust of Sam Bowers, the infamous cofounder of the OKKKA.
Before Hawkins' rise through the national ranks, however, his concerns were set on the changing demographics of Jackson, specifically, and Mississippi, generally.
According to the high-ranking Klansman Earl Wilson, he attended a party at a Klansman's house in late February 1967. While at the party, he, along with Bowers and several others, discussed William Blackwell, owner of the Blackwell Real Estate Office.
The men felt that Blackwell needed to be "taught a lesson" for selling homes to blacks in Jackson, according to the bureau's files. After one man made a "boom" sound, reported the agents, Bowers told the men that Blackwell would be a "good project" for them to undertake.
On March 6, Wilson met with Burris Dunn Jr., a Klansman. The two went to Dunn's house and then to a Jackson bowling alley where they picked up Hawkins and yet another Klansman, J.L. Harper. The FBI quotes Wilson as saying that around midnight, he and the three other men drove to the Blackwell Real Estate Office.
Once at the office, Wilson recalled that Hawkins and Harper climbed out of the car and headed towards the office. Moments later, Wilson heard glass break and saw Hawkins and Harper heading back to the car.
The next morning the office was in rubble. It took Wilson almost a year to confess to the bombing and finger Hawkins, Dunn and Harper. Wilson's confession eventually led to indictments of Hawkins, Dunn, and Harper.
Hawkins went to trial in August 1968. At trial Wilson recounted the night that he accompanied Hawkins, Dunn and Harper to the real estate office.
Despite the evidence, an all-white jury acquitted Hawkins after deliberating fewer than three hours. After the verdict was delivered, Hawkins shook the hands of the jury members.
Editor's Note: This story is part of a series based on investigative research by the unsolved civil rights murders project team at LSU's Manship School of Mass Communication. The information was obtained, for the first time, from 45-year-old FBI files through the Freedom of Information Act and, where noted, from the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday, La.