By Kevin Thibodeaux and Brian Sibille | LSU Students
Newly declassified FBI documents detailing the investigation into the Feb. 18, 1967, race-related murder of Wharlest Jackson in Natchez, Mississippi, reveal that Raleigh J. (Red) Glover, leader of the violent KKK-offshoot Silver Dollar Group, was the FBI's main suspect, although formal charges were never filed against the late Vidalia, La., resident.
Jackson, who worked at the Armstrong Tire plant, had been promoted shortly before his death, leading many people to suspect the new position, which had previously been held by only white men, prompted Jackson's death when a bomb exploded under the seat of his pickup.
However, FBI interviews with employees of Armstrong at the time reveal few people acknowledged knowing about Jackson's new position before the FBI's investigation temporarily prompting alternative theories: His involvement with the Natchez chapter of the NAACP or that the bomb was intended for George Metcalfe, head of the local NAACP and a previous target of a KKK bombing.
The LSU Unsolved Civil Rights-Era Murders Project at the Manship School of Mass Communications gained access to thousands of pages of 45-year-old FBI investigative documents from the Jackson, Miss., FBI office after filing Freedom of Information Act requests in 2010.
The FBI investigation indicates Glover masterminded the bombing, but the evidence is mostly circumstantial or based on Klansmen turned informants. The FBI believed the detonation trigger was activation of the pickup's turn signal, meaning whoever rigged the bomb had to have done so while Jackson was at work.
Glover worked a midnight to 8 a.m. shift at the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Plant in Natchez. Jackson worked extra time on the day of his death, leaving the plant around 8 p.m. Glover would have had the opportunity to attach a bomb to Jackson's truck.
That particular day, Jackson's truck wasn't parked close to the plant, but it was in plain sight and noticeable to some of the individuals interviewed by the FBI, although agents found no witnesses who acknowledged seeing anyone tampering with Jackson's truck.
Glover told federal investigators he had been home sleeping around the time of Jackson's death after eating dinner with his mother. He said he "laid around the house" that day, telling federal agents his wife would come home only a couple hours before he left for work. His mother was unable to communicate effectively enough to be interviewed by FBI agents.
In the files, O.C. Poissot, a Klan member who later had a falling out with Glover, provided the FBI with crucial details into Klan-related violence in the Natchez area. Among his admissions, Poissot shed light on the Metcalfe bombing. (Poisot, now dead, also is a prime suspect in the fire-bombing death of Frank Morris, a black Ferriday businessman, in December 1964.)
Poissot told the FBI that Glover had claimed responsibility for the bomb that injured Metcalfe. The files detail how Glover and other Klan members told Poissot about the bombing of Metcalfe. Poissot recalls that Kenneth Norman Head and another man were lookouts in the Metcalfe bombing and had tried to recruit Poissot.
"If I'm going to be a lookout, why can't I get in on some of the action?" Poissot said to Head, according to the released files.
Glover responded, according to Poissot, saying he was a demolition man in the Navy. "You have to know exactly what you're doing."
Aside from numerous interviews with Glover starting in 1965, the FBI also interviewed his wife and stepson on numerous occasions. His wife denied her husband's involvement with any violent groups in the area, but detailed many connections between Glover and known members of the Silver Dollar Group.
Glover's stepson, James Edward Watts, also denied Glover's involvement, though the files show that Watts, too, had a history with the Klan.
The Silver Dollar Group (SDG), which was centered in Vidalia, La., and headed by Glover, gave each new member a silver dollar dated the year the recruit was born. When other Klan groups were stepping away from the raw violence of the past, the SDG embraced it. Glover roamed throughout Louisiana's Concordia Parish and the Natchez area in Mississippi.
He also appeared to be prominent in the state among KKK groups, eventually meeting with Robert Fuller of Monroe, La., who led an offshoot group of the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the first Klan group to organize in Louisiana during the civil rights-era, for about a year in 1963-64. Fuller himself was investigated over the killing of four blacks near Monroe. He claimed it was self defense.
The meeting with Fuller took place on Oct. 11, 1965, in Monroe, La., according to FBI documents, The two men discussed reasons why the KKK units in Vidalia and Ferriday had been sworn out of the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. At the time, Glover told Fuller he could bring the two units into a single organizaiton again, according to the FBI.
A large portion of the FBI's investigation dealt with looking into a KKK fish fry where it is believed the Silver Dollar Group first began experimenting with explosives. According to the files, the Silver Dollar Group had its own explosives expert who was responsible for stealing materials from construction sites. This member, whose nickname was the "Scrapman," was identified as Elden Glenn Hester.
Investigative findings from that time had Glover moving the explosives he had been storing at his residence to the home of his step son, James Watts. Informants also indicated Watts' wife, Barbara, had admitted to a friend her home was being used to store the explosives.
Though Glover's friends and family repeatedly said he was not a violent man, an account from Luther Thomas Wallace, a Natchez man who knew Glover, revealed the suspect had an affinity for explosives.
Wallace related that he and his wife were once fishing at the same spot as Glover and a younger man near Lake St. John, 15 miles north of Vidalia. The fish weren't biting that day, and Wallace said Glover solved the problem by lighting a bundle of dynamite and tossing it into the water.
Several FBI informants told of numerous times when Glover would boast about his explosives prowess. Wallace said Glover touted himself as someone who could "bomb just about anything."
In one specific incident, the FBI said Glover asked E.D. Morace, another member of the Silver Dollar Group, to store 38 sticks of dynamite for him. The explosives later were turned over to the FBI, suggesting Morace may have been an FBI informant.
Perhaps the most significant evidence in the FBI files is that in January 1967, only weeks before the Jackson bombing, Watts visited Glover's home to help him work on his car. According to FBI documents, Watts "helped Glover put new wires on the coil, generator, distributor and the starter or ignition.
Watts told the FBI the Glover had bought the truck only nine months before from friend.
According to The Concordia Sentinel, Klan members unsuccessfully attempted to hook up explosives to the spark plugs of a car. The Klan then successfully wired the explosives to the ignition coil. James Frederick Lee, a Klan member, wondered aloud if the coil on a six-cylinder Chevrolet, the model car Metcalfe drove, "could be reached by a person lying underneath the car," the newspaper reported.
It is believed the bomb was triggered by the turn signals in Jackson's pickup and exploded when Jackson turned onto another street as he drove home from work.
Although FBI agents never found sufficient hard evidence to formally charge Glover, their efforts prompted emotional responses from Glover.
Over the course of the investigation, the file indicates Glover became increasingly paranoid about the FBI. He related to other Silver Dollar Group members the FBI was constantly following him. He also began to suspect that there were Klan members who were FBI informants. Some were, but in a movie-like scenario Glover confessed his inner-most fears to one of those informants.
His fears turned out to be well founded. At one point, the FBI had 12 informants in the Natchez-Vidalia area, some of whom revealed intimate details about Klan and Silver Dollar Group meeting and activities, often within a day or two of their occurrence. .
Ultimately, it was Glover's own indiscretions that led to his downfall. Informants detailed how Glover's paranoia about the FBI drove off many of his KKK and Silver Dollar colleagues. People began to shun Glover, as his paranoia grew stronger in the years following Jackson's murder.
The Silver Dollar Group became disillusioned with Glover's leadership and began to segment. Some also were unhappy with Glover's extramarital affair, while others were upset because he stole a bushhog from a fellow Klan member.
Up until his death in 1984 at age 62, Glover was a suspect in other acts of violence, most prominently the disappearance of Joseph Edwards in 1964 and the 1965 near-fatal bombing of George Metcalfe, a local NAACP leader and friend of Jackson's.
Glover never was accused formally of any violent crime in spite of several years of surveillance. The Wharlest Jackson and Joseph Edwards cases remain open and are under investigation today.