“American Reckoning” is a mostly uncomfortable documentary about the emergence of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement of the “negro” in the United Sates of the 1960’s as fleshed out through the 1967 murder of NAACP activist Wharlest Jackson Sr. killed by a car bomb in his hometown of Natchez, Mississippi.
Wharlest Sr. was in some respects a marked man as he was friends with NAACP activist George Metcalfe injured in a car bombing in Natchez in 1964. He also took a job in a local tire manufacturing factory that ordinarily would have been filled by a white. He was murdered on his first day on the job. Wharlest was a decorated Korean War soldier.
Wharlest’s story is recounted through archival footage of the situation in Natchez and through various interviews with his family, former Natchez politicians, a daughter of a Klan member that beat his children for talking with blacks and journalists. And it is a nasty story of discrimination, hatred, segregation and murderous violence. But it is also an inspiring story of courage and determination of the black population of Natchez to be recognized as human beings as opposed to being demeaned by whites as Jungle Bunnies, savages and cannibals.
As the NAACP gained in strength and spearheaded a boycott of white owned stores the white city council finally caved to the 12 demands the local black population had presented which resulted in those stores hiring blacks, the police force hiring 6 black police officers and some desegregation. It also was a crippling blow to the local Klan chapter.
You may be surprised to learn that there was an armed group of blacks called The Deacons for Defence and Justice which was formed for the purpose of self defence. And that more murderous elements of the Klan thinking men in sheets and cross burning was banal was formed and called The Silver Dollar Club. It would appear there was circumstantial evidence but no hard evidence pointing a finger to a Silver Dollar Club member as the murderer.
Wharlest’s murder was never solved despite the passage by the United Sates Congress of the Till Act in 2007 that provided for the funding of reopening cold cases of Civil Right’s violence. Of the 150 cases pursued all but 25 were closed and that included the Wharlest murder.
Having lived through these Civil Rights times and the violence and murder in its wake I almost didn’t have the heart to watch this sad story but I am glad that I did. I also realize that there may be younger viewers who may have limited knowledge that the Civil Rights movement in the United States existed and the blood it was covered in.
The world broadcast premiere is on February 15, 2022 which can be seen at FRONTLINE/PBS and streamed at pbs.org/frontline.
It was directed and produced by Brad Lichtenstein and Yoruba Richen.
You can watch the trailer here https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/american-reckoning/