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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tribute to Brave Men - Fighting the Klan in Mississippi

When my family moved to Natchez, Mississippi in 1966 it was almost a low intensity war zone. It's a beautiful town on a bluff over the Mississippi River, with more intact antebellum homes than any other city. But it also had the strongest, most violent chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. The first year we lived there (I was in high school) the klan blew up a black man named Warlest Jackson who had the audacity to believe he had the right to be treated fairly at his job at the local tire and rubber plant.  Jackson was a brave man who bucked the system when that could get you killed. There were many others.

The FBI agent who led the investigation was Mr. Gamblin. He moved into Natchez with his family and they became our next door neighbors. I think his first name was George, but to me he was always "Mr. Gamblin," who could have come out of central casting - tall lean, steely eyed.

He must have lived under terrific strain, knowing the klan would love to kill him. He also had to deal with an active presence of the Mafia, across the river in Louisiana. He was a courageous, decent man. He died, I think of a heart attack, shortly after he retired.

All the FBI agents in cases I've been involved in have been cool professionals. J. Edgar Hoover had his flaws but he built a great institution.

On another positive note, I love the television show Justified about a modern day Deputy U.S. Marshall banished to Lexington, Kentucky after shooting a drug kingpin in Miami. Timothy Olyphant (Sheriff Seth Bullock in Deadwood) plays Ray Givins, the lawman. The show, written by Elmore Leonard, does a great job depicting the corruption in some of the smaller cities and rural areas - meth labs, white supremacists, a sheriff on the payroll of the cartel. I hope to give it balance that in future episodes they have story lines about non-white criminal gangs.

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