CCJI Helps Launch Wharlest and Exerlena Jackson Legacy Project
To honor the sacrifice and memory of two civil rights activists from Natchez, MS, Syracuse University College of Law's Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI) helped launch the Wharlest and Exerlena Jackson Legacy Project with a two-day virtual symposium for public junior and senior high school students in both Natchez and Syracuse on March 26-27, 2021.
Wharlest Jackson was an employee at the Armstrong Tire Plant who was active in the Natchez NAACP along with his wife, Exerlena. He was killed in February 1967 by a bomb planted on his pickup truck. Although no one was arrested for the murder, the FBI believed a group associated with the Ku Klux Klan was involved.
On hand to help launch the Legacy Project named for their parents were Wharlest Jackson Jr. and Denise Jackson Ford, who spoke at the event titled “Honor Their Memories; Continue Their Legacy.” In fact, several generations of Jackson family members were present, in addition to other friends and community members who knew the family.
In addition to honoring the Jacksons' sacrifice, the Legacy Project aims to provide resources to enable junior and high school students to achieve their goals and to continue the Jacksons’ dedication to civic engagement.
Friday's program introduced participants to the Jacksons and their civil rights legacy and included a short film tribute by CCJI volunteer Kendall Anderson. Saturday convened Natchez-area educators and civic leaders and included several concurrent panels on topics designed to inform and inspire junior and high school students.
Among the participants, representing Syracuse Law, were CCJI Co-Founder Professor Paula C. Johnson; alumna Pthara Jeppe L'19, Wolinsky Fellowship Attorney, Disability Rights Advocates; 3Ls Alexander Bejaran Estevez and Dianne Jahangani; 2Ls Moriah Combs, Hilda Frimpong, Mazaher Kaila, Kayla Wheeler, and Keyashia Willis, and 1Ls Kendall Anderson, Gabriela Groman, Camisha Parkins, and Iain Phillips.
Jahangani told the Concordia Sentinal newspaper that when she joined CCJI she, "delved in more deeply with the various projects that we have; it was late August 2020 when I was introduced to Mr. Wharlest Jackson Sr.’s cold case.”
A Legacy Project for the Jacksons had already been discussed, Jahangani said, but it stalled when the coronavirus pandemic began. CCJI then decided to move forward with the Legacy Project virtually "and hopefully in the future be able to have this be in person one day,” she said.
Jahangani, who is research assistant for Professor Johnson and CCJI, added that connecting students in Natchez and Syracuse was a "wonderful opportunity to build that networking connection."
To further assist the school students, Syracuse Law students have offered to become "Life Buddies"—or mentors—to help them navigate the next steps in their lives. Junior high and high school students who register in the Life Buddies program will be assigned a law student who can answer questions about the path to college and other career decisions.
CCJI continues to investigative the Jackson case and continues their legacy for racial justice and equality.