On June 8, 2000, Ernest Henry Avants was indicted by a federal grand jury for the 1966 murder of Ben Chester White in Natchez, Mississippi. Avants, James Jones, and Claude Fuller – all believed to be members of the Ku Klux Klan – murdered White on June 10, 1966, in an attempt to lure Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the community, where they planned to assassinate him.
According to the testimony of James Jones, who confessed to police, the three men approached White, a 67-year-old black sharecropper, and asked him to help them find a missing dog. They then drove White to an abandoned area in Homochitto National Forest and, when White refused to get out of the car and began begging for his life, Fuller shot him repeatedly. Afterwards, Avants shot White in the head with a shotgun and the three men dumped his lifeless body near Pretty Creek.
White’s murder went unsolved until local police began investigating a car fire, and suspected the car was the same one that had driven to the bridge where he was killed. Eventually the car owner, James Jones, admitted his part in the murder – but later denied giving the confession. The three men were charged with murder in state court in 1967: Jones’ case ended in a mistrial; Fuller claimed to suffer from severe illness and never stood trial; and Ernest Avants was acquitted.
More than 30 years later, because White was murdered on federal land, the United States initiated federal murder charges against Avants; by then, Jones and Fuller were deceased. In June 2000, a federal grand jury indicted Avants for aiding and abetting White’s murder. In 2003, Avants was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. He died in prison one year later, at the age of 72.
“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar. America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans. The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood. EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.