a word on Cochran and the American Socialist

john hunter gray hunterbear at SPAMif.rmci.net
Mon Oct 2 16:08:36 MDT 2000

This is a friendly note with respect to Bert Cochran et al and the American
Socialist.  I'm a fairly recent reader of the Marxism Digest and appreciate the
just issued, positive perspective on Cochran and his journal.  In the mid-1950s,
I was a young half-blood Native American (barely into my twenties) in my native
state of Arizona -- an aspiring radical,  a member of what remained of the
I.W.W., and active in the always courageous and hard-fighting Mine-Mill.  I came
across a copy of the American Socialist  and in late 1955 subscribed.  I had
already begun to write radical stuff (that excellent Wobbly editor, Fred
Thompson, provided first-rate tutelage at many points -- e.g., "to be really
radical, you don't have to rant and rave.  You have to accurately describe  the
massive injustice all around you and  sensibly discuss basic curative approaches
and solutions.")  Then and now, never a sectarian, I very much appreciated the
essentially ecumenical approach exemplified by the American Socialist and
finally, in February of 1957, I sent Cochran two things I'd written:  The first,
"Navaho Indians: Oil And Mining Buzzards Hover Overhead," dealt with the savage
(a word I don't use lightly)  invasion of Navajo Nation lands by a veritable
army of mineral seizing capitalist predators -- under the auspices of the ever
obliging Bureau of Indian Affairs which, among its other cynical reasons, was
utilizing every resource at its command to force Indian people (including the
Navajo) from their lands via "urban relocation" -- with the ultimate goal being,
of course, the full-fledged seizure of what remained of Native territory.  My
second piece, drawing from things (anti-racist,  civil liberties, student rights
etc. ) going on even in such closed citadels as Arizona -- as well as elsewhere,
none of this really reported broadly -- predicted widespread student activism
within a very few years.  I sent the two pieces to Cochran together and
immediately got an extremely cordial, receptive letter of substance (which
regrettably I did not save; what kid does at that age?).  He welcomed the Navajo
piece eagerly (subsequently publishing it in September, 1957.) The other he
rejected, very sadly, saying he simply could not share my great optimism.  (As a
result of the Navajo piece, George Shoaf and I struck up a hearty
correspondence.)Years later, about 1964, fresh from teaching at Mississippi's
Black Tougaloo College and being privileged by History to play a leading role in
the blood-dimmed Jackson Movement of 1962-63, I was a field organizer in the
hard-core South for the commendably radical Southern Conference Educational Fund
-- then headed by that always optimistic, excellent Left activist, Jim
Dombrowski.  Out of the blue came a short note from the ever gracious Cochran. 
With immediate and explicit reference to my long ago "rejected" piece on
predicted,  widespread  student activism, he said "You were right. And how glad
I am you were!"  By then,  I had already done much more writing across the Left: 
e.g., pieces for the  first rate literary magazine Mainstream (with its very
fine editor Charles Humboldt and such excellent people as the  very effectively
enduring Dr. Annette Rubinstein),Mississippi Free Press, Southern Patriot
(SCEF), etc.  Cochran had found the Navajo tragedy revealing and crucial, had
encouraged me to keep with it, and I continued that story over the years -- with
emphasis on the  super-hideous spectacle of surfacing radioactive horror (from
both uranium mining and refining and Desert Rock nuclear testing);  and those
pieces appeared in such journals as Labor Notes, Third World Socialists, New
Perspectives (World Peace Council.)  And -- always  an organizer and always a
left socialist, those dimensions forever!  -- I went on to write -- and do to
the present moment -- for such fine journals as Against the Current.  As in the
old Woody Guthrie song, "many years have come and gone" since those far away
days in the Arizona of the '50s -- but the forthright and always encouraging and
basically optimistic Bert Cochran, like a number of fine Left editors then and
now -- remains firmly on the Sunny slope of my memory.  He took  the time --
like Humboldt and others did -- to encourage a young Arizonian in that still
lonely setting: just before the Great New Decade rose up.  It has seemed to me,
very much these past several years or so, that those times -- the mid and late
'50s -- were much like our present trek (but now we have the refreshing
upheavals of Seattle, and beyond, and Nader.)  To an Indian, nothing is ever
really coincidental.  Perhaps there is indeed some intriguingly positive and
special meaning in the fact that we are once again hearing of Cochran, his
vision, his courage and honesty,  his excellent journal.  Solidarity to All. 
John Hunter Gray (John R. Salter, Jr.)  Pocatello, Idaho John Hunter Gray
(Hunter Bear)

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