Post-script on alleged 1943 massacre of Black GIs in South Mississippi

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at
Thu Jun 14 16:54:19 MDT 2001

This last late May, In These Times began to widely publicize the forthcoming
lead story in its June 11 issue -- the alleged 1943 massacre of a thousand
Black GIs at Camp Van Dorn in South Mississippi.  I sharply challenged this
in a substantial response  -- calling for "sensible skepticism" -- which I
posted widely.  Nothing has yet come to me which lends a whit of credence to
this presumed account -- a  story of which I am now completely skeptical.
In the e-mail context, only one person has directly challenged my skepticism
and that person offered no evidential counterpoints.  A couple of other
people felt the tragedy could have occurred -- and indicated a wish for more
information.  About a dozen other people joined me in my skepticism --
including several quite knowledgeable regarding the bloody Magnolia State.
And then there was an interesting telephone call -- which I shall discuss in
a moment.  Anyway, here is my update postscript:

I have now, of course,  read the ITT story itself, do not find it at all
convincing in any sense -- among all of the other factors, writer
O'Connell's  gaps seem to me considerably greater than those of the Army
investigation [and I'm certainly not known for being an apologist for the
military services!]

But then, on Sunday, May 27, I received an e-mail from a Mr Rusty Denman
of Asheville, North Carolina --  who had seen my e-mail post on the
"massacre" -- asking that I get in touch with him by telephone on the Van
Dorn matter.  I did, but not before  I determined via search engine, that he
had assisted in the publication of the Case book, The Slaughter, which
launched this controversy.  Mr. Denman, an Anglo, who is from McComb,
[one of many Mississippi settings I know quite well], talked extensively for
the better part of an hour in an effort to convince me of the validity of
the alleged tragedy at Van Dorn.  In my opinion, he offered absolutely
nothing that was at all tangible [I don't believe at any point that he said
he had played a major role in The Slaughter's publication] and, though our
talk was cordial in the casual Southern sense, my skepticism climbed to ever
higher peaks and remains in that stratosphere.

I made it clear to Mr. Denman that:

1] I certainly believe anything like the alleged massacre can happen --
especially to minority and working people -- anywhere in the world. [And it
certainly could  occur in a place like Mississippi!] I am, after all, a
Native person who is historically aware of such atrocities as Sand Creek and
Wounded Knee and much, much more -- to say nothing of sanguinary episodes
such as the slaughter of striking coal miners at Ludlow, Colorado in 1914.

2]  I am sure that, when something massacre-wise does occur, efforts are
generally made to cover it up completely.

3]  Wilkinson County, Mississippi, is not, however, an isolated and remote
and sparsely settled land -- and I am quite certain that a coverup of a
statistically "large" mass killing could not be successfully effected and
maintained in any Mississippi setting.

I also told Mr. Denman several other things that supplement my initial
reasons for skepticism:

Ms. Anne Moody, the Black author of Coming of Age in Mississippi, is from
Centreville, Wilkinson County.  She was a long-time student of mine at
Tougaloo College in the early '60s, sat next to me in the famous and bloody
and very much publicized three hour sit-in at the Woolworth store at Jackson
in May, 1963, and we have been in touch at many points in the ensuing
decades. At no point, as a Tougaloo student, in her fine book, or at any
time since  has Anne Moody ever indicated this atrocity to me.  She has told
me of many other hideous episodes.

I continue to be very deeply involved in Mississippi and know many people
across all sorts of racial and political lines.  And, for whatever it may be
worth, I am a Life member of the august Mississippi Historical Society.  Not
even the remotest thread of a Van Dorn massacre ever surfaced in all of
these decades and their countless conversations on Mississippi racial

 Our conversation turned to extremely insular Neshoba County, Mississippi
and its very sanguinary history,  and a very less than convincing effort by
author Case to somehow link that pervasively tragic Northwest Mississippi
setting to the  earlier Van Dorn situation in South Mississippi.  At that
point, I did mention to Mr. Denman that my 19 year old one-half Mississippi
[Neshoba Co.] Choctaw grandson lives, with his mother [my daughter] and his
sister right here with us in Idaho and that, in any case, we know Neshoba
very well, too.

Mr. Rusty Denman and I ended things at that point.  Some material he was
going to send me following our May 27 conversation has not yet come -- as of
June 14.
I frankly do not now expect to receive it.

Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]  [formerly John Salter, Jr.]   Micmac/St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk

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