Sensible skepticism on alleged 1943 massacre of a thousand Black GIs in South Mississippi

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Mon May 21 10:48:46 MDT 2001


A Mississippi story -- strange, even for the  very sanguinary Magnolia
State, is presently making the rounds.  Appearing in the June 11, 2001 issue
of In These Times, its essence -- the ostensible 1943 massacre of 1,000
Black GIs in a South Mississippi military base [near Centerville, Wilkinson
County] -- is showing  up (cautiously)  on some Lists.  I have not seen that
issue of ITT -- and the link to the story, provided by the lists involved,
doesn't seem operative at this point.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say
that healthy skepticism is certainly called for on this one.  [The fact that
the Pentagon has discounted this is not, believe me, my basic reason.]

Mississippi,  like some other places [Idaho!] , is murky, mysterious.  Like
other  of the old-hard core Southern settings, Mississippi is full of
bloody stories -- and many are indeed hideous.  If the swamps and the rivers
could only talk!  Most, not all, of the victims have been Black.  And there
are still sections of the State which, when I visit, I do quietly take along
a protective firearm.  There are long memories and current challenges.

I have a pretty good feel for Mississippi.  As many know, I and my wife,
Eldri, went there in the Summer of '61, became deeply involved in the Civil
Rights Movement in Jackson and elsewhere in the state, and in other Deep
South settings.  Although we left the South in the Summer of '67, I have
maintained  close contact with some of the old war arenas -- and this very
much includes Mississippi in which I've been deeply involved, now, for forty
years.

Even today, with considerable population growth since the really "turbulent
years," there are  few secrets in Mississippi.  Forty years and more ago --
and certainly in 1943 -- there were very few indeed.  Many of these things
never did -- and still don't -- get into the news media.  But they were and
certainly are very well known .  A standard joke in Mississippi has always
been that you could whisper anything at Hernando [northeast corner] or Moss
Point [southeast] or Woodville [southwest] or Corinth [northeast] -- and it
would take it only three days to cover the entire state.

This story,  the swift massacre of a thousand Black GIs and bodies buried in
mass graves and shipped north in boxcars, simply doesn't fit, despite  --
apparently according to ITT -- the relatively recent appearance of
witnesses.  Aside from the general lack of secrecy about anything in
Mississippi, other reasons that I have problems with this are:

  The return of vets from World War II had a major impact on the country.
This was especially true in situations where minority vets returned to
racist/segregated home areas:  Blacks in the South; Chicanos and Native
Americans in the Southwest -- and there are, of course, many other ethnic
and geographical examples.  I knew Medgar Evers -- the courageous martyred
NAACP field secretary, extremely well.  He, like many of the civil rights
activists in  Mississippi [e.g., the also martyred Clyde Kennard,
Hattiesburg] of the 1950s and 1960s, was a WW2 veteran.  He was also
extremely interested in veterans' affairs.   He was a member of AMVETs --
one of the better vet groups which was quite opposed to segregation [unlike
the Legion and VFW].  He came up with the solid idea, around April, 1963,
that he and I [a more recent vet, early '50s] should form an AMVETS chapter
in Jackson and do everything we could to start it on a racially integrated
basis. I was all for it. Medgar wrote the national AMVETS office in early
May and I signed the letter with him.  Two days after he was shot to death
from ambush -- June 11 -- I (and Medgar's family]  each received a long
letter from the national commander of AMVETS,  which, written of course
before Medgar's murder and addressed jointly to Medgar and myself,
enthusiastically approved the idea of an integrated unit at Jackson.  The
idea died in the great turbulence that followed his death:  we immediately
launched massive demonstrations which were bloodily suppressed. [ My AMVETS
letter is my collected papers in Mississippi Dept of Archives and History
and a copy is  in my comparable collection at State Historical Society of
Wisconsin -- and I maintain an AMVETs membership out of loyalty to my old
comrade.]

But never  did I hear Medgar -- who knew everything in Mississippi --
mention this presumed 1943 situation.  Nor did any of the other men, very
much attuned to the problems of Black vets, such as another old friend, the
late Sam Bailey, ever indicate anything of this sort. Nor did any of my
Tougaloo students from that area ever bring anything like this up in their
myriad of genuine accounts of hideous nature.

 In the Spring of 1962, a  Maryland-based Black MP corporal, Roman
Duckworth, Jr., on his way to Taylorville, Mississippi where his wife was
giving birth to their sixth child, was taken  from an interstate Trailways
bus by a White Taylorville constable and murdered in front of at least
thirty witnesses.  His crime?  He had refused to sit in the back of the bus.
We rallied as fast and as much as we could on that one -- and, much to the
fore, were the Black vets in Mississippi.  The Army, by the way, sent an
integrated color guard to Taylorville for his funeral and the US Justice
Department did nothing at all.

 But, again, if there had been a whisper of this  presumed 1943 atrocity,
Medgar Evers would certainly have known it.  There  were many Black cooks
and other Black workers on and around a base of that sort.  And they always
knew much -- always.  A major civil rights intelligence force in places like
Mississippi were Black maids in the homes of prominent White segs and Black
janitors working in the headquarters of places like the White Citizens
Council.  [In an Eastern North Carolina situation, the very large and
violent local KKK unit, the Klavern, always sent its robes to a White
dry-cleaning establishment -- where all of the workers were Black.  Thus we
always had an up-to-date roster of that section of the Enemy's forces!]
White racism put many-faceted, helpful blinders on our foes!

What happened to the hundreds of bodies ostensibly shipped North in
box-cars, presumably on the Illinois Central.  In Mississippi and adjoining
areas, regardless of the season of the year, this would certainly not have
been unnoticed enroute -- much of the route going through Illinois.

Other factors greatly inhibiting my acceptance of this story are, simply,
surviving family members involved -- plus the fact that Centerville is not
far from New Orleans.  That fascinating old city, while never any bed of
roses racially, featured, even in the World War II period, militant Labor
[longshoremen et al.], many many Left radicals of all colours, and
relatively strong civil rights organizations.  The grapevine from South
Mississippi certainly has always reached down there!

Even an atrocity involving  a much smaller number of victims would, I'm
certain, have been broadly  noted.  A very statistically "small"
situation -- e.g., a few victims -- might  well  be obscured -- especially
if they were not from Mississippi.  But this story speaks, apparently, of a
thousand.

The horrors of Mississippi -- and many other settings in the United
States -- are certainly legion.   And I haven't yet had an opportunity to
read the ITT piece.  But I do have serious problems with this account and,
if it turns out to be false, I shall be wondering why it was written and
published. If false, it does the Cause no good.  If, by some remote chance,
it is true, it raises the most profound questions at all levels and in all
directions.

If anyone has any solid info on any of this, I'd very much appreciate
hearing it.

In Solidarity,

Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]  Idaho










Hunter Gray
www.hunterbear.org




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