NEW ACTIVIST THOUGHTS #3


MY ATTACK -- THREE POSTS -- ON THE ALLEGED

'MASSACRE" AT CAMP VAN DORN, MISSISSIPPI,

1943

THIS WAS POSTED ON MAY 21, 2001 -- TO MANY LISTS.

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NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR: 4/07/07

I received this most interesting letter on April 6, 2007:

Subject: Camp Van Dorn

My late husband was stationed at Camp Van Dorn from Oct, or Nov. 1942
until Sept. or Oct. 1943. I arrived in Baton Rouge the first week of
November, 1942 (2 or 3 days after election day that year.) I voted in
Missouri - my first vote. My husband met my bus and that day there had
been a racial incident on the streets of Baton Rouge involving gunfire.
We went on up to Centerville the next day, From then until June, 1943,
I lived in Woodville and worked on the base. There was racial
tension and a newly constructed Service Club on base had been burned
down, reportedly by Blacks. I heard nothing of any mass murders. My
husband was a Master Sgt. in 99th Division Headquarters and I believe he
would have told me if he knew anything of that nature.

We lived in the home of Mrs, A. M. who still lives in Woodville
and is in her nineties. The 99th Division still publishes a newspaper,
The Checkerboard, in Marion, Kansas and I have never seen a discussion
of such an event in that paper.

I just now read your discussion from 2001.

[Mrs] Margaret P..

HUNTER BEAR RESPONSE TO MRS. P:

Dear Mrs P:

Thank you very much for your most interesting letter on the Camp Van Dorn
matter.  I greatly appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Your valuable, first-hand perspective certainly finds ready resonance with
me, and would with any other reasonable person who has spent any time
studying the situation,  I was surprised at the poor judgment of the
journal, In These Times, [which died several years ago] -- but even more
surprised that, initially, a fair number of otherwise sensible people were
willing to believe such a wild tale.  And it was a tale which certainly was
no service to anyone, save those who sought a fast dollar.  The thing now
seems gone, and gone forever, and the planned movie never got off the
ground.

Again, I am very pleased to have your full and solid views on the situation.
You were there and your analysis is first-rate.

Our very best,

Yours, Hunter Gray

HUNTER GRAY  [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR]   Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
 and Ohkwari'

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

ADDED UPDATE NOTE :  MAY 26, 2003  HUNTER GRAY

[The spurious "Van Dorn Massacre" tale in which  'In These Times' was taken]

Note by Hunter Bear:

About two years ago -- Another Time -- a surreal and sanguinary story of
massively hideous proportions was being thrown to the Four Directions.  It
charged that, in 1943 at Camp Van Dorn, a South Mississippi Army base, 1,000 or more Black
GIs were officially massacred by military authorities, their bodies dumped
in various locales, and the Horror concealed forevermore.

The left newspaper, In These Times, took up this bizarre contention as one
of its very top causes -- and disseminated the Van Dorn Massacre in every
way that it could.

Even before this developing  Bloody Spectacular was widespread, the Army,
naturally enough, was skeptical, investigated, found nothing. But, since It
was deemed the mass killer, its efforts to defend itself were quickly and
cynically dismissed.  The story moved like a June forest fire in the dry
Ponderosas of Northern Arizona. Various politicians, obviously tilting
toward believing the worst, jumped precipitously into the act -- and even
the usually circumspect NAACP called for investigation and then more
investigation.

I knew immediately that the Van Dorn massacre was, to state it politely,
pure fantasy -- and a colossal disservice to the many bona fide
victim/martyrs of Old Mississippi and its blood-drenched Closed Society.

And, as far as I know, I was the first civilian to directly and openly
challenge the entire Van Dorn account.  In short time I was followed by a
few others -- the excellent Portside carried my contentions far and wide --
but striking indeed were the people who,  although privately congratulating
me on shooting down the Great Canard, said nothing publicly themselves.

Here are my three consecutive posts on the spurious and dangerous Van Dorn
Massacre nonsense.  They, I should add, were very widely disseminated in
their own right.  They're now on our large Lair of Hunterbear website at
http://www.hunterbear.org/newactivistthoughts.htm

The Van Dorn Massacre story suddenly died.  Fast, hard and forever.  In
These Times, which had given it sweeping coverage,  never admitted it had
been Royally Taken .

Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear]


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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 Centreville, Wilkinson
County] -- is showing up (cautiously) on some Lists. I have now seen, via
the link provided by the lists involved, the full story on the Net. And
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that very strong, 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 really few secrets in Mississippi. Forty years and more
ago -- 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 [northwest 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 --
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 the American Veterans Committee --
one of the better vet groups which was quite opposed to segregation [unlike
the American 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 AVC chapter in
Jackson and do everything we could to start it on a racially integrated basis. I was all
for it.  Medgar made appropriate contacts with the national AVC office in early May or so.

But Medgar was shot to death from ambush --
June 11.  Weeks later, I  received a  letter from a national officer
of AVC, which, written of course after Medgar's
murder, enthusiastically approved
the idea of an integrated unit at Jackson. But he idea had been buried in the great
turbulence that followed Medgar's death: we immediately launched massive
demonstrations which were bloodily suppressed. [The AVC 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 [an essentially akin group] 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 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 local
and very violent 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 en route -- much of the route going through Illinois.

Other factors greatly inhibiting my acceptance of this story are, simply,
the family members of the GIs involved -- plus the fact that Centreville 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 of a
thousand.

The horrors of Mississippi -- and many other settings in the United
States -- are certainly legion. 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.

In Solidarity,

Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear] Idaho  [formerly John R Salter, Jr]

Hunter Gray
"http://www.hunterbear.org"


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I SENT MY SECOND POST ON JUNE 14, 2001 -- AGAIN TO MANY LISTS:

In late May, 2001, In These Times began to widely publicize its 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 --
and one which I believe does the Cause no good whatsoever. 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,
Mississippi
[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
matters.

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 Eastern 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.


Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear] [formerly John Salter, Jr.] Micmac/St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
"http://www.hunterbear.org"

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ON JUNE 20, 2001, I SENT MY THIRD POST TO MANY LISTS;

I  continue to hear with relative frequency from people regarding the
alleged 1943 massacre of a thousand Black GIs at Camp Van Dorn in South
Mississippi -- an account apparently initiated by the Carroll Case book, The
Slaughter [1998], and given considerable recent publicity as the major front
cover feature in In These Times [June 11 2001.]

My initial post strongly advising sensible skepticism on this matter was
put forth by me on May 22, 2001. At this point, June 20, apropos of my
recently updated postscript on the matter [posted at several points in early
June], there is still only one person from whom I've heard via e-mail who
has directly challenged my very basic skepticism on this alleged atrocity
[and that person offered absolutely nothing contrary of an evidential
nature]; and there are still only two people who -- recognizing that such a
tragedy could have occurred -- sought more evidence. Everyone else -- about
two dozen at this point, old friends and new, including a number of Southern
Black people and well-established academic civil rights scholars -- has
joined me in my very, very profound skepticism. Breaking its policy of not
reposting something they have previously posted, H-RADHIST [Radical History
discussion arena] has reposted my postscript -- asking a now much posed
query: Why did this massacre story appear? I have a thought or two of my own
on this which I'll give in a moment.

Two of my points disputing the Van Dorn massacre have struck many notes of
positive resonance: [1] The fact that the very knowledgeable and extremely
capable martyred NAACP field secretary, Medgar W. Evers, himself a WW2 vet
active in veterans' affairs, with whom I was privileged to work very closely
from the Summer of 1961 until the night of his death on June 11 1963, never
mentioned even a thread of a Van Dorn massacre -- nor did any other very
involved Black veterans who were civil rights activists in the Mississippi
setting and with whom I worked closely; and,

[2] The fact that Camp Van Dorn would have had, within it in 1943, a very
large number of local, employed Black civilians . A US Army base in 1943 --
especially anywhere in the 'States -- was still Old Army enough to use a
great deal of civilian "help"and, in Mississippi, these would be primarily
local Blacks: cooks, maids for officer BOQs and family residences, janitors,
lawn maintenance, and much more.

In dialoguing with various e-mail correspondents, I've made a few other
additional points: I, myself, was eight and nine in 1943 and living in a
semi-rural Western backwoods setting. Telephones abounded, radios were
prevalent, there were
cars everywhere and even "flying machines," people were swapping things for
gas ration cards, there were railroads, post-offices were functioning at
high gear, and Western Union existed.

Less than a decade after the alleged 1943 massacre, I was a GI myself --
listening to very long-time Southern Black career non-com cadre
bitching justifiably about the fact the Army was swimming in paperwork. It
all began, I was told many times -- and the Real Army went to Hell -- right
after Pearl Harbor -- just as soon as we entered WW2. [Of course, they very
much approved of Truman's quick and determined and effective
integration of the Armed Services -- but that's about the only change they
liked.]

Whatever 1943, the Army, and Wilkinson Co were, they weren't a Gobi in the
days of Jenghiz Khan.

In my initial post on this, I pointed out that Wilkinson County,
Mississippi, is really quite close to New Orleans -- which has had for many
generations an extremely active civil rights community, a vigorous labor
movement, and a wide range of constructively engaged Left radicals. People
from Wilkinson County have always gone down to New Orleans -- and many
Blacks have gone there for employment. From the late 1930s onward, New
Orleans was a bastion of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare [later
the Southern Conference Educational Fund -- for which I, in the early and
mid '60s, was Field Organizer] and New Orleans was also a major focal point
for the very active and effective CPUSA-led Civil Rights Congress. It's
very hard to see any of these sharp-eyed human rights eagles missing even a
shadowy whisper of a "Van Dorn Massacre!"


And as I mentioned in my previous postscript on all of this, I was contacted
on May 27, 2001 by Mr. Rusty Denman, originally of McComb, Mississipi [the
home of author Carroll Case] and now of Asheville, North Carolina -- who
spent almost an hour endeavouring to convince me of the reality of the Van
Dorn tragedy. [Mr. Denman, I learned independently, had substantially
assisted in the publication of The Slaughter.] As I pointed out in my
postscript, Mr. Denman offered nothing evidential. Material that I gathered
he was going to send me has never come.

So what do I think got this all started?

Those of us who've soldiered in the trenches of Old Mississippi and the Old
South generally -- and who've kept up with these settings in the seemingly
endless flow of "New Souths" -- are aware that the Magnolia State and its
regional kin are a major headwaters of Conspiracy Stuff. And there have
been -- and I'm sure there currently are -- many, many bona fide
conspiracies in Dixie -- most, in my opinion, relatively small ones but not
always! But, frankly, a very great many Dixie conspiracies are, of course,
just pure fantasy.

I think author Carroll Case, an Anglo savings-and-loan exec at McComb, heard
some typical Mississippi bull-shooting and eventually fell prey -- in not
uncommon Mississippi fashion -- to yet another ungrounded conspiracy tale.

What Mr. Rusty Denman's interest in all of this is, I know not -- but I did
not pick up any altruism in my almost hour-long phone conversation with him.

Why In These Times would run this sort of story -- obviously tilting heavily
toward its presumed "reality" and giving it full-dress front cover status --
should be very disturbing to all social justice activists. The fact that
ITT, has been, according to many reports, floundering fiscally and is now
under the patron wing of a wealthy Silicon Valley angel,
may have something to do with the journal's apparent journey off in a
gambling new direction. If this is the case, ITT could be in danger of
eroding its reputation for generally accurate and careful journalism.

And, finally, to all of those countless martyrs who've shed blood and often
given their lives in the human rights struggles of Mississippi and the South
generally -- and elsewhere -- this "account" of the alleged Van Dorn
"massacre" certainly does a great disservice.

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

POSTSCRIPT NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR: 2/29/08

Very early this morning -- I arose before 2 am -- I chanced upon an old [ca. 2002] History Channel piece on the alleged Camp Van Dorn Massacre in South Mississippi away back in the World War II days. That issue, the alleged massacre of up to 1,000 Black GIs, began to surface publicly in relatively contemporary times -- 2001 -- in the journal, In These Times, to which we then subscribed. And it became, for a time, a truly hot item on the Net. It faded. Very early on, I voiced strong skepticism in a widely posted piece, And I followed that initial one with two others. I was interested in the fact that, although I received a number of thoughtful private notes of agreement with my position, relatively few seemed willing to agree with me in a public context. [If I recall correctly, and of course I am sure I do, Portside printed my position and some others, pro and con.]

Anyway, the History Channel piece ended without any firmly specific conclusions. For my part, I hold firmly to my original position: The tale of the alleged "massacre" stemmed from cumulative folklore fantasy -- propelled by commercialism and, in many quarters, from the nature of Old Mississippi, whose racial sins need no enumeration here. [I always remember with appreciation the editorial comment in a major New York City newspaper which, in reference to a severe police beating incurred by me, used the phrase, " . . .in that primitive jungle known as Mississippi."

Our website page on the Van Dorn matter -- one of our first website pages -- has for years occupied the top line in Google. And, through the years, it's been a consistently visited page. Occasionally, I hear from people. If interested in reviewing the Van Dorn issue, the Link:
http://www.hunterbear.org/newactivistthoughts.htm

Yours, H.

HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'

Check out our Hunterbear website Directory http://hunterbear.org/directory.htm
[The site is dedicated to our one-half Bobcat, Cloudy Gray:
http://hunterbear.org/cloudy_gray.htm

See Forces and Faces Along the Activist Trail: http://hunterbear.org/forces_and_faces_along_the_trail.htm
And see also this companion piece, http://hunterbear.org/outlaw_trail1.htm
 

RACISM, ETHNOCENTRISM, REALITIES [PARTS 1 & 2]  5/11/01

These thoughts of mine are prompted by various discussional episodes on
various lists:

There's a good deal of confusion these days about what racism and cultural
ethnocentrism are and are not.  They are certainly  big components of that
river of poison that's so antithetical to humankind -- along with all of the
other anti-people isms -- that must come from a murky and fog-bound
headwaters full of goblins and demonic bats.

Racism is the effort to deny the biological humanity of the victim -- the
target.  It's the most dangerous nonsense that humankind has yet produced.
While Anthros talk of various racial stocks:  Negroid, Caucasoid,
Australoid, Mongoloid [with some including Native Americans as Mongoloid --
I'm personally quite satisfied with that -- and others placing Natives as a
separate group], there is certainly, of course,  extremely pervasive
consensus among Anthropologists and all scientists [and has been for many
decades], that "racial differences" are extremely skimpy, superficial -- and
have nothing to do with any intelligence qualities or physical abilities.
Further, there is wide recognition that there is no longer any "pure" or
completely "full-blooded" racial category among humankind.

A concept that waxes a bit now and then, and wanes a great deal, involves
the presumption that specific racial memory and identity  and knowledge are
conveyed genetically.  Known as "biological essentialism" or "biological
reductionism," this is, in my opinion and that of a great many others who've
studied this faddish flower, quack nonsense -- generally not initially
racist in its own right -- but very much open to a downward drift or plunge
into plain old biological racism.  And this has certainly happened in some
instances.

Racism is historically new.  It began to develop, and not all that vaguely,
in the late 1400s and early 1500s as western Europe moved into the non-white
sections of the world seeking land and resources, ports and booty, and
slaves.  From the outset, it was the basic rationalization for genocide and
slavery. Very quickly indeed, the Roman  Catholic Church condemned racism in
a series of Papal pronouncements:  correctly recognizing the anti-human
nature of this fast developing  and thoroughly destructive doctrine; and
also very much interested in conversion of the non-Whites [and a bona fide
conversion has to be predicated on a recognition of the basic human equality
of the intended convert.]  These major denunciations of racism carried heavy
weight in Spain, Portugal, France.  But the fast developing Protestant
Reformation saw England and Holland break with Rome -- and, quickly, those
two nations came  early-on to embrace racism as national doctrine.

Cultural ethnocentrism, essentially a "cultural superiority complex", is as
old as humankind  -- and can easily run close behind racism as extremely
dangerous doctrine. Racism, since it seeks to deny the basic humanity of the
victim, is always inherently ethnocentric -- since, if one presumes the
victim to be biologically inferior, it "follows" that his or her culture is
also  inferior.

But cultural ethnocentrism flourishes very widely in its own right.

  Carried beyond quietly private and mildly smug pride -- widespread -- it
has been consistently used throughout human history to justify genocide and
slavery and seizure of land and resources.  Sometimes centered on
theology -- "the only bona fide religion" -- it usually moves more broadly,
trumpeting the alleged superiority of one way of life [culture: the total
way of life of a people] over another.  The targets of ethnocentrism are
frequently, but not always, non-White peoples and their cultures; and here,
false and dangerous terms like "primitive" and "civilized"  are thrown to
the four directions. The Catholic countries -- especially Spain and Portugal
and France and later Italy -- frequently carried ethnocentrism into
dimensions as lethal as  racism.  But, if the target victim [usually
non-White] renounced  (or appeared to renounce)  his/her original culture
and adopted that of the European ethnocentric, he/she was pronounced
essentially equal [or almost so!] to the oppressor.  If the victim did not
renounce, hard and lethal stuff followed fast.

[ A parenthetical digression: But the primacy of economics can certainly be
seen in that the French -- ethnocentric Catholic Europeans --  often got
along very well with many Native tribes [not all] simply because their fur
trade interests and  great concerns about the English coincided with those
particular tribes. This frequently involved not only legal intermarriage
[common with "converted" Natives by the Spanish and the Portugese as well]
but the outright adoption by many French of the tribal culture.  "Some of
the French," wrote the American historian Francis Parkman, an Anglophile,
"were as lawless as their Indian allies."  By the same token, many Scots
who, although Calvinistic in theology, were interested in  close trading
relationships with the Indian tribes, abandoned or never embraced
anti-Indian racism to begin with [although they could certainly maintain an
anti-Black racism].  These Scots [especially Highland]  frequently entered
into legal intermarriage and profitable trading relationships with
Natives -- whereas the English,  more into agrarian and "mainstream"
commercial pursuits, usually maintained, with the help of Cotton Mather et
al.,  a general racism against all non-White people.]

The realities, of course, are that  ethnocentric terms like "primitive" and
"civilized" should be dumped and never used.  Every society and its culture
has its own special origin and vision and unique history and destiny. Linear
ranking is hideously fallacious. The only way any culture can be even
generally  evaluated is to  measure its own realities against its own
ideals.

In what's called the United States, Blacks have been consistent targets of
racism.  Native Americans and Chicanos and Asians have, depending on local
and regional history,
and  circumstance, been subjected to either racism or cultural
ethnocentrism.

And, when all is said and done, and we sit on the edge of a high mesa and
look out at the geographical contours of the Earth, we see that most of
these blend smoothly and logically together. So it is with  the contours of
humankind which, seen from a high vantage point, flow for the most part into
and with one another. The dichotomy of working class/employing class is  --
no  matter how diverse the various peoples involved -- the great basic
river-thrust.  Of the ultimate outcome, genuine socialist democracy of and
for many colours and cultures, I certainly have no doubt.

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]
www.hunterbear.org



Thanks very much indeed, amigo, for your full and interesting communication.

I'm familiar -- though not recently so -- with Lewis Henry Morgan's work on
the Iroquois -- and certainly  his  relationship with Ely Parker: Seneca,
traditionalist, Brigadier General in the U.S. Union Army!  I'm not
especially familiar with Engels' works -- only in a very general way.

You and I are not at logger-heads.  We may see things from a slightly
different angle -- and say them a bit differently -- but we're certainly
facing the same direction.

I grew up with a great wariness of terms like "primitive" and "civilized."
Whenever I've heard them used, it's been at best -- with regard to
"primitive" -- a pat on the head of "our little brown brothers" or -- more
frequently -- a presumption of "culturally inferior simplicity." As far
as
"civilized" -- well, that's always used to denote the presumed top of the
mountains -- no matter how sanguinary their conduct in recent centuries has
been!

I'm sure, from your own astute observations and studies, you'll agree with
me that even the smallest band of "hunters and gatherers" and its nomadic
nature -- which, being nomadic, sensibly doesn't permit massive
materialistic accumulation -- always holds a set of
philosophical/theological beliefs that are just as complex as any other in
humankind.

My father, a full-blooded Native person, never had any high school education
of any sort -- but did graduate from the Chicago Art Institute, later took
two graduate university degrees in fine art, and was an extremely gifted
artist.  I've always remembered how he consistently flinched when a
non-Indian well-wisher would gush happily about "primitive art."  Our ties
with Mexico were always very strong: Dad, as a  wandering 15 year old in the
year 1913, had become involved as a trooper on the Indian side of the
Mexican Revolution, and formed  an early association with Mexico and many of
its people which lasted throughout his  life.  In time, several close
associations developed with key Mexican Indian artists, including  Diego
Rivera -- who often put Lenin into his  great Native revolutionary murals.
As a kid, I remember many fascinating conversations between my father and
his Mexican art colleagues around the necessity of preserving basic Indian
values within the context of  Mexico's industrializing dimensions.

[Parenthetically:  In all my life, I've only heard of one instance where
"primitive" was perceived by the target as a compliment.  Around 1910, an
effete British Labourite called the  American Westerner and hard-rock miner,
William D.  "Big Bill" Haywood, a primary leader of the Industrial Workers
of the World, "a bundle of primitive instincts."  Given the source, Haywood
apparently rather liked that tag.]

I've always found much support in the fact that Jenghiz Khan was very much a
product of a "hunting and gathering" society.  During one of my several
incarnations as a professor -- at the Graduate Program in Urban and Regional
Planning at University of Iowa -- I occasionally played heretic and gave a
little time to the tongue in cheek projections of urbanologist Lewis Mumford
who wrote of this progression: eopolis into metropolis into megalopolis into
tyrannopolis -- and, via collapse, back to eopolis.

But, more seriously:  everything, of course, is in the process of some
change.  All societies -- and I reiterate that each has its special origin
and vision and history and destiny -- are changing in various ways
[diffusion, invention, discovery etc.]  If something can be seen to have
positive function, it's used -- unless it's perceived as too threatening
[and, increasingly, "threatening" seems presently less and less a
restraining factor in large-scale human societies!]  Geronimo, that
unyielding traditionalist, obviously loved his Winchester 1876 lever action.
He was always an Apache. The Navajo people of today use pickups ["Navajo
Cadillacs"] and, in those sections of the vast reservation which have
electric power, computers are more and more frequently encountered.  The
Navajo remain Navajo.  Nothing is static and there is always change, but
consistently valid basics remain in place. Native tribes have withstood
every effort by their land and resource-coveting enemies to put them, the
tribes, out of business -- but, unless virtually all of the tribe's people
are literally killed [and this has certainly happened many, many times over
the blood-dimmed centuries], the tribes and their cultures and their people
have survived. This has certainly required the adjustment of some
acculturation vis-a-vis, say, U.S. and Canadian culture;  but not in any
sense the sacrifice of the basic tribal ethos and its key cultural
components.  "Take what can be used, take it carefully -- and use it in   the
framework of our Way."

As I've indicated, I certainly am quite convinced, as I have been since I've
been a Teen, that  that the great River-thrust of History -- the dichotomy
of working class/employing class -- will carry us all -- all colours and all
cultures -- into genuine humanistic socialist democracy.  But in that

context -- increasingly mass-populated urban/industrial societies -- every
one of the tribal nations and  the other [ to use a term I've never quite
liked ] "folk societies" --  and their cultures and their self-determination
and their inherent sovereignty -- must be fully recognized and respected and
supported.  And all of this not as "primitive" museum pieces -- but as
viable and vigorous socio-cultural entities, important because they are
important to their people, and from which the larger societies can learn
much about common ownership, grassroots democracy, freedom and
responsibility.  Each tribal society has its own unique culture -- but there
are common dimensions.  And the most fundamental one is a communalistic
ethos in which the crux principle is that of "tribal -- or mutual --
responsibility":  i.e., the group has a responsibility to the individual and
the individual has a responsibility to the group; if there is a conflict,
the group's position always prevails; but there are also -- very
significantly -- certain clearly defined areas of individual and family
autonomy into which the group cannot intrude.

That principle,  "tribal responsibility", has enabled all types of tribal
nations: hunters, gatherers, farmers, town-dwellers, the Toltec city-people
of yore and their contemporary descendants  -- and even the urban Indian
migrants of today, grouped inter-tribally in such crucibles as New York
City, Chicago and Denver and Los Angeles -- to survive, keep going, keep
fighting, and on and on and far beyond.  This isn't "linear" or "primitive"
or "civilized."  This is shrewd, canny, principled living.

By all means, let's keep in touch.  In Solidarity - Hunter [Hunterbear]

Hunter Gray
www.hunterbear.org

GRASSROOTS ORGANIZING -- BONA FIDE AND RADICAL    4/15/01

In a variety of ways, we so frequently seem to be addressing the great basic question: "What is to be done?" [I might add that -- yes,  indeed -- I do have my own full 45 volume set of His works.]

I think what's really so often missing these days is bona fide basic grassroots organizing. There's never been enough of that -- ever -- and, while things may well be picking up on that score -- there certainly are some promising activist endeavours burning away -- there's still not much at all at this point. But it's Genesis, nothing more and nothing less, and I really think we're going to have to go back to that -- in a far-flung and intensive fashion -- and then forward and on: hard ahead.

Even those great social movements that arise in an ostensibly spontaneous fashion -- out of the smouldering pine needles, dramatically, transcendently, scattering inspiring sparks hither-and-yon -- have always been preceded by much really basic and tedious grassroots work. Assuming the goal is to radically and quickly mobilize, the Internet --21st century witch-craft -- is fine, to a point; and conferences and coalition building can make very good sense. But under it all has to be the house-to-house, block-to-block, country-road-to-country-road, lonely little meetings that -- hopefully --get bigger and bigger.  I'm talking about direct person-to-person stuff. That's really, in my opinion, some of the hardest -- and most worthwhile -- work there is: starting out by tangling with any and many of the myriad of burgeoning social justice issues ["big" and "small" -- and none that involve hurting people are ever really "small"] that characterize our increasingly grim time -- and going on to develop on-going and democratic local leadership;  helping people deal effectively with their grievances and individual/family concerns; working with the grassroots to achieve basic organizational goals and develop new ones; building a sense of the Radical New World Over The Mountains Yonder -- and how all of that relates to the shorter-term steps.

And, if you just happen to be a professor who, concurrently, goes outside the classroom and does social justice organizing , you'll always find -- as you know, if that's what you're really doing -- a great many students who will be extremely interested in your "real world" efforts -- and you'll find it surprisingly easy to present this dimension of your work in the context of Marxist analysis and action: carving up and dissecting and interpreting tangible issues!  And you'll find, too, that you can draw many students ever further along that trail -- and out into the field and your own grassroots  work, and beyond.

The main-line labor movement in the United States and Canada moved away, of course, from genuine grassroots organizing as priority decades ago and seems primarily, as most of us know, interested in organizing by merger and raid, mobilizing by press conference, and pouring millions and millions into funding fickle -- and sometimes downright treacherous -- politicos. Ultimately, of course, that easy "pie-card road" will have to give way to massive grassroots organizational efforts. [ Hell, to be flamboyantly optimistic, it might even come sooner than one might sometimes think -- after these recent elections in both countries -- but savvy people take a "show me" position on that!] 

And, to add another thought -- perhaps a  provocative one indeed: if the contemporary civil rights groups and their allies  had spent more time in Florida and some other places last spring, summer, and fall emulating the example of the old Southern Movement's grassroots organizing educational programs [e.g., Highlander Research and Education Center, the old SCLC citizenship schools, SCEF's radical conferences] -- and some of the Northern counterparts -- and  certainly the fine examples set by the old Left industrial unions -- and followed up their very commendable Year 2000 contemporary mass voter registration drives with tedious precinct and district organizing, the development of pervasive and effective election day reporting networks, and really extensive and intensive and substantial voter education work -- we would not have the debacle that we've now gotten in the United States.

Radical organizers, of course, have to always go much much deeper -- ever deeper -- and ever further -- building not only pitchy-pine fast-flame fires  but also the very critical individual and collective oak wood long-term endurance, developing effective and "flinty" tactics, and -- always -- Vision: bright and shining and compelling. These are the deeper and higher creeks of activism that become the rivers that make genuinely mighty radical movements. The issues abound -- multiply even as we "jawsmith" to each other! -- and all of this will certainly come again -- has to:  hard and tedious radical organizing, solid and feisty grassroots organizations with radical orientation and perspective, big and enduring and genuinely radical movements.

And then, among all the other positive things, we'll see the stormy sea of social froth that will build the Great Waves which, with effective leadership at all levels,  will provide the burning and intensive momentum and the radical reach, deeper and higher,  that are so critically needed.

And that's when the World really reaches out toward the Sun and far, far beyond.

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]  Idaho  www.hunterbear.org

 

ANTHROS [AND ANTHROS WHO MALIGN]   [THE ANASAZI SITUATION]

I very much appreciate Louis' post regarding the opportunism and hucksterism
of Michael Taussig.

Of course, there are many bona fide things of wondrous and inexplicable
nature in the Creation.  I am  certainly in the front rank of those
[certainly in the very front rank of socialists!]  who will argue not only
for the validity of William James' contention that it is a "pluralistic
universe;" but also that humanity, individually and collectively, cannot be
measured in purely materialistic terms -- and that there are some things
that will never be neatly codified into blackboard formulae. Anyone, for
example, who has seen the intricate  and thoroughly bona fide healing work
of a trained Navajo medicine man -- training that involves about 17 rigorous
years -- never scoffs, and always remembers.

That prologue completed, my bone to pick at this moment, however, is with a
handful of unscrupulous anthropologists who are vigorously engaged in trying
to build reputations by defaming a great people now gone.  This is a letter
of mine that was published a couple of years ago in the Idaho State Journal:

"The mini AP story/review of Christy Turner's "Man Corn:  Cannibalism and
Violence in the Pre-Historic American Southwest," appearing in ISJ Dec. 20,
[1998] warrants comment.

Headlined "Anasazi:  ancient American cannibals?" with a sub-dash head
"Book makes a strong case tribe ate men," the story is heavily slanted
toward Turner's extremely dubious -- in fact, downright defamatory --
account and conclusions.

His book takes the peaceful Anasazi of long ago [800-900 years], dwellers in
a myriad of farming communities in Northeastern Arizona, Northwestern New
Mexico, and Southwestern Colorado and transposes them, through his peculiar
alchemic perversion of anthropology, into a veritable network of monster
creatures epitomizing, to use his phrase, "the darker side of ourselves."

I'm a recently retired professor of American Indian Studies and a
northeastern Indian [Micmac, Abenaki, Mohawk] who, because of the vagaries
of family migration, comes from Flagstaff, Arizona.

In that region -- especially east and northeast of Flagstaff -- there are
hundreds of ancient Anasazi ruins in the cedar and pinon country.  Many,
many decades ago, honorable and distinguished "lone burro" researchers such
as Harold Colton, founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona, mapped and
studied them.

He and his equally capable successors never drew anything remotely
approaching the hideous Turner-type conclusions.  Even by this time, Anglo
grave robbers seeking mythical treasures were digging up Anasazi burials --
scattering bones, artifacts, and fine art to the four directions.

As a young kid, I was often taken hunting by a much older Navajo friend of
our family.  The late Ned Hatathli, who years later founded Navajo Community
College [now Dine' College], was a traditional person, very well versed in
oral history covering many epochs.

He gave me the Navajo view of the Anasazi:  town people, farmers, artisans.
Cognizant of the ancient Navajo animosities with them, he put it simply as a
conflict between nomads and town dwellers, adding that the Anasazi
monopolized some water resources.  He obviously knew nothing of a
"cannibalistic" reputation.

The Hopis -- among the descendants of the Anasazi, whose oral histories are
very much intact, and to whose views Turner gives only transitory
attention -- have certainly never held his perceptions [and, indeed, sharply
dispute them!]

I can recount a myriad of old-time Hopi accounts of their long-ago
ancestors -- none of which carry a shred of cannibalism.  Turner's book
defames a people and a positive way of life -- now long gone.  Perhaps in
some strange way, he is seeking to reduce good people to his own view of
himself.


[Signed]  Hunter Gray      "

But the efforts by Turner and a few other  opportunistic, Machiavellian
anthropologists continue -- despite vigorous repudiation by many in the
discipline itself and certainly by all Native Americans.  There are always
people, apparently, who are willing to purchase and swim in nonsense -- even
nonsense utterly vicious in motive, thrust, and effect.

And other very sad things continue:  A very recent national [US] newspaper
story carried the fact that Anasazi burials continue to be rampantly
pillaged by Anglo graverobbers -- despite theoretically strong Federal [and
some state] protective legislation.

Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]

Hunter Gray
www.hunterbear.org


 

THE MEANING OF HAYMARKET  [3/27/01]

I very much like and appreciate Mitch Jones' reflective, well-organized, and lucid essay -- and its focus on Haymarket. [I also think John Lacny's quite thoughtful comments indicate excellent scholar/activism. Careful, John, you might become a professor!] These are just a couple of thoughts on Haymarket and its influence: The primary force, of course, behind the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World was the Western Federation of Miners -- but there were many rivers that went into the Wobblies. Mitch is quite right in contending that Haymarket was a very influential factor. Privileged indeed to know many of the old-time Wobblies in the Far West in the 1950s -- and to maintain a close friendship with several of them well beyond that -- I can certainly personally attest to the fact that the Haymarket situation and its continuing martyrdom influenced many IWW activists. In a few of these cases of which I'm personally aware, such as C.E. "Stumpy" Payne -- a founder of the IWW in 1905 and one of its leading organizers, editors, and writers who was almost 90 when I was barely 21-- Haymarket, as it unfolded, was one of a number of key, formative, and contemporary forces. From one of the younger old-timers, Fred Thompson, whose Canadian socialism developed in the 1910s and who became an active Wobbly in the 'States in the early 'twenties -- a noted organizer and writer, and a great editor -- Haymarket was always a major dimension and its martyrdom a continuing inspiration always. As a teenager in his first metal mining job in an isolated Nevada setting, William D. Haywood read in the newspapers the developing and unfolding Haymarket situation, discussed it constantly with his fellow-workers (some of whom had been members of the Knights), and specifically notes its influence on him in his excellent Bill Haywood's Book: The Autobiography of William D. Haywood [1929 and many more recent editions.] In exile in the Soviet Union and, near death in 1928, Haywood asked that his ashes be buried at Waldheim cemetery, Chicago, near the graves of the Haymarket martyrs. [Half of them are indeed at Waldheim and the other half are in the Kremlin Wall.] In Chicago for a Workers Education Local 189 conference in late April and early May, 1986 -- the 100th anniversary, of course -- I was extremely impressed by the large-scale and rich array of Haymarket commemoration events going on around the city. In addition to accomplishing, at least for that historical moment, the ecumenical coming-together of virtually every radical group, the events drew large numbers of minorities, union people, students. My youngest son, then vaguely interested in journalism, accompanied me and, at one point, we spent a full day with my good old friend, the great Wobbly editor, Fred Thompson, who not only talked extensively of Haymarket and its continuing influence -- but also persuaded my son to major in journalism [and my son did indeed become a reporter --and now an editor.] Less than a year later, Fred passed into the Spirit World -- there, I'm sure, to organize and write and raise constructive hell. It's certainly very clear indeed that the Haymarket martyrdom, like Joe Hill, is an enduring piece of our food and freedom radical culture -- and with continuing effects well beyond our turf.    Hunter Gray [Hunterbear] www.hunterbear.org

 

 

ETHNOCENTRISM AND TRIBAL NATIONS  [3/09/01]

 

I appreciate Henry Liu's response but continue to differ -- I do so
politely -- on a couple of points.  I know very little about the situation
in Taiwan but its government would be among those I "indict" in my sharp
criticism of urban/industrial systems from a tribal perspective. I'm
speaking of the indigenous, tribal Nations  of Taiwan and their peoples who,
I understand, continue to maintain their socio-cultural identities.  With
respect to "assimilation" and "cohabitation:"  There has certainly been
biological inter-ethnic and interracial intermarriage from the outset of
Humanity onward -- and Mr Liu and I certainly agree on that.  But biological
"mixing" by Native people with non-Natives certainly does not  mean at all
that the "mixee" gives up, say, his/her aboriginal  identity.  Quite the
contrary is far more the rule. There are several million of these  "mixed
and firmly committed to the indigenous foundation" situations in the United
States and Canada!  [ It can, I concede, get a bit complex! I'm reminded of
the 1/8th Creek - 7/8th Scottish Creek Indian warchief, Billy Weatherford
[Red Eagle], who destroyed Fort Mims and its garrison in Alabama in
1813  -- a fort commanded by a man who was  himself 1/2 Creek and 1/2 Anglo
and who identified as  a White American.]  Native mixed-bloods in North
America -- at least north of Mexico -- tend to very heavily favour primary
tribal identification.  But, anyway.  It's with "assimilation" that I take
real issue here:  In the U.S. [and Canada] attempted assimilation -- openly
and covertly -- vis-a-vis Native people has been the primary  policy thrust
for 150 years in that continuing common denominator of United States and
Canadian Indian policy:  to get rid of the Natives, end all Federal treaty
obligations, and seize remaining Indian land and other resources.  From that
standpoint, "assimilation" to Native tribal people here, at least, is
something to resist -- as attempted cultural genocide -- and to resist with
every conceivable means at our command. I would assume this is the case in
many many other settings on our Earth [my wife, whose Saami interests and
identification are strong, assures me that this is the case for most of
those wide-ranging and essentially Mongoloid people and bands known as
"Lapp."]  I'd like to get to China someday, to see for myself -- and I do
have a personal obligation to visit Mongolia before long.  In Solidarity -
Hunter
Hunter Gray
www.hunterbear.org

 

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