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Jonathan Ned Katz: Hunting Homosexuals at Southern Miss: 1955-1965

OutHistory.org, is proud to publicize the feature: “Douglas Bristol & Andrew Ross: Analyzing the Journals of William D. McCain, 1955-1965.” This discusses 92 revealing pages from the diary and papers of the President of Mississippi Southern College (now the University of Southern Mississippi), Hattiesburg. Historians Bristol and Ross, teachers at the University, analyze the decade of entries on homosexuality. The documents are also published.

Purges
McCain's Journals reveal that rumors of homosexuality were enough to provoke a faculty firing: Discussing the “resignation” of one faculty member, McCain says: “He is suspected of being a sexual pervert and I requested that he be sent away. We have no proof and I hope that it is not true. However, the gossip has been sufficient to ruin his effectiveness here” (April 17, 1959; April 21, 1959).

Women suspected of being homosexual were purged, as well as men. On January 12, 1961, McCain reports that a woman came in “to discuss her dismissal. She has been asked to leave because of her affinity for other females. She was a rather neat and handsome woman.” (On women and homosexuality see also: November 21, 1955; January 22, 1956; July 10 and 11, 1958; November 8 and 10, 1960; March 11, 1961.)

McCain is determined to purge homosexuals simply because of their orientation – acts are not at issue. On June 24, 1958, McCain writes: “I want to clean house of these sex perverts.” On July 5, 1958, he says: “a homosexual will contaminate anything he touches.” On July 9, 1958, McCain declares: “I want the homosexuals who may be in this school hounded out of this community,” and “kept out in the future.” McCain uses the same terms "sex pervert" and "sex deviate" for a man who exposes himself to female students and for all homosexuals, irrespective of their acts. (See November 14, 1955; March 28, 1958.)

McCain’s diary shows that numbers of deans and administrators colluded in the purges of homosexuals. (See, for example, July 14, 1958; August 6, 1958, May 29, 1962, March 26, 1962. 

The documents include lists of students, faculty, and administrators rumored to be homosexual or accused of being homosexual who were scheduled to be purged from Southern Miss. Names are redacted in the copies (July 5, 9, 29, August 12, 1958).

Suicides
McCain also mentions two local suicides associated with homosexuality. On July 11, 1958, McCain reports talking that morning with the father of a student. The night before, a “boy” had been “talking  on the telephone to his son and had threatened to commit suicide.” The “boy shot himself shortly thereafter.” The boy had “proved himself to be a homosexual,” and the man’s  son “had then refused to have anything to do with him.”

On January 7, 1965, McCain reports that a man arrested in November 1864, “in the Forrest Hotel and accused of homosexuality,” had “killed himself in Jackson.” McCain says he’s sad that a married male “friend” of his was also arrested in this incident. McCain expresses no remorse about the suicide.

Homosexul Panic
The administration's hunting of homosexuals fostered a campus panic and encouraged informers to make anonymous accusations, creating a witch hunt for sexual and gender non-conformists. (September 3, 1958; April 13, 1959.)

Resistance
The documents reveal occasional moments of resistance. Someone informed of the administration's homo hunting plans warns a group of homosexuals, and word of that warning gets back to McCain (February 6, 1961). A faculty member, apparently expelled, sends McCain a copy of a letter saying "I just am not going to be victimized further" (March 26, 1963).

Sexuality and Race
On OutHistory, historians Bristol and Ross begin to analyze McCain’s Journal, and these same 92 pages, present a rich archive for future interpreters. McCain is known to have played a leading role in the attempt to prevent the desegregation of Mississippi Southern College (and the University of Southern Mississippi). The relationship between McCain’s racial and sexual views and actions remains one topic for future analysis. McCain ordered that one male faculty member who objected to McCain’s statement on “the race question” be “fired simply on the grounds that he is a homosexual” (May 28, 1962, page 429).

The Mississippi Public Records Act
I obtained the 92 pages from the University of Southern Mississippi via the Mississippi Public Records Act. I asked for a decade’s worth of documents about homosexuality after an earlier request produced one revealing document, a McCain Journal entry about Brock Loper and a purge of homosexuals at Southern Miss in 1958. (See Homophobia in Mississippi, 1958: http://www.outhistory.org/exhibits/show/crohn/jnkintro  Additional information about Loper turned up in the later records received: see July 29 and 30; August 1, 6, 12, 1958.)

I received the 92 pages of documents after paying a fee of $1,248 for these supposedly “public records.” I paid “under protest,” for if I had not been able to pay this fee these important, revealing “public records” of Mississippi civil rights history would still not be public. When paying the fee I suggested: “your request for a substantial payment makes a mockery of the Mississippi Public Records Act.”

Purges at U.S. Schools, Colleges, and Universities
I now suspect that the hunting of homosexual students, faculty, and administrators, occurred at almost every U.S. school, college, and university from the late-nineteenth century to the 1970s. A bibliography of published research on this subject is included at the end of this page.

I request that anyone with information about such purges assist OutHistory in documenting them. Publicizing the hunting of homosexuals at U.S. schools, colleges, and universities will help to ensure that history does not repeat itself. Email: outhistory@gmail.com

See also:

Douglas Bristol & Andrew Ross: Analyzing the Journals of William D. McCain, 1955-1965

Southern Miss Documents: 1955-1965

Hunting Homosexuals at U.S. Schools, Colleges, Universities: Bibliography

Jonathan Ned Katz: Introduction to Homophobia in Mississippi, 1958

First publication of Jonathan Ned Katz: Hunting Homosexuals at Southern Miss: 1955-1965: March 21, 2016. Edited March 22, 2016.