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

Post Card: Greetings from Hattisburg Mississippi

Post Card: Greetings from Hattisburg Mississippi

Foreword by Douglas Bristol

In a feature published on OutHistory, September 1, 2015, Jonathan Ned Katz and Cindy Crohn told the story, recounted by Anne Nunnally, of being called as a student into a dean’s office at Mississippi Southern College, in 1958. Nunnally was interrogated about her close friendship with another student, Brock A. Loper, Jr.[1]

The Dean had heard that Loper was a homosexual, and warned Nunnally about him. As Nunnally recalled, her friend Loper, a well-regarded music major, had been accepted into the Master’s program at the University of Indiana. Loper’s dream of going on to that program was endded, Nunnally said, when, simply because of his homosexual orientation, he was expelled from Mississippi Southern College.

A letter to Loper from the Dean of Men, dated August 6, 1958, now published on OutHistory, says that Loper was excluded from the College, in “the best interests of the institution.” Brock Loper was gay, and it turns out he was expelled with at least thirty-two other students.[2]

After Cindy Crohn brought Anne Nunnally’s story to OutHistory, Jonathan Ned Katz, OutHistory’s Co-Director, asked, via the Mississippi Public Records Act, that the University of Southern Mississippi provide documentation of that story. The University sent one revealing document, published on OutHistory.

When Katz’s first request for documentation proved successful, he made a request for all additional documents regarding the treatment of homosexuals, 1955 to 1965, in the files of the institution’s top administrators. The 92 pages of documents provided Katz are all from the Journal of William McCain, President of the institution, 1955-1975. All of these pages are now reproduced on OutHistory, redacted by the University to hide the identities of students, faculty, and administrators.

This Essay

This essay introduces the 92 pages of primary sources documenting how the administrators of a southern college treated queer faculty and students between 1955 and 1965.[3] The documents also provide glimpses into the lives and subjectivity of the queer men and women caught up in the purges.

In the first section of this introduction, Andrew Ross examines the documents from the perspective of queer people in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the home of Mississippi Southern College, with a particular emphasis on the gay male subculture and identity.

In the second section, Douglas Bristol examines the documents from the perspective of the administration, especially from the viewpoint of President McCain.

William D. McCain

William D. McCain, President Mississippi Southern College/University of Southern Mississippi, 1955-1975

1  Andrew Ross: Reading McCain’s Journals “From the Bottom-Up”

The journals of William D. McCain, then President of Mississippi Southern College, do not simply reveal the prejudices of a single individual. Nor do they only document the efforts by administrators of the College to purge the campus of “sex perverts.” The journals also offer a rare opportunity to perceive, against the grain, the lives of the persecuted. 

The men and women who appear in the journals, captured by an administrative apparatus that sought to purge them from campus, are briefly revealed to the historian. Unnamed and previously unexamined, these men and women provide an opportunity to situate the production of queer life in its historic context.

The journals await a full, future interpretation that sets the reactionary policies of institutions like Mississippi Southern in the context of the development of modern gay rights politics and identities, and their relationship to the African American Civil Rights movement, the politically repressive McCarthy era, and the growth of academia in the post-war period. An initial analysis, however, reveals the journals to be valuable sources for understanding how queer men, in particular, dealt with their desires in the context of an institutional witch-hunt directed against them.

Two themes, in particular, prove fertile grounds for research.

First, the journals underscore the existence of a network of men who sought sex with other men, and reveal some of the spaces in which they did so. For readers of John Howard’s Men Like That: A Southern Queer History (University of Chicago Press, 1999), the existence of this subculture will not come as a surprise. But these newly revealed documents provide rich insights into the ways in which queer men made and broke connections. The circulation of rumor, in particular, brought people together, even as it provided the grounds for tearing them apart.

Second, the journals provide evidence of how queer men and women understood themselves. The documents reaffirm that it’s too simple to speak of a “gay subculture” in Hattiesburg, 1955-1965. Rather, the evidence emphasizes the multiple ways that queer identities were developing in post-war America. The journals highlight the significance of male same-sex sexual practices in the Deep South, even as they put into question the existence of modern queer, gay, and lesbian identities.

The purge of homosexuals from the campus of Southern Mississippi College only occurred because the administration, led by President William D. McCain and Dean of Students James R. Switzer, found ways of extracting information about a local and regional network of men who were having sex with men.

James R. Switzer

Dean Dean of Student Welfare, James R. Switzer. (The Southerner [yearbook], Mississippi Southern College, Hattiesburg, MS, 1957.)

This subculture relied on the strategic use of space to find sexual partners. The local bus station, for instance, is mentioned in McCain’s journals, as well as a local “joint below town which is operated by sex perverts.” Called the CQ, this spot attracted McCain’s attention in 1958.[4]

Hattiesburg’s proximity to New Orleans also proved to be a boon to those men who sought sex with other men. Just frequenting the French Quarter was enough to increase the suspicion directed at a student:

[Redacted] stated that it was obvious that [redacted] was one of them, but that he knew nothing about him, except that he saw him frequently in the French Quarter in New Orleans.[5]

The attention Switzer and McCain paid to such off-campus queer sex sites highlights the close relationship between campus and town life. It also indicates the extent of the administration’s interest in uncovering and removing all homosexuals from the university.

The formation of this male subculture relied on the circulation of rumor, innuendo, and knowledge that could be leveraged by the administration. McCain and Switzer drew on a variety of sources in order to uncover those who participated in the subculture. Dean Switzer was often the primary investigator, the person who usually brought his concerns to McCain.

On October 17, 1955, for instance, McCain records a meeting with Switzer at which they discussed the case of a student who had “appealed to a counselor” after “getting into trouble” with “an ex-convict at the bus station in Hattiesburg.” The counselor betrayed the young man’s trust and informed someone at the school. The student was called in, and told Switzer that “he had not approached anyone at Mississippi Southern, but that there were three homosexuals, rather four, on the campus. Switzer states that he already had the four spotted.”

This particular confession of Switzer’s highlights a number of ways that the university strove to enforce heterosexuality.

First, the administration secured the cooperation of their medical services as a disciplinary force, encouraging the service to betray private information.

Second, such activity necessarily depended on information provided by the accused, frightened men.

Third, that dependence on the testimony of intimidated men makes any information contained in the journal necessarily suspect, because there is no reason for the rumors passed on by suspects to be true.

Indeed, in this case, the student accuses others of being homosexuals, even as he denied being one himself. This dual denial/accusation highlights the ways that knowledge of this subculture exceeded its members. Taking the student at his word, even though he had not had sex with any other male students, he still knew of a queer male subculture at Mississippi Southern during the 1950s.

This subculture proved to be simultaneously a source of support and a threat to the students at Mississippi Southern. On the one hand, the subculture provided a means through which men met other men and a source of protection against persecution. When McCain first arrived at Mississippi Southern in 1955, and turned his attention to “sex perverts,” he consulted a local physician. This physician, however, “informed the pervert or some of the pervert’s friends,” which led McCain to conclude “that the doctor was also a sex pervert.”[6]

In another instance, on July 30, 1958, McCain notes that a woman (Anne Nunnally), said to have fallen in love with a homosexual, had allegedly informed Switzer “that the word was out that we were after them.” McCain comments: “They [male homosexuals] get rather excited when they suspect that anything might happen. Feminine excitement.”

McCain employs a common stereotype – a repeated feature of his entries. This stereotype allows McCain to deny that the men he sought out had their own means of spreading information about the administration’s actions. It also highlights the role of rumor and gossip – so often constructed as feminine – in the production of the queer subculture in Hattiesburg. The spread of knowledge via rumor served as a form of protection for the men who participated in the rumor spreading.

That Mississippi Southern’s nascent queer community learned about McCain’s efforts underlines the ways in which queer knowledge could always be turned against the subculture itself. Even as the subculture proved a source for the building of connections between men, it was also the source of its undoing.

On July 7, 1958, for instance, an informant reported to McCain that

[redacted] was a homosexual…He had heard rumors about [redacted], but knew nothing positive. He stated that he knew that [redacted], was one and that his wife’s family lived near the [redacted] apartment. He stated that there was a continual coming and going of men at the apartment at night. He believes that much would be accomplished if something could be done about that situation.

In addition, on September 3, 1958, McCain reports that Switzer had received “an anonymous letter listing several students and two faculty members as homosexuals.”

The journals thus underscore the dual-edged nature of these kinds of queer networks. On the one hand, the evidence of a queer subculture in 1950s Mississippi suggests the emergence of same-sex relationships “from the shadows” or “out of the closet.” On the other hand, that emergence also provided the public knowledge necessary to repress participating individuals. McCain’s journals thus illustrate the ways in which the school’s administration sought, from the top down, to expose and break up that subculture. But the journals also show how the queer network, from the bottom-up, brought about its own disruption.

The instability of the queer subculture paralleled the instability of the queer identities it depended on at that time. In Men Like That, Howard, speaking of post-World War II Mississippi, describes “multiple queer desires that were not identity based or identity forging,” existing alongside a “gay identity.”[7] Certain men were coming to see themselves as exclusively attracted to other men, and as constituting a minority defined in terms of their desire. Other men reconciled their same-sex desires with their continued identity as, essentially, heterosexual.

On July 2, 1958, McCain expresses an interest in seeing a list someone had drawn up of “those who positively were homosexuals, a list of those one way or the other, and a list of the borderline cases.” That list reflects the liminal state of gay identity at the time.

Given that liminality, it is no coincidence that most of the references to women in the documents under review here refer not to female homosexuality but to women in love with, engaged to, or married to men rumored to be attracted to other men (see, for example, the entry of July 7, 1958). The homosexual desires of these women’s objects of interest did not necessarily exclude these men from consideration as heterosexual partners. Even at this late date, queer desire had not yet completely crystallized into the exclusive – homo or hetero -- identity categories that define sexual life today.

Some of the men referenced in McCain’s journals understood themselves as homosexuals, defined in many ways by their desire for other men. At the same time they indicate a comprehension of what those desires meant that is strikingly different from today’s understanding. For example, on July 14, 1958, McCain wrote:

Switzer stated that [redacted] thought until a year or so ago that he would give up his difficulty. However, he finally gave up and decided that he was a homosexual. He stated that he last had sexual intercourse with a [redacted (female prostitute?)], in June, but felt that sexual intercourse with women was not worth the trouble.

While this unidentified young man seems to accept his position as a “homosexual,” he does not indicate any sense that this redefined his own conception of self. His acceptance of his sexual orientation is neither an example of “gay shame” or a ringing endorsement of “gay pride.” Even as his reported words assert  the existence of “a homosexual,” it relies on an understanding of sexual desire as fluid. The term homosexual may be familiar to him, but it’s content is different from ours today.

Evidence of queer subjectivity is relatively scarce in the journals. And it is necessarily mediated, first through Switzer’s report to McCain, or, second, in McCain record of Switzer’s report. And yet McCain’s journals do highlight the possible ways young men reconciled their desires with their hopes.

 On June 26, 1958, McCain records a summary of an interview conducted by Switzer with a young man:

He stated that he went to New Orleans at times looking for that type of excitement. He seems to be one who does not reciprocate, but is the male or aggressor in the affair. He stated that he thought he might marry and do all right. He stated that his burning ambition was to teach and the fact that he was a homosexual would not prevent his being a very successful one. He stated that the fact that he was a homosexual was in the back of his mind, but that he was never depressed over the fact.

This statement contains within it a number of different subject positions. The student emphasizes his role as “aggressor” rather than “reciprocator.” This reflects the importance of sexual role common to many pre-World War II male cultures. His continuing hope to marry highlights the ways in which taking the “active” role in same-sex sexual relations did not often threaten one’s masculine identity. However, the student understands his desires in terms of “homosexuality,” defined not in terms of sexual role, but sexual object choice. The two forms of sexual identity are thus combined.

I encourage future researchers to highlight the duality of the subject positions this man inhabited, rather than interpreting this moment in terms of “the closet,” wherein the student was simply trying to “hide” his homosexuality by marrying a woman. That interpretation would force this man into a narrative of our choosing and do violence to his own understanding of who he was. Doing so would simply repeat the harm McCain himself strove to inflict upon this individual.

While the journals do make occasional reference to female homosexuality, McCain and Switzer’s primary focus seems to have been relations between men. The first reference to female homosexuality occurs early in the documents when McCain reports that Switzer had come into his office to “ask for advice on a case of female homosexuality.” But even then “he also wanted further advice on several rush cases among the males of the student body.”[8]

The issue of female homosexuality emerges again about ten years later, when a sorority member’s mother comes to McCain regarding rumors circulating about her daughter that threatened her standing in the sorority. McCain referred the matter to another administrator (redacted) who reported that “she had no evidence whatever that would indicate that the girls were homosexuals.”[9] That said, the emergence of Greek Life, the umbrella organization of fraternities and sororities, into the journals highlights one other possible avenue for the emergence of queer life in the post-War University.

2  Douglas Bristol: Reading the Journals from the Perspective of William D. McCain
Part of what makes these documents unusual is the man who created them, William D. McCain, who transformed Mississippi Southern College into the University of Southern Mississippi as president from 1955 to 1975. McCain was not only a major general in the Mississippi National Guard, but was also a professional archivist and historian with a Ph.D. from Duke University. In the latter capacity, he served as the director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History from 1938 until 1955, when, after active duty in World War II and the Korean War, he became President of Mississippi Southern College.[10]

McCain’s military and history background led him to create his extensive journals. In his entry for July 30, 1958, McCain wrote: “I can only treat this material as an officer trained in military intelligence. I gather every possible piece of evidence and then evaluate it all.” But McCain was also thinking as a historian, at one point even writing: “Should this journal ever become a historical document . . .”[11] Towards that end, McCain inserted documents produced by others on the dates of relevant entries.

McCain also appears concerned about the judgment of history. He writes: “it is hoped that any person who might stumble through it while doing research . . . will not damn anyone mentioned without a fair hearing.”[12] The rest of this section attempts to give McCain a fair hearing by assuming he misunderstood queer people and thought that the feelings on which they acted were uncommon.

McCain looked at the “problem” of homosexual students and faculty from many different perspectives. As his comment about his background in military intelligence suggested, he prided himself on thinking like a military man. That displayed itself when he viewed homosexuals as an enemy within the ranks.

Working in close coordination with Dr. Switzer, the Dean of Student Welfare, McCain recruited informants on homosexuals and even provided Switzer with a tape-recorder for his confrontations with students. This was standard procedure in the military.[13]

McCain also sought assistance from legal and medical authorities. At several points in these documents, the president coordinated his efforts with the physicians in the University Medical Center, the Forrest County District Attorney, and the Hattiesburg police in an effort to keep homosexuals under surveillance. In one document, he mentioned that Dr. Switzer had gone to New Orleans to gather more information about students who were suspected of homosexuality.[14]

Mississippi Flag

Confederate Flag and the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

McCain’s “intelligence” efforts also have to be viewed in the context of his advocacy of segregation, and his involvement with the segregationist State Sovereignty Commission. McCain’s role in preventing an African American veteran, Clyde Kennard, from enrolling at Mississippi Southern College, illustrate the extent that he would go to protect his campus from people whom he regarded as dangerous outsiders.

Clyde Kennard had been a student at the University of Chicago for three years, when the death of his stepfather caused him to move back to Hattiesburg to help his family. When Kennard applied to Mississippi Southern College in the fall of 1959, officials from the State Sovereignty Commission approached Kennard’s friends in order to get the black veteran to withdraw his application.

Kennard had a formal interview with McCain on September 15, 1959, and he found the chief investigator for the Sovereignty Commission waiting for him in McCain’s office. Afterwards, Kennard walked to his car in the parking lot, where he was arrested for reckless driving. A policeman drove Kennard’s car to the station, and he claimed that he discovered five bottles of whiskey, which was illegal in dry Forrest County. Later, Kennard was arrested for another trumped up charge of having stolen chicken feed and was sent to prison, possibly in order to prevent Kennard from reapplying to Mississippi Southern.

In prison, Kennard developed cancer, and prison authorities denied him access to medical care. Kennard was only released after Martin Luther King contacted Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett on his behalf. The Governor quickly pardoned Kennard to avoid bad publicity. He died not long afterwards.[15]

Part of what drove McCain’s fear of Mississippi Southern College having the wrong kind of students were his ambitions for his institution. Indeed, in 1955, the very first time he spoke to the students, faculty, and staff, he said the college would soon be “a great university.”[16]

McCain pursued his goal immediately despite opposition from members of the state board that oversaw the college. In addition to reorganizing the school from divisions to colleges, the common structure of universities, he also built up a great football team to win public support. In 1958, three years after McCain came to Hattiesburg, the “Southerners” had the school’s first undefeated season and won the United Press International college division national championship.[17]

Football is especially relevant to the 92 pages of documents discussed here. Almost half of these pages relate to a 1957 scandal involving football players being charged with burglary by known homosexuals in New Orleans. Given McCain’s ambition for Mississippi Southern College, it is unsurprising that he responded to the scandal with concern about how that scandal would affect the institution’s reputation.

Via the documents readers can piece together the details of the wild night that Mississippi Southern students—including several football players—had in New Orleans. The incident is significant because it appeared to have caused McCain to impose a zero-tolerance policy for homosexual students. On July 5, 1958, like a good intelligence officer, McCain wrote a memo summarizing the investigations of the ten footballs players who had been part of the incident. He focused on pending indictments against six football players for burglary and for receiving stolen property. Some of the indictments were being handed down by the Forrest County Grand Jury, which is the county where Mississippi Southern was located.[18] The spectacle of his football players appearing in the local courthouse must have been painfully embarrassing for the college president. 

At the same time, McCain appeared equally disturbed by the prospect of homosexuals on the football team. He tried to assess whether each football player was homosexual. He reported that three students had “confessed to consorting with homosexuals.” In comments that revealed an interest in sexual roles, McCain noted that one football player was known to have “serviced” [quotation marks in the original] homosexuals. He decided that two other students were not homosexual. He said they were only drinking and keeping “bad company.” However, McCain concluded his memo by saying how alarmed he was by sexual deviance: “The fact should be noted that homosexuals are mixed up one way or another in practically all of these cases. It is evident that a homosexual will contaminate anything he touches.”[19]

Four days later, in a memo to Dean Switzer, McCain stated a new policy. He said, “that I want the homosexuals who may be in this school hounded out of this community.” He went on, using words that suggested his key concern, the school’s reputation. He said, “I wish to have the reputation of being mean and unsympathetic” to homosexuals. He also said that he wanted homosexuals “kept out in the future.”[20]

Since McCain’s journal provides a rare insights into the thoughts of a southern college president in the 1950s, it is worth noting that other attitudes he displayed towards queer people. He occasionally displayed a prurient interest in the sexual activities of students.

For example, McCain took to time to recount the intimate details of one of Switzer’s interviews with a student accused of being homosexual. In addition to this student’s testimony that he had walked in on two male students who were naked in bed together at a New Orleans hotel, McCain included the fact that one student “was pouring whisky on the private parts of [redacted] and explained something about Scotch on the rocks.”[21]

McCain also records his moral disgust. When told that there was an “increase in homosexual tendencies” among male students in New Orleans, he said, “I cannot understand why a youngster would become involved in such a horrible and degrading thing.” Although this last comment suggests that he thought people chose to be homosexual, at other points McCain wrote of homosexuality as a disease that could be cured. In a list of students to be expelled for homosexuality, there was a note by one student’s name that his expulsion would not happen if he was “cleared by his doctor.” Finally, he also spoke of homosexuals being unable to change.22]

McCain learned from Switzer in 1961 that more homosexual students had been detected and expelled. McCain said, “I wish there was something that could be done about the situation, but I know of nothing that can be done to help most of them.”[23] In sum, the president held contradictory views about sexual identity, none of which included the possibility that homosexuals could be normal people with a different sexual orientation than his own.

The perspectives of heterosexuals besides McCain emerge in these documents. Occasionally, they displayed a familiarity with and sympathy for queer people.

For instance, one football player wrote a letter to exonerate himself of theft and homosexual tendencies. Although he borrowed his father’s car to drive his teammates to New Orleans, he claimed he was not involved in any of the scandalous behavior. He made a few revealing comments in the process. Because he wanted to “uphold my reputation,” he said he would never run to a homosexual “for an energy outlet.”[24]

This comment suggests that other heterosexual students customarily turned to homosexual men to relieve sexual tensions. At the same time, the football player also expressed sympathy for homosexuals. He said, “I do not feel that because of their abnormality that they should be taken advantage of.”[25]

Parents also appear in the documents, expressing concern for their children. It appears that at least one parent of a football player hired an attorney to defend his son in court.[26]

Another parent came to meet with McCain after his son received a phone call from a student whom the son had “taken up with.” The man’s son refused to have anything to do with his friend even though the friend threatened to commit suicide. The student shot himself the next day. The father also informed McCain that his son said a homosexual public school teacher had made advances at him.[27] The father undoubtedly wanted to protect his son from being contaminated with homosexuality. But a contextual reading suggests that his son was possibly a deeply closeted gay man, and that his father was unwilling to accept the fact, which ironically made him a crucial ally in the ongoing witch hunt.

It is important to note that Mississippi Southern College was not unique in its treatment of queer students.

Scholarly studies of queer students in higher education during the 1950s have found similar persecution at universities around the nation, such as UCLA.

In the 1970s, the administration at Mississippi State took a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent the formation of a queer group near its campus.

As late as 1985, there was not a single queer student group on a university campus anywhere in Mississippi.[28]

What is unique about the documents published here is the new light they shed on the attitudes of southern college administrators during the Cold War era.


Mississippi Southern College

Administration Building, Mississippi Southern College

Conclusion by Andrew Ross
On July 27, 1958, McCain acknowledged the role he hoped his journals would play in constructing the history of his tenure at Mississippi Southern College:

I hope that I can soon quit recording such sordid events in this journal. It might survive and one day become a historical document. However, I suppose that a historical document should record the facts and the facts will record the actions of the people of the time. As in the newspapers, the stories concerning the worst happenings get into the record. The vast majority of college students and faculty members are fine citizens. When we deal with the sorry ones so long, we tend to forget the good citizens who form the great majority of our associates.

McCain understood the work a journal performs in the service of historical reconstruction. The journal, therefore, cannot be read innocently, as the private thoughts of a representative individual. Rather, it’s a conscious construction, written with specific intent to emphasize the efforts to protect the purity – racial, sexual, political – of an academic institution. Read in this light, the journals of McCain become the record of a man convinced of his own mission, an example of those “fine citizens” he urges his future readers not to forget. The irony is that when read today, the journals underscore precisely the opposite. His victims become the “fine citizens” and he a representative of a “sordid” past we would do well to not forget. The journals have become the inverse of McCain’s intentions, revealing indeed “the worst happenings,” but not the ones McCain imagined.

The journals do more, however, than reveal the petty bigotry of a single individual and the systemic efforts to preserve the status quo at Southern Miss. They have the potential to contribute a great deal to our understanding of the history of sexuality and its relationship to other histories of inclusion and inclusion in postwar western societies.

In particular, the journals support recent trends in the history of sexuality in at least two ways.

First, they underscore the importance of expanding the archive of the history of sexuality. As the recent dual special issue of the Radical History Review on the queer archive and other recent publications have underscored, the queer past often appears in unexpected and unexamined places. While McCain’s journals remain mediated by institutional powers that sought to repel, repress, and repulse evidence of homosexuality, they shift our vantage point away from the judicial actors that have served as the foundation for so many histories of queer love between men.[29]

To name just one way this shift benefits our analysis, it allows us to capture not just men who got caught up in a police raid, but also the women who loved them, and women who loved other women.

Second, they highlight the alterity of the queer past, and thus support John Howard’s contentions in his history of Mississippi gay life. But they also serve as the archival foundation for historical interventions in recent debates raging within queer theory, recently examined by historian Laura Doan in Disturbing Practices: History, Sexuality, and Women’s Experience of Modern War (University of Chicago Press, 2013). The journals underscore the different and variable conceptions of gay identity, even in the very recent past. They also highlight the ways in which those other understandings became wrapped up in emerging constructions of homosexuality.

The journals also emphasize the connections between the history of sexuality and the institutional and community histories of Mississippi Southern and Hattiesburg. While the nature of the Mississippi Public Records Act request that gave us access to these documents hid McCain’s segregationist and McCarthyist politics, there is a great deal to be gleaned from institutional documents that will connect those histories. Institutions that hired, supported, and depended on people like McCain will only be able to own up to that history through an analysis that includes sexual, as well as racial and political repression. The history of sexuality, in other words, has a great deal to tell us about the history of academic freedom as well as institutional and systemic racism and sexism.

Further, the journals demonstrate that this process of institutional oppression was deeply linked to the effort by those institutions to protect and relate to the broader community. A fuller analysis of documents such as these will highlight the ways in which higher education has collaborated with the preservation of existing gendered, racial, and sexual hierarchies in order to preserve its own status within American society. This future research can provide necessary context for the recent rise of social justice movements at institutions ranging from the University of Missouri to Princeton and can, perhaps, spur the emergence of one at the University of Southern Mississippi itself. At the very least, they demonstrate the absolute necessity of opening the archives of William D. McCain to further research.

Published on OutHistory, December 31, 2015. Minor edits March 5, 2016.

See also:

Jonathan Ned Katz: Hunting Homosexuals at Southern Miss: 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


[1] Jonathan Ned Katz, “Homophobia in Mississippi, 1958,”, September 1, 2015, and Cindy Crohn, “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been Lavender?”, September 1, 2015,

[2] Rader Graham, Dean of Men, to Mr. Brock Loper, August 6, 1958, in documents no. 8 and Memorandum, “Students suspended for disciplinary reasons, August 12, 1958, and documents no. 9, Entries from the Journal of President William D. McCain, received by Jonathan Ned Katz in an email on July 27, 2015 from Paul Walters, J.D., Director of Compliance and Ethics, University of Southern Mississippi, as a result of a request under the Mississippi Public Records Act (hereafter McCain Journal and document set no.).

[3] Note: We chose to use the term queer because it is inclusive and because male students like Brock Loper probably did not have an identity as gay men, or women students as gay women.  Please see the discussion of identity in Andrew Ross’s section of this introduction. 

[4] McCain Journal, June 8 and June 9, 1958.

[5] McCain Journal June 26, 1958.

[6] McCain Journal June 30, 1958.

[7] John Howard, Men Like That, 29.

[8] McCain Journal, November 21, 1955

[9] McCain Journal, November 8, 1960.

[10] For McCain’s background, see: Chester M. Morgan, Dearly Bought, Deeply Treasured: The University of Southern Mississippi, 1912-1987 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1987), 98. 

[11] Entries for June 26, and 30, 1958, McCain Journal, No. 4. In another entry, McCain repeated his thought, saying, [This journal] “might survive and one day become a historical document.” Entry for July 27, 1958, McCain Journal, no. 5.

[12] Entry for June 30, 1958, McCain Journal, No. 4

[13] For example, in his Sept. 25, 1959 entry, McCain wrote that “Dr. J.R. Switzer is on the trail of another ring of homosexuals.  He evidently has an informer and has a letter that one of them here wrote to one another.” For an overview of the persecution of gay men and lesbians in the military, see: Leisa D. Meyer, Creating G.I. Jane: Sexuality and Power in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996) and Randy Shilts, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993)

[14] For a referral of a homosexual student to the Medical Center, see: [Name blacked out], Dean of Men, to [name blacked out], May 29, 1962, McCain Journal, Set B: 1960-1965. Dean Switzer had the local police arrest a “sex pervert” as noted in entry from June 26, 1958, McCain Journal, No. 4.  McCain reported that picking up a homosexual student from the police station resulted in a “confession” to dean Switzer back on campus. Entry from June 26, 1958, No. 4.  Switzer also consulted with the Forrest County District Attorney and said he had driven by the apartment of another suspected homosexual in the entry from July 14, 1958, McCain Journal, No. 6. 

[15] Monte Pilioawsky, Exit 13: Oppression and Racism in Academia (Boston: South End Press, 1982), 22-27.

[16] Morgan, Dearly Bought, Deeply Treasured, 98-99

[17] Ibid., 102-103.

[18] William D. McCain, Memorandum for [blacked out], July 5, 1958, McCain Journal, no. 5.

[19] Ibid.

[20] William D. McCain, Memorandum for [blacked out], July 5, 1958, McCain Journal, no. 5, William D. McCain to Dr. J.R. Switzer, Dean of Student Affairs, July 9, 1958, McCain Journal, no. 6. In the second document, McCain also gave instructions about which students to expel.

[21] Entry for July 26, 1958, McCain Journal, no. 5.

[22] Entry for Feb. 17, 1959, McCain Journal, no. 10; Memorandum, “Students suspended for disciplinary reasons, August 12, 1958, McCain Journal, documents no. 9.

[23] Entry for Jan. 31, 1961, McCain Journal, no. 3.

[24] [Name blacked out] to Mr. [name blacked out], June 29, 1958, McCain Journal, no. 4

[25] Ibid.

[26] Entry from June 24, 2958, McCain Journal, No. 4

[27] Entry from July 11, 1958, McCain Journal, No. 5.

[28] John Howard, Men Like That: A Southern Queer History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 68; Kathleen Weiler, “The Case of Martha Deane: Sexuality and Power at Cold War UCLA,” History of Education Quarterly 47 (Winter 2007): 470–96; John D’Emilio, Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University (New York: Routledge, 1992); Patrick Dilley, Queer Man on Campus: A History of Non-Heterosexual College Men, 1945–2000 (New York: Routledge Falmer, 2002).

[29] Daniel Marshall, Keven P. Murphy, and Zeb Tortorici, eds. “Queering Archives: Historical Unravelings,” Radical History Review 2014, no. 120 (2014); Daniel Marshall, Keven P. Murphy, and Zeb Tortorici, eds. “Queering Archives Intimate Tracings,” Radical History Review 2014, no. 122 (2015).

The Authors

Douglas Bristol is an associate professor of History at the University of Southern Mississippi.  In 2002, he received his Ph.D. with distinction from the University of Maryland, where he studied under Ira Berlin. He is a scholar of the African American experience and race relations.  He has been awarded post-doctoral fellowships from the Smithsonian, Duke University, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. He was one of the two faculty members at the University of Southern Mississippi nominated for the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend in 2013. In his first book, Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), Bristol examined the relationship between black barbers and the prosperous white men whose throats they shaved with straight-edged razors from the colonial period to the Great Migration.  He is currently working on his next book, The Black Greatest Generation: African American Men and Women in Uniform during World War II. He is also the Vice-Chair of the Institutional Diversity Committee and the faculty advisor to the Alliance for Equality, which is a student organization on the Gulf Coast campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.

Andrew Israel Ross received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 2011. He is now an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Southern Mississippi and has also taught at Kenyon College. Ross specializes in the history of sexuality and modern European history and is currently completing his first book manuscript, tentatively titled “The Pleasures of Paris: Sex and Urban Culture in the Nineteenth Century.” The book argues that female prostitutes and men who sought sex for other men shaped the emergence of modern Paris. His work has appeared in The Berkeley Journal of Sociology and The Journal of the History of Sexuality. Ross is a member of the governing board of the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, an affiliated committee of the American Historical Association. Some of his work can be seen at his website at