Jonathan Ned Katz: Introduction to Homophobia in Mississippi, 1958
OutHistory.org is publishing an original document discovery, a homophobic 1958 report by the President of Mississippi Southern College (now the University of Southern Mississippi), Hattiesburg.
The brief entry from the Journal of President William D. McCain, dated July 30, 1958, reports a phone call from Dean of Student Welfare James R. Switzer. The Dean had summoned music major Anne Nunnally to his office to question the twenty-one-year-old about her close relationship with another music student, Brock A. Loper, Jr.
Switzer had heard that Loper was a homosexual, and the Dean apparently wanted to warn Nunnally that she should not consider marrying him. Earlier, a rumor had gone around campus that a homosexually active male student had married a female student, she had then found out about his activities, and complained to the college administration that it had not properly protected her from this man.
McCain says Switzer reported that Nunnally named Loper and several others as homosexuals. Nunnally, in recent emails, questions the truth of the account recorded by McCain. She recalls that being interviewed by Switzer “was like a police interrogation.” She says that Switzer “was the one who brought up names [of homosexuals] and kept trying to get me to verify same. I would say, I don't know for certain. I am not sure, how could I know without seeing people in an actual sexual act? It was like being backed into a corner and forced to talk as though I were being accused of a crime.”
The report suggests how upset and vulnerable this young woman was by Dean Switzer’s questions about people’s sexual lives, and how intimidated she was by this authority figure. In the late-1950s it was unusual, embarrassing, and especially frightening for a young woman to be interrogated by a male official about the sex lives of friends and acquaintances.
The report also documents McCain’s own blatant homophobia, and refers to the administration’s purging of homosexuals from the school. McCain says he told Switzer that "we have to continue to check” rumors about suspected homosexuals, and suggests that the college should “let those go who are homosexuals, and those whom we have real reasons to suspect."
McCain says that Nunnally informed Switzer "that the word was out that we were after them [homosexuals]. They get rather excited when they suspect that anything might happen. Feminine excitement."
As a document of over-the top sexism and homophobia by a person in power McCain’s memo is frightening in its implications for people’s lives. Nunnally recalls that her friend Loper, now deceased, was expelled from the college for homosexuality, and that rumors at the time suggested that many other homosexual students and faculty were also purged. Later, in the 1960s, she recalls, Loper’s status was restored without explanation.
The “purge” of homosexuals from this Mississippi institution is also mentioned in an statement by Donald Frutiger, archived in the University’s Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage. Frutiger, who began work in Hattiesburg in 1964, recalls “The purge at the university. They used to do that every spring . . . just before they [the students] were going to graduate . . . they grab them and say, ‘You’re queer,’ and throw them out.” He adds: “What they were doing is running a scam. They got all their goddamn money for four years then wouldn’t give them a [degree].”
Homophobia and Racism
The relation between homophobia and racism in southern institutions remains to be investigated. A false accusation of homosexuality was used against African American John Frazier, when he tried to enroll in the University of Southern Mississippi on March 9, 1964. Frazier later recalled reading the segregationist “Sovereignty Commission's records about himself, with their unfounded accusations of homosexuality,” designed to thwart his attendance at the University.
McCain’s memo contains mysteries to be solved by future researchers. He refers to “rumors” about homosexuality, then says: “Switzer will go to New Orleans to see certain people and will continue on to Texas to see” [two words redacted]. Why was McCain particularly circumspect about the “certain people” Switzer would visit in New Orleans? Was the FBI office in New Orleans helping college and university officials identify and expel homosexual students and teachers? Who was the named person in Texas? Was this person another college or state official tasked with rooting out homosexuals from schools and state employment?
How This Feature Came to Be
Nunnally’s story about her anxiety-provoking interview with Switzer was offered to OutHistory by her friend Cindy Crohn, the former Lucinda Wardlaw, who graduated from Mississippi Southern College in 1957. Crohn’s fictionalized version of Nunnally’s meeting with Switzer, and her close friendship with Brock Loper, is also presented on OutHistory. Crohn published a book dealing with this period in Mississippi history, Out from Under the Kudzu: A Southern Woman’s Memoir (2009).
The entry from McCain's Journal was provided without cost to me, Jonathan Ned Katz, as OutHistory Co-Director, as a result of my request to the University of Southern Mississippi under the Mississippi Public Records Act. I have submitted a second request for additional data on the treatment of homosexuals in the years 1955-1965, in the files of McCain, Switzer, and other of the institution's officials. I was asked for and paid a fee of $1,248, and sent the following statement:
Under protest and subject to an appeal for reimbursement, I will send a check to institute the research discussed below. I note that I am requesting this research as a volunteer historian for a non-profit, educational website, that the documents I am seeking will reveal an important, undocumented aspect of the civil rights history of Mississippi, and that your request for a substantial payment makes a mockery of the Mississippi Public Records Act.
For readers interested in reading more details of Anne Nunnally's experience in 1958, and its background, I am delighted that she is willing to share her memoir. In an email to Cindy Crohn in 2008, Nunnally recalled her relationship with Brock Loper and her meeting with Dean Switzer.
As you may remember, Brock Loper and I were very close friends. We were never lovers though we kissed and held hands and I looked up to him because he was so talented. We sang together and spent endless hours in the music room and the college radio station listening to LP's. He practically LIVED at our home where he ate with us all the time. He taught me a lot about poetry, music and the arts. We loved singing together and I cut many a class to spend time playing piano for him in the practice rooms. Well, needless to say he was gay. I knew it and we talked about it. He had actually suggested that we go to New York together, share an apartment and live the artistic life, of course with him having his own life on the side! I, of course, did not like this arrangement and said no.
Nunnally then mentioned the rumors about a male music student who had married a female student, who found out about his homosexual activities, and turned his “little black book” over to College officials, “and ratted out on him.”
She then recalled being summoned to Dean Switzer’s office:
One day Dean S called me into his office. I was so scared for I did not know what I had done. He said "Miss Nunnally, you are a nice girl with a lot of talent and from a good family here in Hattiesburg. We are concerned for your welfare as Brock Loper is a known homosexual and we know you are spending time with him and may even be considering a marriage.”
He went on to tell me that MSC [Mississippi Southern College] was developing a bad reputation and that some people were morally degrading the name of the campus.
He told me that certain medical Dr.'s in Hattiesburg were sending cars onto the campus all through the weekends to pick up young men for gay parties in their homes.
He also told me about [the homosexual male student who had married a woman] and others, and that there "needed to be a clean up on campus to restore its good name." After all, Cindy, this was the McCarthy era and that kind of fever that was pervasive then was raging on many levels. Anyway, he said "I know that you are in the music and theatre departments and we want you to help us out by identifying those people, both students and professors, who you may know to be gay."
Well, my heart was racing. I said, “Dean Switzer, in all honesty I could not tell you at all, because without seeing someone in the act I would be speculating and that would be wrong.” So I said "I just don't know, I really don't know."
At that point I looked under his desk and saw a tape recorder rolling and brought this discovery to his attention. He was embarrassed and turned it off and told me that I could go, but again warned me about making any decisions for my future that included Brock Loper. This was so upsetting to me. I told Brock about it. I think he was the only one.
Some time later I learned that over 200 letters were sent out to professors and students giving them an order not to return to campus. Brock was one of them. I don't remember the others. In fact, Brock did not get to graduate until sometime in the mid 1960s. Almost a decade later. He was actually a senior in that year, i.e. 1957. This was all of my involvement in the matter but through the years I often thought of how dreadful such a purge was.
In 1979 I sublet my apartment in NYC and I spent a summer in Hattiesburg with my Dad and stepmother and worked at the University. One day I was in the student lounge getting lunch and there was Dean Switzer. Long since retired. He was there to meet his daughter. I sat with him. I could not help bringing up the subject. I said "do you remember calling me into your office?" and he said "yes, I do.” I said: “Well in these times you could not do what you did then without risking a law suit.” He said he realized that and that he "was only acting on orders from his peers." I wanted to say “Well I think Goebbels and others did the same thing for Hitler," but I held my tongue. I am just wondering what the lives were like for all those other people who were dismissed. So awful.
Entry from McCain's Journal.
- Anne Nunnally to Jonathan Ned Katz, email of July 28, 2015 4:23:57 PM EDT
- The death of Brock A. Loper Jr. is documented on several memorial sites: see Legacy accessed August 20, 2015 from: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/clarionledger/obituary.aspx?n=brock-a-loper&pid=135501434 and see Tributes, accessed August 20, 2015 from: http://www.tributes.com/obituary/show/Brock-Loper-87151954 The sources conflict about Loper's experience at the College of Southern Mississippi. Nunnally distinctly recalls that he was expelled in 1957, before graduation, and reinstated, without explanation, many years later, in the 1960s. McCain refers to Loper on July 30, 1958, as "a recent graduate."
- Donald Frutiger and Marvin Graham. “An Oral History . . . . ” Interviewer: Karen Cox. The Mississippi Oral History Program of the University of Southern Mississippi, Volume 460, 1992, p. 2. Jonathan Ned Katz is grateful Kevin D. Greene, Co-Director, Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, for providing him with a copy of this document. Frutiger’s interview is briefly quoted by John Howard in Men Like That: A Southern Queer History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pages 68-69. Howard gives Frutiger the pseudonym “Frederick Ulner.”
- Accessed August 10, 2015 from http://www.lib.usm.edu/spcol/exhibitions/item_of_the_month/iom_dec_07.html
- Entry from the Journal of President William D. McCain, July 30, 1958, page 73, received by Jonathan Ned Katz in an email on July 27, 2015 5:01:38 PM EDT 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.
- The FBI's involvement in rooting out homosexuals and "subversives" from institutions of higher learning is documented in October 1954, and specifically at New York University and George Washington University. See Douglas M. Charles, Hoover's War on Gays: Exposing the FBI's "Sex Deviates" Program (University of Kansas Press, September 18, 2015), page 108, and notes 120 and 121, page 385. See also the OutHistory entry dated 1954, October 22 at: http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/fbi-history/1950-1959.
- Jonathan Ned Katz to Paul Walters, August 19, 2015 9:38:39 AM EDT.
- Nunnally recalls that Loper was expelled in 1957. McCain refers to Loper as a recent graduate on July 30, 1958. See note 2 on the discrepancy in dates.
- Anne Nunnally email to Cindy Crohn, February 10, 2008 7:19:22 PM EST. This document has been edited for typographical errors, and paragraphing has been added to facilitate reading on a website; nothing of substance has been changed.
Jonathan Ned Katz is deeply grateful to Cindy Crohn for bringing OutHistory her fictionalized account of Anne Nunnally’s story. He is also extremely grateful to Anne Nunnally for allowing OutHistory to recount her story and to use her name. Among those who helped with this research Katz also thanks: Douglas Bristol, Jr., Karen Cox, Kevin D. Greene, John Howard, and Eric Tribunella. Christopher Howard-Woods did a great job getting this feature on line.
First published September 1, 2015 9:24:05 AM EDT