"It was determined that, in view of the
conduct of the 364th Infantry, vigorous and prompt corrective
was necessary in order to place this regiment in such a
state that it would not again resort to mutinous
--excerpted from declassified military document--
The 364th Regiment
originated in Louisiana as the 367th. Trouble
began for the black soldiers there, after three of their men were accused of
raping a white woman. Thurgood Marshall was involved as an NAACP attorney trying
to help, but the 367th was changed to the 364th and shipped to
Carroll Case, a
reporter from Mississippi, documents the
alleged 1943 mass murder of over 1000 African-American soldiers in the 364th
Regiment in 'The Salughter.' WT "Rusty" Denman, the book's
publisher, offered these comments:
RD: Their facilities there were
just terrible. The Army was going to house them in a horse stable, but then they
put them in tents. And the Army then told them they would build them some new
facilities and so forth. The government then let them watch the new barracks
being built and right before construction was finished, the Army shipped the
364th out again, this time to Mississippi.
KW: But how did the situation degenerate to the
point of murder in Mississippi?
RD: Here's what
happened. William Walker, a black soldier on the base, got into a ruckus with a
white MP. Walker, who was black, got the best of it, and they quit fighting. But
that's when the MP issued an order: "Sheriff, shoot this N-word." And he
KW: Where is this documented?
In the Army's own document. However, the Army's report on the incident was
totally bogus. They list William Walker as AWOL and separated from the service
on May 15,
1943, when, in fact, he was shot
by the sheriff on May the 30th.
KW: It's just so hard to imagine the
US Army sanctioning genocide
of so many of its own soldiers.
RD: You had the
two Mississippi US Senators, Theodore Bilbo and James Eastland, screaming their
heads off at the War Department to get the 364th out of their state. They had
received a telegram from the Mayor of the town where the base was located,
saying that unless this specific regiment was moved out immediately, there were
going to be race riots. And on July 3rd there was a big riot followed by an
edict that there would be a blackout, total censorship of any incidents of
racial unrest. (from an interview with the publisher of The Slaughter, Kam
unbelievable story was circulating, in fact, about an army camp located in the
southwestern tip of Mississippi,
outside of the Delta, near McComb (close to New
But it took nearly forty years for the story to become public, and only
after Carroll Case, a former bank president in nearby Centreville, heard an
amazing story from an employee, Bill Martzell (now deceased) and then wrote a
an old veteran, confessed to his boss he had witnessed a race crime in the fall
of 1943, one of unprecedented
proportions in American history if it was true. The alleged victims were over
one thousand black soldiers stationed at Camp Van Dorn. On May
Corporal Anthony J. Smirely, Jr., of the 364th Infantry stationed at
sent a desperate letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Tribune asking for his
help. He told Washington Rhodes several anecdotes, including one about a soldier
of his regiment shot and killed by a white MP, and another story of a fellow
soldier and friend who returned from an over-night pass, beaten about the head
by white MPs.
Rhodes, I beg of you to please, from my heart, please do something for the
fellows and myself who are among the unfortunate to be in this State of blood '
Negro blood ' that is constantly flowing in the streets.' Corporal Anthony J.
Smirely, Jr., Co.
H, 364th Infantry, Camp
in south Mississippi, Case had grown up to rumors of a mass killing of black
soldiers on a nearby Army base during World War II and dismissed the stories as
folklore. But in the early 1980s, Martzell who served in World War II as a
Military Police officer stationed at Camp Van Dorn, told Case a story that
prompted him into spending 13 years of research. Martzell insisted that soldiers
from the 364th Infantry were slaughtered, not by white racists 'but
by the Army itself.'[ii]
364th, all black, hit the base in the summer of 1943. Two months
before they shipped out to Mississippi,
there had been racial problems in Phoenix,
and several MPs were killed. More MPs were put on duty at Camp Van Dorn,
anticipating trouble when the group arrived in
' and there was. Several
disturbances occurred on base, and then problems moved into the small town of
a completely segregated community.
blacks, like Smirely, were still not allowed to walk on sidewalks but when the
364th came into town, most soldiers from Northern states, they walked
wherever they chose to, and the local sheriff 'had to kill one of them to get
their attention.' After several more incidents, including a riot in the white
service club, Martzell told Case that one night in the late fall of 1943, MPs on
orders armed themselves with 45 caliber machine guns, waited until dark, and
opened fire. The area around the black camp, located near the Engineering
division close to the railroad, was sealed. The entire 364th , by
then disarmed, was ordered to move into the open area where they were all
once a newspaper reporter in Vicksburg
asked a fellow journalist to help research the story. In the end, he confirmed
many pieces of the amazing story, using the Freedom of Information Act to
collect private and confidential records. When a first story was published, he
experienced death threats and burglaries at his home and office, serious enough
that Case moved to Jackson
to become head of the Mississippi Arts Commission. Still working on his
research, Case met journalist Ronald Lee Ridenhour, who helped expose the
massacre in Vietnam.
who later died in 1998 of a heart attack, and a Maryland historian helped Case
locate many classified papers from military archives, including signed letters
and affidavits from 'desperate black soldiers,' members of the 364th,
that are included in his book, 'The Slaughter.' The NAACP Legal Defense and
Educational Fund had collected these letters during a later investigation.
Missing records and reports from June 8 to December 1943 could reveal a story
not yet told.[iv]
[i] Carroll Case, 'The
Slaughter: An American Atrocity,' FBC, Inc., 1998,
[ii] Case, Ibid.