MAINSTREAM : REMEMBRANCE AND APPRECIATION -- AND RADICALS, EDITORS, AND UNITY: FRED THOMPSON, BERT COCHRAN, CHARLES HUMBOLDT [HUNTER GRAY - EXPANDED AND UPDATED 10/29/05]
UPDATE! My prize winning short story -- "The Destroyers" -- has now for the very first time appeared on the Net via this website. It is on the page immediately following this one. This page has the detailed background material regarding its publication in Mainstream and elsewhere.
[10/29/05]: "The Destroyers" has just been reprinted in the Marxist
journal, POLITICAL AFFAIRS, November/December 2005! It is on both the PA
website and in the regular print journal. See it at
As long as I can remember, I've been writing things -- mostly agitational stuff focused directly on issues and radical organizing. [ I started doing "man's work" -- hard labor stuff -- as soon as I entered my 'teens and my writing has always reflected this in one way or another.] While most of this writing has been articles, essays, editorials, leaflets and related weapons -- and a big book, Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism (1979 and 1987) -- there've been a few short stories. One, "Last of the Wild Ones" -- based on my trapping experiences in the super-rugged canyon country of Northern Arizona, was published as the lead fictional piece [November 1957] in the huge circulation "man's magazine," Argosy.
But another story of mine, "The Destroyers," published initially in Mainstream in 1960, won ever-broadening national and international renown. It was reprinted abroad in a variety of journals -- including those of the Russian and the Ukranian writers' unions. And it was also picked by Martha Foley and David Burnett as one of the very best short stories published in the United States in 1960 and included in their very special "Roll of Honor" [about fifty stories]: Martha Foley and David Burnett, The Best American Short Stories, 1961 and the Yearbook of the American Short Story [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1961.]
"The Destroyers" involved virulent racist prejudice and violence in the context of an extremely extensive and intensive Southwestern forest fire.
North Country -- an excellent annual literary magazine published at the University of North Dakota -- had, among its editors in 1988, one of my sons, John, then completing his M.A. in English. In addition to a fine story by him and very good work by others, that edition included "The Destroyers."
The following -- in quotes -- is introductory material which I provided for that issuance of my story:
" "The Destroyers" came directly out of a situation which I can still see as vividly as if it occurred last summer -- not June, 1950. At that long ago point, I fought my first forest fire -- the A-1 Mountain Burn -- with axe and shovel, just west of Flagstaff, Arizona. As that inferno wound down, another exploded on the slopes of the San Francisco Mountains, north of Flagstaff and only a few miles from Highway 89 which carries one up through the western Navajo country and into Mormon Utah. On that fire, I was put to work in camp where all the basic events depicted in "The Destroyers" transpired -- short of the final, lethal conclusion. And that tragedy came hideously close to reality.
Years later, I wrote the story; and submitted it to Harper's Magazine in October, 1959, eventually receiving the longest letter of rejection I'd ever gotten: a full-page from its chief editor, vigorously commending "The Destroyers," but indicating "sadly" that "it isn't the Harper's kind of story." [Within a few months, the civil rights sit-ins were to occur in the upper South.] I next sent it to Mainstream, a small, financially-broke and perennially witch-hunted left-wing literary magazine, based in New York [descendant of the old and New Masses] whose always gracious and gently sharp editor, Charles Humboldt, snapped it up immediately. His persuasive powers also commissioned me to do an extensive article on the on-going Western copper strike, and its chief leader -- International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers [Mine-Mill] -- with which I was closely identified.
"The Destroyers" appeared in May, 1960 [and the Mine-Mill article the following October], all of this, it turned out, faithfully recorded by the FBI which had, even by 1960, built a large file on me. And the FBI certainly pounced on the fact that the Russian Writers Union translated and reprinted my story in its journal in 1961. I'm not sure if J. Edgar Hoover and his bird-dogs were ever aware that "The Destroyers" [in Mainstream] was picked as one of the 50 best American short stories of the year by Martha Foley in her 1961 Yearbook of the American Short Story. Anyway, the two dozen sheets relating to Mainstream contained in the 3,000 or so pages of my FBI file -- secured under the Freedom of Information Act -- carry no mention of that honor. By that time, I was off to do battle with the destroyers in blood-dimmed Mississippi and far beyond."
I should add that, in addition to the 3,000 or so pages that I have in my possession, my total FBI file contains several hundred pages that the FBI refuses to give me on various "security" grounds.
In 1998, the files of the old Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission -- the state secret police agency -- were finally opened. And in 1999, I received many hundreds of Sovereignty Commission pages relating to me. Among them were numerous documents concerning Mainstream and much evidence that at least two other agencies -- in addition to the FBI and the Commission -- had been quite interested in my Mainstream ties: the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and the Louisiana State Un-American Activities Committee.
Charles Humboldt (1910-1964) was an excellent editor in every respect and a damn fine human being. During his tenure as Editor of Mainstream [ service which, very regrettably, ended abruptly in late 1960], this top-flight radical literary journal consistently secured very high calibre work and courageously pursued a vigorous and ecumenically Left focus.
Humboldt was a member of the Communist Party USA and his broadly Left focus -- with a heavy emphasis on genuinely excellent social justice creativity -- drew to Mainstream a number of splendid radical writers and poets and artists. Many of these were of the non-Communist Left. Interestingly, it was Fred Thompson, veteran IWW editor and key mentor of mine, who initially brought Mainstream to my attention. No Communist in the remotest sense, Fred nonetheless recognized and respected what Charles Humboldt was attempting -- and suggested that I, at some point, might want to submit some of my radical fiction to the journal.
And despite the still continuing Red Scare, Mainstream blossomed and bloomed. But grim clouds and heavy storms were brewing fast from another direction.
Mainstream's developing success -- in the context of an ecumenically Left approach and high grade writing -- antagonized the more narrow, rigid elements in the CPUSA. These were grouped around the titular leadership of William Z. Foster.
Skirmishes became increasingly embittered conflicts. Charles Humboldt finally resigned from Mainstream in the Summer of '60 -- going on to write for the radical National Guardian newspaper. Following his departure, a number of us never wrote again for Mainstream and several of the journal's Contributing Editors resigned -- including his close friend and colleague, Dr Annette Rubinstein, a major force in Mainstream's creatively productive life. Mainstream then declined rapidly into a stale, colorless and just plain dull caricature -- and formally died in 1963. And Charles died a year later.
In addition to Humboldt, the editorial circle included Phillip Bonosky as Associate Editor -- and as Contributing Editors: Herbert Aptheker, Jack Beeching, Jesus Colon, Sidney Finkelstein, Hugo Gellert, Barbara Giles, Shirley Graham, Milton Howard, John Howard Lawson, Meridel LeSueur, Walter Lowenfels, Annette T. Rubinstein, and Philip Stevenson.
Dr. Annette Rubinstein, now in her early 'nineties -- and still teaching -- and I have been in contact in this newest century. In the Spring of 1960, she came to Phoenix for a civil liberties speaking engagement and I, a finishing grad student at Arizona State University and very much a fiery young radical activist, had the fine fortune of driving and guiding this excellent writer and courageous human being around the capital city of our very challenging [and, to her, extremely mysterious and perhaps understandably frightening] state. She seemed reassured by the fact that I was [and am] a very big, husky thug!
On April 10, 2002, a celebration of Dr. Rubinstein's life and work was held at Tamiment Library under the aupices of the Library, New York University, and The Brecht Forum. The special occasion was the opening of the very extensive and extremely rich collection of her papers. From Idaho, I posted the notice of this signal affair very widely indeed:
"Dr Rubinstein, in her very early nineties, is an extraordinarily creative and courageous scholar activist. Her papers -- and her rich insights, historical and contemporary -- will be of much value to anyone seriously interested in the American radical movement and that of the world." H
And here's another fascinating Mainstream postscript: From the time  we arrived back in the Mountain West [Idaho], following our substantial sojourn in the Northern Plains of North Dakota, we have been subjected to obvious surveillance and related thrusts by so-called "lawmen" -- and have been targets of racist harassment as well. It's been increasingly clear that a Federal/state/local lawmen "task force" has been conducting continual surveillance of us, tampering with our telephones, and interfering with our postal mail delivery. See this link on our Lair of Hunterbear website which leads to a very detailed and updated discussion of our now five years of bizarre experiences: http://www.hunterbear.org/hostility_and_harassment_in_idah.htm
Early on, it was clear there were weird things occurring with our mail. In 1998, aware that I had no physically good copies of the Mainstream issues containing my work [The Destroyers, May '60 -- and the long Mine-Mill article, October '60], my oldest son, John, himself a top-flight writer -- and then an assistant U.S. Postmaster at Glyndon, Minnesota -- conducted a quiet computer search for those issues of the journal. Although copies of Mainstream are rare indeed, he found the issues. And, on January 5, 1999, he mailed them to me from "his" post office at Glyndon, doing so by Priority Mail. As soon as they were mailed, he telephoned me and indicated they should be -- if all went conventionally -- in my hands within three days.
They took ten full days to reach me. In the middle of that, I questioned our mail delivery man whose responses were evasive. When the two copies of Mainstream finally arrived, in their secure and properly addressed and fully stamped Priority Mail package, holes had been poked into one corner of the container -- but had missed the journals. The prolonged postal odyssey of those two issues of Mainstream, with my long ago work therein, served as the basis for the first of several formal letters of complaint to U.S. Postal Inspection authorities. While those dubious worthies have never responded, this was the beginning of our very formal and very open and increasingly well-publicized counter-attack -- which has helped bring the existence of these shadowy and covert Federal/state/local creatures-of-repression into the public eye.
Charles Humboldt's Mainstream fights on! And so do we.
RADICALS, EDITORS, AND UNITY: FRED THOMPSON, BERT COCHRAN, CHARLES HUMBOLDT [HUNTER GRAY POSTED 4/15/02]
I'm posting [on RedBadBear 10/26/01] one of the first
posts that I ever made on any List [ Marxmail, well over a year ago -- i.e., Fall
2000.] There's reason for this -- so, first some introductory comment:
Whatever writing ability I have, probably goes back first cause-wise to my
parents. My father was a full-blooded Native American [Micmac / St Francis
Abenaki / St Regis Mohawk ] ; and my mother was Scottish-American, from an
old and often violent Western frontier ranching family [though, I hasten to
add, never violent against Indians.] Our cultural orientation is essentially
Iroquoian, blended with extremely long residence in and around the Navajo
Nation. My parents read very widely and, quite early on, I developed in that
tradition. And my writing flowed very naturally from my earliest years
Three veteran radical editors played a key -- and essentially concurrent --
role in guiding my writing as a very young radical. One was Fred Thompson,
the old-time IWW organizer, writer -- and enduring editor of the Industrial
Worker. Another was a Communist, Charles Humboldt, the gentle and
consistently cordial editor of Mainstream [lineal descendant of Masses and
Mainstream, New Masses, and the old Masses.] The third was Bert Cochran,
who came out of a Trotskyist background and who, with Harry Braverman,
founded the American Socialist -- and also at the same time sparked an
important ecumenical effort, the American Socialist Union. Each of the
three was well aware of the role the others were playing in providing
critical guidance to me -- and each, very ecumenical indeed, was not at all
troubled by this transcedence of Left "sectarianism." They saw it, in fact,
as not only logical -- but rather humorous.
At various points on my large social justice website
have my own tributes to these three key figures in my emergence as an
activist writer. Others of the Left were extremely important in my
development as an effective organizer -- old-time Wobblies, and many in the
old and consistently valiant Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. But Thompson,
Humboldt, and Cochran helped blaze trail for me as an emergent writer. This
following post deals primarily with Bert Cochran -- and, following that, I
have a couple of brief concluding comments on his important journal and his
effort to get radicals together.
This is a friendly note with respect to Bert Cochran et al and the American
Socialist. I appreciate the just issued, positive perspective on Cochran
and his journal. In the mid-1950s, I was a young half-blood Native
American (barely into my twenties) in my native state of Arizona -- an aspiring radical, a member of what remained of the I.W.W., and active in the always courageous and hard-fighting Mine-Mill. I came across a copy of the American Socialist and in late 1955 subscribed.
I had already begun to write radical stuff. And that excellent Wobbly editor, Fred Thompson, provided first-rate tutelage for me, a very hot-eyed kid,
at many points -- e.g., "to be really radical, you don't have to rant and
rave. You only have to accurately describe the massive injustice all around you and sensibly discuss basic curative approaches and solutions."
Then and now, never a sectarian, I very much appreciated the essentially ecumenical approach exemplified by the American Socialist and finally, in February of 1957, I sent Cochran two things I'd written: The first, "Navaho Indians: Oil And Mining Buzzards Hover Overhead," dealt with the savage (a word I don't use lightly) invasion of Navajo Nation lands by a veritable army of mineral seizing capitalist predators -- under the auspices of the ever
obliging Bureau of Indian Affairs which, among its other cynical reasons,
was utilizing every resource at its command to force Indian people
(including the Navajo) from their lands via "urban relocation" -- with the
ultimate goal being, of course, the full-fledged seizure of what remained of
Native territory. My second piece, drawing from things (anti-racist, civil
liberties, student rights etc. ) going on even in such closed citadels as
Arizona -- as well as elsewhere, none of this really reported broadly --
predicted widespread student activism within a very few years.
I sent the two pieces to Cochran together and immediately got an extremely cordial, receptive letter of substance (which regrettably I did not save; what kid does at that age?). He welcomed the Navajo piece eagerly (subsequently
publishing it in September, 1957.) [See that article at our website via http://www.hunterbear.org/a_native_rights_sampling.htm
The other he rejected, very sadly, saying he simply
could not share my great optimism. (As a result of the Navajo piece, George Shoaf
and I struck up a hearty correspondence.)Years later, about 1964, fresh from teaching at
Mississippi's Black Tougaloo College and being privileged by History to play a leading
role in the blood-dimmed Jackson Movement of 1962-63, I was Field Organizer in the
hard-core South for the commendably radical Southern Conference Educational Fund -- then
headed by that always optimistic, excellent Left activist, Jim Dombrowski. Out of the blue
came a short note from the ever gracious Cochran. With immediate and explicit
reference to my long ago "rejected" piece on predicted, widespread
student activism, he said "You were right. And how glad I am you were!" By
then, I had already done much more writing across the Left: e.g., pieces for
the first rate literary magazine Mainstream (with its very fine editor Charles
Humboldt and such excellent people as the very effectively enduring Dr. Annette
Rubinstein), Mississippi Free Press -- which I helped found, Southern Patriot (SCEF), etc.
Cochran had found the Navajo tragedy revealing and crucial, had encouraged me to keep with it, and I continued that story over the years -- with emphasis on the super-hideous spectacle of surfacing radioactive horror (from both uranium mining and milling and refining and Desert Rock nuclear testing); and those pieces appeared in such journals as Labor Notes, Third World Socialists, New Perspectives (World Peace Council.) And -- always an organizer and always a left socialist, those dimensions forever! -- I went on to write -- and do to the present moment -- for such fine journals as Against the Current.
As in the old Woody Guthrie song, "many years have come and gone" since
those far away days in the Arizona of the '50s -- but the forthright and
always encouraging and basically optimistic Bert Cochran, like a number of
fine Left editors then and now -- remains firmly on the Sunny slope of my
memory. He took the time -- like Humboldt and others did -- to encourage a
young Arizonian in that still lonely setting: just before the Great New
Decade rose up. It has seemed to me, very much these past several years or
so, that those times -- the mid and late '50s -- were much like our present
trek (but now we have the refreshing upheavals of Seattle, and beyond, and
Nader.) To an Indian, nothing is ever really coincidental. Perhaps there
is indeed some intriguingly positive and special meaning in the fact that we
are once again hearing of Cochran, his vision, his courage and honesty, his
Solidarity to All. Hunter Gray
(formerly John R. Salter, Jr.) Pocatello, Idaho
Back now to October 26, 2001:
The American Socialist -- about 30-some pages an issue if I remember
correctly -- was on good paper, cleanly and neatly done with solid margin
space, photos and sketches used sparingly but effectively [like red Chili
pepper.] And, very importantly, it was quite ecumenically Left -- brought
in a wide variety of perspectives from the oft-contentious radical family.
Its editorial flags pulled no punches -- but flew over a bevy of
contemporary [and some historical material]: Left labor, civil rights, labor
defense, civil liberties -- much more. It came out regularly, each month,
from 1955 through the remainder of the decade. It was completely free of
typos [something, which also along with comparably dependable publishing
regularity, Fred Thompson and Charles Humboldt certainly sought
successfully with respect to their journals.] Although the American
Socialist had its own distinct identity, it was closely involved with
another Cochran project: The American Socialist Union.
The American Socialist Union, which functioned in the time span of the
American Socialist, was certainly a broad tent which encouraged flexible
attendance and participation from a big cut of the American radical pie:
socialists of many sorts -- including Communists, people from the radical
pacifist camp of A.J. Muste; radical unionists; even some anarchists. The
Red Scare was still very much around -- and the American Socialist Union
[and the American Socialist] were among the relatively few vigorous Left
entities. They were certainly Red-baited incessantly and otherwise attacked
but continued right along during those several critical years immediately
preceding the wild and woolly '60s -- to which their contribution [along
with other Left outfits ] was certainly a significantly seminal force.
To come to the final point: It seems to me that our Left of today could
use, among other things, an ecumenical tent like the American Socialist
Union -- and [without preempting other Left publications] a damn fine
monthly like the American Socialist. We could also use a high calibre Left
literary journal -- like Humboldt's Mainstream! And the Industrial Worker,
of course, continues right along to this very moment.
So, comment -- anyone?
In Solidarity Always Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
A NOTE ON FRED THOMPSON -- EXCERPTED FROM MY APRIL 3, 2002 REVIEW [A VERY POSITIVE ONE] OF LYNN MARIA LAITALA'S EXCELLENT BOOK ON MINNESOTA IRON RANGE FINNS AND CHIPPEWA INDIANS: DOWN FROM BASSWOOD -- LISTED AND POSTED VIA THE INDEX OF OUR WEBSITE]
Good writing -- stuff that's alive -- has to be based
most of all on people:
they're the Headwaters and the River's Flow -- and they're the Goal.
Ideological tracts don't catch Soul.
A great radical journalist was my Great Mentor: Fred Thompson -- originally
from the Canadian Maritimes [St. John, NB] and Scottish mixed with Micmac.
Very soon, Fred had all sorts of close Finnish family connections. A Left
socialist of ecumenical bent who was a very deep and committed Wobbly all
the way through [Fred died in 1987 at a very old age indeed], he was an IWW
organizer, writer, and editor -- who served a prison hitch in San Quentin in
the 1920s under California's vicious anti-labor "criminal syndicalism"
statute. These repressive laws were enacted widely in the Western states in
their attack on the IWW. Idaho's especially encompassing one -- which also
jailed famous Wobbly [and later Mine-Mill] organizer Sam Embree for four
years in the 1920s -- is still on the books. I -- in Arizona -- wrote many
things for Fred when he edited the Industrial Worker out of Chicago.
Characteristically and early on, ca. 1956, he wrote to me -- a very hot-eyed
kid. "You certainly have what it takes," he wrote. "But to be really
radical, you don't have to rant and rave. You only have to accurately
describe the massive injustice all around you and sensibly discuss the basic
curative approaches and solutions."
I've always tried to follow that advice.
And that's exactly what Lynn Maria Laitala does -- with her arrow straight
to the mark.
the next page for "The Destroyers" -- the story itself!
And, on the page following that one, there is additional material on the story
This is the first time -- ever -- that "The Destroyers" has appeared on the Net.
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER
BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
I am honored -- humbled -- by the 2005 Elder Recognition Award of Wordcraft
Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. This particular, rarely issued
honor is one of several awards voted by the Caucus [board] of this
organization of writers, storytellers, film makers, and journalists.
In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings. Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and
mysterious and remembering way. [Hunter Bear]