Skip navigation

USM Professor Organizes Formal Discussion of Rumored Mass Grave for African Americans Killed in 1942 Riot

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 14:34pm | By: David Tisdale

Dr. Douglas BristolA University of Southern Mississippi (USM) professor has joined in an effort to resolve questions about the potential existence of a mass grave of African-Americans killed in a 1940s riot in Alexandria, Louisiana by arranging a roundtable panel focused on the issue in the upcoming 38th annual Gulf South Historical Association meeting being held in that city this weekend.

Dr. Douglas Bristol, associate professor of history and co-director of the USM Center for the Study of the Gulf South, will join in the Oct. 2 panel discussion about the 1942 Lee Street Riot, to be held at Alexandria’s historic Hotel Bentley from 10-11:15 a.m., during which a planned investigation will be formally announced by a local civic group that will employ ground-penetrating radar to examine the Holly Oak Cemetery in nearby Pineville, Louisiana, where the bodies are allegedly buried.

The civic group, along with Alexandria Mayor Jeffrey Hall, will also address efforts to erect a historical marker on Lee Street commemorating the riot.

On Saturday, Jan. 10, 1942, at about 6 p.m., an incident occurred on Lee Street in Alexandria, then the center of the African American community in Central Louisiana. Off-duty African-American soldiers, stationed at Camps Claiborne, Livingston and Beauregard, intervened when local police arrested an African American soldier. According to the post-event U.S. War Department report, a "riot" erupted among the unarmed African-American soldiers, and predominantly white, armed Military Police used force to suppress it.

The official report further states that three African-American soldiers were critically wounded and 29 others were injured. A preponderance of parallel civilian testimony given over the passing decades indicates that between 20 and 300 soldiers died, and possibly some civilians. According to these same reports, the deaths were covered-up using false documentation, and bodies may have been buried in an undisclosed mass grave site in Mississippi or at Holly Oak Cemetery, a predominantly African-American cemetery, located on Holly Oak Lane in Pineville.

“This group’s work is a reckoning with a dark past,” said Dr. Bristol. “The father of one of the members of the civic group organizing these efforts survived the 1942 Lee Street Riot, so this is not an academic subject for them. I’m glad the Gulf South Historical Association can host their presentation.”

For more information about this event, contact Dr. Bristol at douglas.bristol@usm.edu; for information about the USM Center for the Study of Gulf South, visit https://www.usm.edu/gulf-south/index.php.