Deaths elsewhere

  • Updated: November 12, 2012 - 9:40 PM

Ellen Douglas, 91, a Mississippi-born writer whose novels explored the uneasy, sometimes surprisingly tender alliances between black and white women in the American South, died Nov. 7 at her home in Jackson, Miss.

Ellen Douglas was the pen name of Josephine Ayres Haxton, whose first novel, "A Family's Affairs," drew praise from critics on its publication in 1962 by Houghton Mifflin.

That book, as many of Douglas' later novels would, explored the epochal divide between the Old South and the New, examining vast, difficult subjects -- race relations, tensions between the sexes, the conflict between the needs of the individual and those of the community -- through the small, clear prism of domestic life.

The domestic life in question was usually enacted by women, often middle-class white women and their black maids, joined in wary comradeship through shared household rituals. The word "domestic," both as adjective and noun, was an almost audible subtext in Douglas' work.

In "A Family's Affairs," which centers on three generations of women in the first half of the 20th century, Douglas was concerned with the construction and perpetuation of mythologies -- the small ones that percolate within families and the large ones spun by entire societies -- and the role that myth plays in rendering the past opaque.

The making of myth, and in particular its use as a homemade anesthetic for Southern white guilt, was a theme to which she would return repeatedly.

Throughout her career, Douglas was praised for her unflinching yet sympathetic characterizations, and for her ear for the nuances of Southern speech as it varied across the races and the sexes.

James L. Stone, 89, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor during the Korean War, died Nov. 9 in Arlington, Texas.

Stone, an Army lieutenant, led his men against the Chinese who stormed his hilltop outpost in Korea. Artillery and mortar fire raged through the night. By the next day, half the men in the platoon were dead and their 28-year-old lieutenant had been shot three times.

But Stone survived to spend nearly 30 years in the Army, rising to the rank of colonel and receiving the nation's highest military decoration for valor.

After the battle, he was taken prisoner and held for 22 months, learning only after his release that he had been awarded the medal.

"I don't deserve the medal," he said, near tears. "It should go to the men of my platoon. They were all so brave. Nothing I could say could tell you how proud I was to be with those men on that hill that night."

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