Stew Magnuson: The 1973 disappearance of Ray Robinson

The following opinion by Stew Magnuson appeared in this week's issue of the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

Stew Magnuson Now that we know who pulled the trigger that killed Anna Mae Aquash, it’s time to turn our collective attention to Ray Robinson.

Somebody out there knows what happened to the black, civil rights activist who entered the American Indian Movement-occupied village of Wounded Knee in April 1973, and then vanished.

It’s time for the wall of silence to come down.

I’m not saying that the Aquash case has been settled once and for all. In summary, AIM member John Graham was convicted for the cold-blooded murder of Aquash late last year. His companion Arlo Looking Cloud was already serving time for the same crime.

Whether someone ordered these low-level foot soldiers to take the bound Aquash to a cliff near Wanblee on Pine Ridge, execute her and then dump her body in a ravine, has not been established. That question may or may not ever be answered.

Until that day comes, the authorities should turn their attention to solving the Robinson case, and put as much investigative muscle and prosecutorial effort – if it comes to that – into this case as they did for Aquash.

The best source I have found so far that lays out the facts surrounding the Robinson case can be found in Chapter 17 of the 2006 book, The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country, written by investigative journalist Steve Hendricks.

In summary, Robinson was a veteran of the black Civil Rights movement and an adherent to Martin Luther King Jr.’s principles of nonviolence. He made his way – like many other activists, white, Indian and black – to the occupied village to support the cause.

Hendricks has two credible eyewitnesses – one a journalist, and another white activist who knew Robinson from 1960s protest marches – place him there. His presence at Wounded Knee during the occupation is one of the few verifiable facts in this case. After that, things become murky.

One portrait in the book is of an overbearing man who was clearly annoying the militant AIM group with his personal beliefs about nonviolent tactics. One story has him rubbing the activists the wrong way until things came to a head, and a struggle ensued. A gun was accidentally discharged and Robinson was wounded. He was last seen being lead away by AIM security.

The only AIM leader to say anything substantial about the case has been Carter Camp, who reportedly told one of Robinson’s daughter’s years later that he saw Ray walk out of the village on his own volition.

Hendricks’ book does not come to any firm conclusions about what happened to Robinson. Although he does document years of AIM members deliberately avoiding the topic, refusing to discuss the matter, changing their stories, or denying he was ever in the village (which was not the case).

This all points to a cover up.

The theory, Camp told Robinson’s daughter, is that federal agents or member of the so-called GOON Squad (anti-AIM Pine Ridge residents who were allowed by federal agents to man armed checkpoints) may have “gotten him.” That, of course, was what AIM said for years about Aquash.

Yet, that theory cannot be totally discounted. The GOONS in those dark days were certainly threatening AIM activists and their allies with violence.

Along with AIM leaders’ reticence to discuss the case, Hendricks also makes a strong case that the FBI did not vigorously investigate Robinson’s disappearance in the years that followed the occupation. Why is that?

As Hendricks points out, Robinson was a Civil Rights activist and as such was not unknown to the J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, who at the time considered these great Americans who fought for their freedom to be enemies of our nation.

Was his race or status as an activist a cause for the agency’s indifference? Hendricks, who in his book, does not shy away from any pertinent facts, also brings up rumors that Robinson may have been a paid FBI informant or provocateur. There doesn’t seem to be any strong evidence in the book that that was the case.

He also wrote that after the occupation ended, both sides, AIM and GOONS, scoured the nearby land looking for fresh graves, but found none.

One of the main differences between the Aquash and the Robinson cases is that a body never turned up.

Technology is much better than it was 38 years ago. Ground penetrating radar might help find remains. But ultimately, someone in Lakota Country knows something. It’s time to come forward before it’s too late. Like Aquash, Robinson left behind children who have the right to know what happened to their father.

It’s time for a serious investigation into Ray Robinson’s death.

Stew Magnuson (stewmag@yahoo.com) is the author of The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder: And Other True Stories from the Nebraska-Pine Ridge Border Towns, which was recently revised and released in paperback.

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