NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR:
Interesting marriages have occurred throughout the history of Humanity -- itself glorious, turbulent, sanguinary, somehow enduring. But if you married the desolate Funeral Mountains of Death Valley to the quicksand of the Great Dismal Swamp -- well, you'd have the contemporary USA and much of what it's touching, home and abroad.
"When will the American people wake up?!" a Quaker visitor, occasionally distracted by our affectionate half-Bobcat little lady, Courting Cloudy, asked us yesterday.
"They are," said I, "and when it really comes, it will come fast -- as high and powerful as a Yellowstone geyser."
MISSISSIPPI CONTEMPORARY [PERSONAL] HUNTER BEAR/HUNTER GRAY/JOHN R SALTER, JR. 2/08/06
Colia Liddell Lafayette Clark, then a Tougaloo student from Jackson, and always a hard-fighting activist, initially recruited me into the incipient Mississippi movement September '61 and has recently written:
From Colia to her list of colleagues:
I received this note from Hunter Gray Bear (John Salter). Hunter Bear was my
professor at Tougaloo College and one of the sharpest organizers in both the
southern civil rights movement and labor movement in the USA. He agreed to
serve as advisor to a the newly organized Jackson, Ms NAACP North Jackson
Youth Council in 1961. This was no small decision. Under his tutorledge and
guidance and with the oversight of Medgar Wylie Evers, the North Jackson
NAACP Youth Council would produce a mass movement and the most successful
boycott of a downtown district in the deep south. Only, Ida B Wells boycott
of Memphis in the 19th century can compare. Jackson. Ms' downtown folded and
has never reopened with its string of shops and department stores. This was
no easy work and like Medgar and so many others Hunter Bear was targeted for
death. He was seriously wounded by the southern racists in a freak car
accident (point of death), beaten a number of times in demonstrations but
refused to yield even from pressure within the struggle. Those years are
detailed in a book by Hunter Bear (John R Salter) entitled: Jackson,
Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism. The book is out
of print, but should be in most college libraries. Today, Hunter Bear has
returned to his native land in the West and to his native roots to continue
organizing and building grass roots struggle and a new generation of
Hear him for he worthy to be heard."
Colia Liddell Lafayette Clark
My mind is clear, sharp -- even if physically things are a challenge.
When I look out the window in my little home office, I
often see fog and mist in these early mornings. It is then, especially,
that I remember the old Indians and the old-time Wobblies of my youth. [As
I write this, it occurs to me that I am now an old-timer in my own right. I was
gratified recently when Alice Azure [Mi'kmaq] and the others in the
Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers presented me with the rather
rarely given Elder Recognition Award. In the Native context, I am always
something of a traditionalist -- and, of course, I have always
remained a Wobbly at heart.
And, lately, those always vivid and welcome recollections from long past are joined by the Feeling, a very strong feeling indeed, that Something -- something good, something important -- is drawing near. Whatever -- and it may be not far over the mountains yonder.
As an organizer,
I learned early on that Real Organizing is the
most challenging and toughest work of all. My oldest son, John [Beba], born in North Carolina
in '65, wrote in part a couple of years ago in the very kind and generous Tribute to me from
a throng of friends over many decades:
"Except for his refusal to be walked on by any boss, my father was never
like Abner Snopes, but like that peculiar family in Faulkner's "Barn
Burning," we were always loading up the wagon with our battered furniture
and moving, moving, moving. We lived in North Carolina, we lived in Vermont;
we lived in Chicago, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Seattle, and Rochester, New
York. We lived on the Navajo Nation, we lived in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Our houses were never too grand, never too squalid. Not much survived the
moves but our family, and, of course, the steady parade of visitors, people
in rags and suits, people coming to see Hunter, people in need-in need of
money, advice, food, sanctuary from the feds, respite from self-destruction;
people with plans, problems, with energy that could benefit from focus."
Beba also recalls, and often, that he and the other children were consistently warned not to be the ones to answer our home phones -- given the frequency of hate calls spread over many, many years indeed.
To his apt account, I add only that we have all found the satisfactions of this "Outlaw Trail" to be enormous.
For the same Tribute, an old colleague fighter, Elliott Ricehill, Ho-Chunk Nation [formerly the Winnebago] wrote the following kind words:
[ One of our successful campaigns, I should add, which also involved our good friend, Tim McGowan, organized more than a hundred Algonquin migrant workers [and their families] from eastern Canada, trapped and ruthlessly exploited on a large, guarded up-state New York mink-raising plantation -- a horrific situation which we broke wide open.]
Elliott writes, "As cultural practitioners and knowing that our true essence, visible as a breath on a snowy morning and continuing way beyond our brief sojourn here, my wife and I celebrate John's legacy of a life well spent. We owe him our wish that he will continue to consternate his enemies for many years to come."
And most certainly I intend to do just that.
Throughout this long Odyssey, I have made a multitude of good friends and some venomous enemies. Some of the latter have been open adversaries -- but many have moved covertly in the shadows with knives and arsenic.
But I always keep going.
I was born
fighting. An old friend from early grade school onward, recently locating
me via Internet, wrote this -- which, with no false modesty, I relish:
"Sir John, Knight of the Black Countenance, I am really pleased that you
chose to answer; and, I'm intrigued more than just a bit about comparing
and contrasting some . . . memories with you. Don't fret any about your
new "Title". There was a time in my young life when I admired and
practiced your fierce scowl and dark, rebellious expression in my mirror at
home. It didn't work; I always came out looking like the Court Jester, no
matter how hard I tried. . ." [Ron]
Grassroots comments are always especially welcome to myself and Eldri -- always have been and are certainly priceless in this particularly trying period with me struck by profound and potentially lethal illness and its corollary of relative physical infirmity. The Tribute, assembled by many fine friends in the late Winter of 2004 and still in the updating process, is a priceless gift. In the upper reaches of the long, long Tribute and over on the left hand side is a list of about one hundred individuals who have given heartwarming reflections. They span many decades, many hard-fought struggles, include many ethnicities. Here, again, is the Link to that: http://www.hunterbear.org/special_tribute_page_for_hunter.htm
But, now and then, as one cuts
his/her Trail through the Great Scenery of Life, one sometimes hits poison ivy
or, more frequently, a small sour lemon tree. The former is often a worthy foe to be surmounted
and the latter, the sour drop, is more of a sad and transitory nuisance to which one might
spend a few moments but not too many. In this context, I want to say a
word or two in a moment about the Mississippi State Department of Archives and
History. But first, some important context:
I've had, of course, a good deal to do
with Mississippi. Moving there in the late Summer of '61, I and Eldri
became deeply involved in the then still very small and slowly developing
Civil Rights Movement. Teaching at the private Tougaloo Southern Christian
College, almost completely Black in student enrollment, I almost immediately
became Advisor to the Jackson Youth Council of NAACP, a board member of the
state-wide Mississippi State Conference of NAACP Branches, a member of the
executive committee of the Jackson NAACP, and then chairman of the Strategy
Committee of our massive Jackson Movement which reached its hard-fought climax
in 1963. See my bio of that and subsequent organizing in the Veterans' section
of Civil Rights Movement Veterans
Our Lair of Hunterbear
Colia Liddell Lafayette Clark's good words strike deep resonance. And only a few days ago, a letter arrived from a white man at Jackson. He had finally located me [again, via Internet!] and was extremely interested in my perceptions of his late father, a business leader in Mississippi's capital back during our intense Jackson Boycott/Jackson Movement period. Though I had never known his dad directly -- I had no real personal contact with Jackson's white community -- I knew from our sources that his father had been been a consistently moderate voice in an almost pervasively impossible situation. His letter reminded me of the important role played by the handful of white moderates in the Closed Society -- and he concluded his letter with a note of sincere appreciation:
I wrote him back immediately, cordially and at considerable length -- telling him all that I knew of his father's quietly courageous role. And he wrote back:
His family had persevered -- and had seen the eternal Sun come forth once again.
More than a quarter century ago [in 1979], the State Historical Society of Wisconsin asked me for my collected papers-- to be placed in its National Social Action Collection. [My great radical poet friend, John Beecher, had warned me as early as 1969 to be careful to whom I gave them. He and his papers had had a very bad personal experience with an ostensibly reputable university on the Eastern seaboard.] After talking the matter over with a number of people, I began to donate selected papers to SHSW and we developed a system in which part of my developing collection went into "open papers" [quite accessible] and others went into a "closed" dimension to be opened at a designated future time. Within a few months, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, obviously interested in Riding with History, asked me if it could secure copies. After some discussion, I was agreeable and an essentially parallel collection of my material developed there -- with dimensions encompassing both my open and closed papers.
The relationship with SHSW started out well and, basically, continued in that vein. A few management problems did develop in that bailiwick. That with MDAH, starting out via young and idealistic staff working with me, was initially -- given the setting -- extremely encouraging. But over the years, as staffers came and went and fiscal appropriations became more unpredictable, that one soured into the shallowly narrow creek waters of "political respectability." MDAH reneged on what I felt were a couple of basic procedural commitments, and so early in 2004 -- as I was clearing our family decks for my possible mortality -- I wrote this letter:
This letter in print form and via conventional mail
is addressed to Hank
Holmes, MDAH; Bill Winter, MDAH; Donna Sereda, SHSW. I am also
sending it via e-mail.
If I recall correctly, the Closed portions of my collected papers at SHSW
and MDAH are due to open in 2007 [Note: Actually, the date was 2010].
I am now extending that to February 14,
It's been about a quarter century since -- at the request of Sarah Cooper --
I began donating my papers and related materials to SHSW. Soon after that,
MDAH asked for copies and I obliged.
About 1992, SHSW indicated it did not want any more material and, with the
exception of a few scattered items over the years, there was none. MDAH
continued to receive it -- although I'm not at all sure how the relatively
more recent material was filed [if it ever really was].
I paid all postage for anything of any kind I shipped to SHSW and MDAH. I
sought no tax write-offs of any kind at any point.
In 1989, MDAH asked for all originals that I could send. These mostly went
back to about 1981 -- but much [such as the Jackson Movement material was
considerably earlier]. MDAH promised to send me copies of all of them. I
sent a huge box of originals and MDAH, with the exception of a single month,
never did send the promised copies. Thus I was left without originals, nor
did I have copies.
Mississippi consistently charged me copying costs for anything I did
request. Contact with MDAH faded quickly over the years. At one point,
final, residual Sovereignty Commission papers requested by me resulted in
only numbers being sent -- with the suggestion that I match them myself.
Soon after that, I stopped sending anything to MDAH -- and never heard
Although SHSW is not really an awarding body, Mississippi hands out much
recognition. I have never received anything -- and hardly even a public
word. I played a significant role in changing Mississippi [as well as some
other places], wrote a damn good book on Mississippi, sent material for
years [at my expense], and otherwise contributed substantially to things.
Zero from Mississippi.
For four years, we've had a website: Lair of Hunterbear,
It is now genuinely massive and contains a wealth of rich historical and
contemporary material involving Native rights, civil rights, militant labor,
radicalism and much more in the social justice context. It's visited by
several hundred people per day. In addition, I have 19 notebooks, some
massive, containing historical and contemporary documents and photos. Then
too, I've published at least two dozen articles on social justice matters in
the last four years.
Last mid-July , I was struck by the most extreme form of Systemic Lupus
[SLE]. I nearly died three times and was hospitalized substantially on each
of those occasions. It also contributed diabetes. SLE has no cure and will
last my life-time [whatever that may be.] It could strike again -- hard --
at any point. [I haven't really been outside in almost eight months.]
When this initially occurred -- the first attack -- I drew up a
communalistic Will which ensures that most of my stuff [including the Native
and labor and radical collections] will always remain in our family. I can
do nothing about the material you all have gotten from me -- but I'll be
damned, if under these miserly circumstances, I'll oblige you all by opening
Copies of this to Eldri Gray, John Salter III, Peter Salter, Maria Salter,
Josie Salter, Thomas Salter.
Hunter Gray [John R Salter, Jr]
Wisconsin, not the primary target of
my critical missive, responded right away via my good friend, Donna Sereda, who
made the necessary adjustments. At that point I rescinded the date of 2017
for SHSW and returned to 2010. Donna wrote:
Dear Hunter, 5/6/2004
Thanks so much for your kind and gracious message. I'm very, very
happy that your Wisconsin papers will be open in 2010!
I spent some time on your website and was overcome by the warm,
meaningful tributes I found there. I could also feel the presence of
your strong and loving family surrounding you. To live a meaningful
life, be surrounded by love, live in one of the most beautiful places on
earth--it doesn't get much better than that. This is all reflected in
your words, which have a lot of poetry in them. I like that--a lot.
Take good care of yourself.
Director, Archives Collections
Wisconsin HIstorical Society
816 State Street
Madison, WI 53706-1482
But Mississippi Department of Archives and History [and its closely associated Mississippi Historical Society] did not even acknowledge my letter which had gone to two of the primary persons, H.T. "Hank" Holmes and William F. Winter. Thus my closed papers in that [somewhat] Closed Society will not be opened until 2017.
And then, just the other day, the monthly newsletter of MDAH came routinely to me as a Life member of the Historical Society. In it was a list of about two dozen books deemed by its staff to be "Essential Reading" vis-a-vis Black History Month. My book, Jackson Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism [1979, and 1987] is not among them. And neither is anything by Myrlie Evers or Anne Moody or some other activist authors. The issue for me is not with most of those books so listed -- the great majority are solid works -- but it is with those omitted obviously because of MDAH's increasing bent toward academic/professorial "respectability."
Jackson, Mississippi drew several dozen fine reviews -- and had been sold for years by the Old Capitol Bookstore, part of MDAH. A couple of years before his death, Professor Jim Silver, the long embattled voice of courage at Ole Miss, and whose great classic, Mississippi: The Closed Society, is deservedly listed, wrote a statement on behalf of me:
JAMES WESLEY SILVER [d. 1988]
"I was so impressed with his book, Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism, that I purchased copies for my three children born in Mississippi . . .Of course I knew about his courageous course at Tougaloo College long before that. . .He is unquestionably a rare find who combines dedication with an exceedingly purposeful life."
[ For substantial excerpts from many of the reviews drawn by Jackson, Mississippi, see this webpage of ours, http://www.hunterbear.org/jackson.htm
But everything from the Grassroots is good indeed: There have been many other kind words stemming from that blood-dimmed era of Southern struggle. Here are only a few of the recent ones. And for us these, and all the others, our views are most certainly reciprocal:
Received and posted May 27
2004, and with great appreciation, on the official Tribute Page at Lair of Hunterbear.
Tougaloo grad Joyce Ladner, listed immediately above, had gone to Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson.
HONORABLE BENNIE G.
THOMPSON, U.S. CONGRESS, MISSISSIPPI
TRIBUTE REMARKS HONORING JOHN HUNTER GRAY -- BENNIE G. THOMPSON
(February 10, 2004)
IN THE UNITED STATES CONGRESSIONAL RECORD
- BENNIE G. THOMPSON
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi. Mr. Speaker, I would like to recognize Hunter
Gray, a civil rights activist involved in the southern movement from the
summer of 1961 to the summer of 1967.
Hunter Gray, formerly John Salter,
took the name of his Native American
family some years ago and has been one of the Nation's most ardent advocates
on behalf of Native rights. He was recently diagnosed with a severe and
possibly fatal case of lupus that has also brought on a bad case of
John Salter was very active with the Jackson, Mississippi, NAACP and boycott
. He was in the trenches with Medgar Evers and others during the civil
rights movement from 1961 until Evers was assassinated. He also wrote a
book titled, Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and
Hunter Gray's commitment to civil rights has continued throughout the years.
He and his wife Eldri, who has been a partner in the struggle for equality
for 40 years, now live in Idaho. He has been hospitalized several times over
the past few months , and his medication and hospitalization costs are very
expensive. Many of his friends are organizing a testimonial and fund-raiser
to let him know how grateful we are to him for his many sacrifices and
contributions to civil rights, Native American and labor causes.
For further information on Hunter Gray, I refer you to his widely read Web
Hunter Gray has left a formative
mark on the shape of Mississippi history.
I thank him for his service to civil rights and to Mississippi. I ask that
you keep him in your prayers and meditations.
BENNIE G. THOMPSON
[Mr. Thompson is a graduate of Tougaloo College.]
Mary Ann Hall Winters [Tougaloo Class of '65]:
I'm deeply grateful for all the sacrifices that Mr. Salter made for me and
Now that I have calmed down Mr. Salter, I hope that you will win the SLE
war. Having worked as a social worker for the past 35 years in hospitals ,
I'm aware of how much this illness can beat up on you.
My prayers are with you and Mrs. Salter (I couldn't say John and Eldri out of respect
Mary Ann Hall Winters
Class of 1965
THOMAS ARMSTRONG WRITES:
Joan Mulholland forwarded your email to me. I've tried to follow your
continued freedom struggle. Your courage has long been admired. I wish for
your perseverance. I have a niece who has Lupus. I have followed some of
your emails to her. She has asked me to inform you that your statements are
of great inspiration to her. She wishes you the best.
May the sunshine of life forever illuminate your spirit. You have set an
example that I will always try to live up to. NEVER give up.
From an old Tougaloo Activist.
Thomas M Armstrong
AND A NORTH CAROLINA
BLACK BELT PERSPECTIVE: WILLA COFIELD [WILLA JOHNSON]
". . .I'd like to share my own impression of John Salter, whom I first saw
on a 1963 television newscast being mercilessly pummeled by a group of white
men. The attack took place during a Black student demonstration in Jackson,
Mississippi. A few months later, John appeared in my rural, eastern North
Carolina community, where we Black people were staging our own
Originally from Flagstaff, Arizona and part-Indian, he was young, intense,
smart and completely committed to social justice.
Salter's civil rights record, his obvious sincerity, as well as his
willingness to take on the local racists, soon won over the most skeptical
among us. For over a year, he worked in our community, facing daily death
threats, abuse, and the virulent hatred of local white people.
With John Salter's help, we initiated a countywide voter registration drive,
and when local officials set up obstacles, John convinced a battery of
topnotch lawyers to challenge the county board of elections in court. Our
side won. For the first time since the disenfranchisement of Blacks in the
late nineteenth century, thousands of eastern North Carolina Blacks
In the 1980s, those voters helped send two Black men to the North Carolina
Legislature. In 1992, they sent Eva Clayton, a Black woman, to Congress
where she served for many years.
John Salter was not present for the victory celebration or for the happy bus
trip to Raleigh for the inauguration of Thomas C. Hardaway as Representative
from our District, but many of the bus passengers recalled Salter's
courageous work during the 1960s. He had helped break the fierce Southern
wall of resistance, thereby setting the stage for the Voting Rights Act and
the election of Black people to local, state, and federal legislative
John drove with us the morning six of our children, including my own
six-year-daughter, integrated the local white school. He found lawyers and
financial support, and we successfully battled the school officials and
politicians who tried to kill our movement by firing Black teachers.
In communities throughout the South, John Salter is remembered for his
selfless leadership and courage and as a man deeply and passionately opposed
Since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, I have met many of his former
Tougaloo College students. All remember him with the greatest respect and
John has never flinched from taking unpopular positions. Those of us who
benefited from his determination to act upon what he believed right consider
that very quality a key factor in making him one of the truly great leaders
of our time.
Willa M. Cofield, Ph.D. Enfield, North Carolina and Plainfield,
All of this is a cut of the Mississippi pie -- a strange and murky land where we found many of our dearest friends and some of our most deadly foes. Like other hard-core crucibles we encountered as organizers, it, with the activist and courageous participation of countless, began to enter the Sunlight.
And now, almost every day to the very Four Directions, we all see confronting mountain ranges with the greatest challenges: steep, rocky, sometimes icy cold and often fiery torrid, replete with cliffs and precipices, rivers of blood deep and broad.
The Struggle -- sometimes dramatic, often quiet and tedious -- is for all of us our inherent River of Life: fueling our courage, building bone and fiber and nerve.
There is nothing human-made, Whatever and no matter how horrific, that we, all of us together, cannot transcend. And there is nothing to well serve Humanity that we cannot build.
Visions -- True Visions -- are always rare for an individual. In my now long life, I have had only two -- each long ago and each at an extremely critical juncture in my own personal development. They were vital on the trail which I have always followed.
And now, with the Sun shining upon the Water, I can indeed feel Something Coming.
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR]
Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
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]