BLACK BELT THUNDER [NORTH CAROLINA AND THE SOUTHERN CONFERENCE EDUCATIONAL FUND]: OUR MAJOR -- AND SUCCESSFUL -- MOVEMENT IN THE NORTHEASTERN BLACK BELT COUNTIES [HUNTER GRAY/HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] MARCH 9 2006 -- UPDATE NOTES
For a sense of the civil liberties challenges faced by an effective organizer, see this cluster of four related pages:
The Northeastern North Carolina Black-Belt Project, which burst forth with rapidly growing claws and feathers in the mid-1960s, had a major impact on that far-flung racist and poverty-stricken [Deep South in every sense!] multi-county section of the state -- as well as on the entire state itself and the region well beyond. Yet it received, aside from much often hostile local and regional press coverage, little enduring publicity. One of the reasons was that it, in an obscure corner of the South, was frequently overshadowed by events in more publicized regions of the Deep South. Another -- especially to those academic and popular historians deemed revisionist -- is that its primary sponsor was the left Southern Conference Educational Fund and its principal organizer was myself. I should add that, from the point that I was honorably released from the United States Army after a full hitch at the beginning of 1955, just turning 21, I have been my own kind of ecumenical socialist with consistency. I belonged to the IWW from the very beginning of 1955 well into 1960 -- and have remained always a rather quintessential Wobbly. At the same time, my deepest waters have always been Iroquoian -- with its traditional bent toward careful organization with democratic form and structure and ethos.
In any event, the public mention of this critical and sometimes wild crusade has been relatively minimal. In my own book, Jackson Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism [1979 and 1987], my necessarily trenchant epilogue, covering my life since Jackson to the end of the '70s, spends the better part of three pages on our Carolina Black-Belt struggle. Willa [Johnson] Cofield, who with other members of her family, was among the key leaders in Halifax County, our starting point and the most major of several related battlefields, contributed a chapter containing a discussion of our saga in a quite interesting anthology [Cathy L. Nelson and Kim A. Wilson, editors, Seeding the Process of Multi-Cultural Education [Plymouth, MN: Minnesota Inclusiveness Program, 1998.] These editors and Willa all honored us with a long visit at our Idaho home in 1998.
I, myself, have written some pieces on the Project -- e.g., the J.P. Stevens Textile boycott and its background in the Halifax County mill town of Roanoke Rapids, the United Klans of America, Jesse Helms -- which have been published in good and honorable radical journals. This website of ours, Lair of Hunterbear, contains much stuff on the Black-Belt fight. But, despite the strong commitment of the grassroots people [mostly Black but many Indians as well], the high drama, the firm backing always of our SCEF executive director Jim Dombrowski and the often involvement of Ella J. Baker [herself a SCEF staffer at that point who had grown up in Halifax County], the [non-violent] War in the Black-Belt has received little notice.
I have been doing a great deal of writing these past two years. It began in December, 2003, several months after I was struck openly by systemic lupus or SLE -- described by medical authorities as "a deadly disease" -- and an especially virulent version at that. Genetic in origin, with no cure, it strikes Native Americans, Blacks, Hispanics, and women in a hard and disproportionate fashion. After several hospital sojourns and very close brushes with death, I had -- in late December 2003 -- an extraordinarily vivid "dream" about which I immediately wrote. "Ghosts" concluded with this:
So with my Earthly prospects admittedly speculative, I have been doing quite a bit of autobiographical writing. Some has appeared on discussion lists, some is on our Lair website, some has not yet been publicized. What follows here is not, by any means, any sort of inclusive history of our truly large-scale Black-Belt campaign. Some is very freshly written, other stuff was done by me within the past very few years and is given in that verbatim form, and we have a cohesive and sequential bloc of around twenty appropriate pages on our website -- in addition to that which is sprinkled around thereon. [A number of helpful Links follow in due course.] In time, assuming I have that, I will feather out this basic sketch.
I joined the staff of SCEF as its Field Organizer in late Summer, 1963. Jim Dombrowski asked that I be based near the Eastern Seaboard part of the South, and encouraged North Carolina. We moved into an all-Black neighborhood at Raleigh and set up shop. From there I traveled into various Southern places of civil rights significance, spoke in a few Yankee settings such as the annual meeting of United Negro College Fund up in New York, had -- with Ella Baker as my fine colleague -- a splendid "Western trip" into the Midwest and Southwest. [A year later, I did a shorter solo run in the Mountain States.] On the Virginia Southside, I spent a week assisting Moses Riddick in his successful run for a key Nansemond County office -- against the Byrd Machine. I traveled to various arenas in the Deeper South.
And a kind note from Willa on February 20, 2008. after reading my essay, Community Organizer - -
In due course, we moved into adjoining counties -- and our organizing work area broadened greatly. As this statement of mine from a final report to the SCEF Board indicates, even our basic heartland [not even counting the further frontiers of our activities] encompassed a very wide region indeed: "From Littleton in Halifax County to Windsor in Bertie County is about sixty miles straight [as the crow flies] and about seventy-five miles by road; Severn in Northampton County is about thirty-five miles straight and about fifty miles by road, from Enfield in Halifax County; Hollister in Halifax County is about sixty-five miles straight and about ninety-five miles by road from Colerain in Bertie County."
The rise of the Movement -- economic force and litigation and the
rights laws and voter activism -- broke the hard lines of resistance to
social change. When the power of the Movement became obvious, pragmatism
[not necessarily the principled variety of William James] often took over
within the power structures. Frequently, this initially sought tokenism
but, in the end, of course, the momentum of progress generally carried
things far beyond that. Your recent North Carolina examples don't surprise
me [and one should remember, of course, that the late Sam Ervin, although
considered a "conservative," was a pretty good civil libertarian.] There
are plenty of people in North Carolina, military and military families and
many others indeed, who join much of the rest of the country in its growing
antipathy toward the Bushies and All Their Wicked Ways.
Briefly using Halifax County, NC as an example, a Black county with a fairly
substantial number of American Indians therein, the time came in latter '64
during our One Hell of a Fight on several fronts when I got a surprise
telephone call from former State Senator Lunsford Crew, representing the state
Democratic Party. He was in Raleigh but his home town was Roanoke Rapids in
the northern part of Halifax County. That was also the home of a huge JP
Stevens textile plant -- whose later unionization provided the direct basis
for the fine labor film, Norma Rae. [We have always held that our Movement
helped lay the basis for that unionization which came some years later.]
With the exception of Sam Mitchell [Black], a fine lawyer based at Raleigh,
our lawyers were all from out of the South: Bill Kunstler, Arthur Kinoy,
Phil Hirschkop, Morty Stavis, and others. One of our Federal lawsuits,
eventually won when USSC denied cert to North Carolina, was Willa Johnson
[Cofield] vs Joseph Branch et al. What made this especially interesting was
that Joe Branch, of Enfield, was State Campaign Manager for Democratic
gubernatorial candidate, Dan K. Moore. We were suing him along with the
school board, for which he was attorney, since they all had fired Willa, a
long time and award-winning high school teacher at [Black] Inborden High
School in Enfield, in obvious retaliation for her consistently effective
civil rights activities.
Anyway, Senator Crew wanted to do business directly with me -- to the effect
that, if the Halifax Movement would agree to support the Democrats, and
especially at the state level [the Republicans were becoming powerful], he
could guarantee that a number of concessions would be made by the official
leaders of Halifax County. We had many brand new voters indeed and we also
had the Image which would influence other minority communities in the state.
He wanted me to handle that matter and indicated he would be quite satisfied
with my word [plus appropriate Movement leaflets as the election drew nigh.]
Pleasantly, I told Senator Crew that we didn't function that way at all and
that, in no sense, could I -- the Organizer -- make that kind of deal. I
told him he would have to come directly to a meeting of our about 36 County
Chairmen [several were women, btw], and make his offer directly to them. To
give him credit, he pluckily accepted my proposal to set the meeting up if
our Chairmen wanted to go that route.
We had a quick meeting of our County Chairmen at Enfield. They voted to
give Senator Crew a solid and fair hearing. We also, thoughtfully, prepared
a long shopping list of that which we wanted. It ranged from official
anti-Klan action to acceptance of surplus commodities and a promise to
participate in the forthcoming Food Stamp plan when that was enacted,
substantial desegregation and minority hiring in county offices, and much
more. And then we scheduled a meeting for the Senator.
Senator Crew came by himself to the Cofield Funeral Home [Willa's family] at
Enfield and he was there for three long hours. He met our demands and we
all agreed to support the Democrats -- and, in due course, we issued sample
ballots with the Democratic candidates [all of them] properly Xd in the
appropriate boxes. The Democrats won. The Other Side in Halifax County
honored the agreement we all had reached. There were many more miles to
travel in that tough county, and then in all the other tough counties
involved, but we had a Big Beginning.
In Solidarity - Hunter [Hunter Bear]
The link posted earlier this morning on ASDnet -- "SCEF and CPUSA" -- is
simply another instance of substantive misinformation. This is the case with
the post's "label" -- and the historical outline given by the link
[from whomever] is certainly replete with errors and omissions. The problems that
confronted a rapidly waning SCEF in the early 1970s and beyond had
nothing to do one way or the other with CPUSA --
which can certainly not be blamed for those! These
difficulties involved other groups and issues of which I,
frankly, know little.
Eldri and I, who had come into Mississippi in the ominous Summer of '61, left the South in the Summer of '67 and went into the Pacific Northwest and then, for an academic year, to Coe College in Iowa. From 1969 to 1973, I directed the large-scale grassroots organization of block clubs and related groups [mostly Black, Puerto Rican, and Chicano] on Chicago's very bloody South/Southwest Side. Also active in Native affairs and issues on the Northside, we organized the long-enduring, all-Indian Native American Community Organizational Training Center [of which I served for a number of years as Chair -- doing so for some time after we left Chicago.] Later, we were in Iowa again, then up-state New York, then the Navajo Nation -- and then to the Northern Plains -- and now to Idaho. The organizing trail is very much a Romany trail.
SCEF, very broadly Left in a completely non-sectarian fashion, grew out of the very fine Southern Conference on Human Welfare -- a courageous and interracial group of Southern liberals and some radicals originating in the New Deal era. SCEF had its most effective period from the onset of the 1950s to the retirement of its excellent executive director, Jim Dombrowski, at the end of 1965.
During that period, its splendid newspaper, The Southern Patriot, was very capably edited by Alfred Maund and later by the equally capable Anne Braden. [ Al Maund, a good friend of mine, is a noted Southern writer and author of a great novel, The Big Boxcar, and was also editor of Labor's Daily and later a key staffer of International Chemical Workers Union.] The SCEF board was a fine interracial cross section of sensible Southern activists -- religious and labor and general social justice folk -- and its advisory committee extended into Arizona. Aubrey Williams [a major Southern leader with a highly placed New Deal background] served as its President for years and was later succeeded by the Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth of Birmingham [President of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and National Secretary of SCLC.]
My own activist links with SCEF began soon after Eldri and I arrived at Tougaloo in the Summer of '61. Almost immediately I became Advisor to the Jackson Youth Council of NAACP and a member of the board of directors of the Mississippi State Conference of NAACP Branches. When we launched our historic Jackson boycott in late 1962, SCEF -- especially through Jim and Anne Braden and Carl Braden -- gave us a great deal of invaluable assistance. The very effective Jackson Boycott Movement became, in due organizing course, the massive and historic Jackson Movement in which youth played a major role at all points. I was Chair of its Strategy Committee.
At the conclusion of the very hard-fought, super-dramatic and extremely sanguinary Jackson Movement era, Jim Dombrowski offered me the position of SCEF Field Organizer -- with the understanding that I could do my own thing pretty much in any way I wished. I was pleased to accept. We set my salary at the precise salary figure drawn from NAACP by my very good friend, the recently murdered Medgar Evers: $6,500.00 with some expenses and benefits. At the same time I joined SCEF, my very good friend, Miss Ella J. Baker, founder and Advisor to SNCC [who had been SCLC's first Executive Director], accepted Jim's offer of an ongoing position as Consultant. I was instrumental, with Jim's enthusiastic concurrence, in securing the New York law firm of Kunstler, Kunstler and Kinoy [known affectionately as KKK] as SCEF's counsel. [Bill Kunstler had already represented me in several key Mississippi cases.]
Much was certainly accomplished by SCEF during the next two years or so. I worked in grassroots civil rights and anti-Klan organization in several very hard-core Deep Southern areas. Ella played a critical role in liaison work with SNCC and other projects and gave me much assistance at key points. Carl Braden did a great deal of valuable, on-going work with Northern supporters -- and was much involved in Appalachian affairs. A key fund-raising role was carried by Howard Melish. Through The Southern Patriot, Anne Braden reported Southern civil rights news -- much of which would otherwise have been obscure -- to a national and international audience and gave much media-linkage assistance to a wide variety of grassroots civil rights projects.
Jim Dombrowski, severely crippled by illness [but he marched in the SCLC demonstrations at Danville, Virginia], continued to very capably hold down the SCEF national office on 822 Perdido Street, New Orleans. [My old Chicano Mine-Mill companeros were always intrigued by that address since it, of course, translates into "Nowhere."] During this period, we were constantly Red-baited and attacked on many fronts -- including the notorious Louisiana Un-American Activities Committee/State Police raid on the New Orleans SCEF office in October 1963, the arrest of Jim and two other SCEF officials, the seizure of the SCEF records -- and their illegal shipment by train into Mississippi where they were then taken by Mississippi Senator Jim Eastland and his U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. SCEF sued and, in 1965, won a total victory at the USSC level: Dombrowski v. Pfister.
At the end of 1965, Jim retired as SCEF director and Anne and Carl Braden became co-directors. At the point Jim retired, Ella and I both left. She, of course, continued to work with SNCC and related projects and I continued my organizing work in the South -- in radical grassroots anti-poverty activism [much support from Highlander Research and Education Center.] Ella and I and Jim kept in very close touch, always, both during this period and thereafter all the way through. Jim died at New Orleans in 1983 and Ella passed away in NYC in 1986. I miss them much indeed.
After our departure, SCEF hired a much larger number of staff people than had formerly been the case -- essentially on subsistence "Movement wages." In time, internal difficulties developed.
The major SCEF papers are at State Historical Society of Wisconsin: Jim's collected papers, those of the Bradens, and mine -- including my organizing reports plus much secured from FBI via FOIA/PA. [My papers are also held by Mississippi Department of Archives and History.] A very good biography of Jim was done by another good friend of mine and I strongly recommend it: Frank Adams' James A. Dombrowski: An American Heretic [Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1992.]
I personally have copies
[many of them originals] of my basic organizing materials and detailed reports
from over these many decades.
I have a fair amount of material on SCEF organizationally at our large website www.hunterbear.org -- stemming from our part of its extremely productive period -- and a good deal relating to my own work as SCEF Field Organizer. It all starts at this point http://www.hunterbear.org/creative.htm .
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR]
Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
I regularly and with some frequency filed very long, detailed letter/reports to Jim Dombrowski on my organizing activities in the Black-Belt. These, along with related materials from the somewhat later "anti-poverty wars," have been an invaluable resource for me over the many, many years that have followed. Initially, they dealt with the formative organizing period [for a time I was assisted by J.V. Henry and Doug Harris of SNCC -- but mostly I was the sole "professional".] Quickly, succeeding reports move into the exciting realms of massive voter registration campaigns, economic boycotts, non-violent direct action, our litigation in a number of cases [almost exclusively in Federal courts], and bitter resistance from the Klan, Birch Society, and the North Carolina Defenders of States' Rights [White Citizens Council.]
Two of my major latter reports not only provide summarization -- but also give a specific category-by-category breakdown of our specific action areas and their successful development:
For the SCEF Board Meeting of April 15-16 1965 at Atlanta, I presented a detailed five page single-spaced report.
At Jim's request, I wrote again for the SCEF Board a long and detailed wrap up on the whole Black-Belt project which, with a long covering letter, I sent on October 5 1965: 12 double spaced legal sized pages. [In addition, I also attached the previous report to the Board of April '65]
An important piece of my writing during this period is, Organizing The Community For Action , March 1965 and several subsequent editions [six tightly spaced legal-sized pages] -- part of the basis for my much later Combined Community Organizing catechism in January 2004 [With Addenda]. That "catechism" has now been widely reprinted in various print journals and websites. http://www.hunterbear.org/my_combined_community_organizing.htm
In my long covering letter to Jim with that final report, I expressed our great appreciation to the SCEF Board and its officers and to the staff. And I explicitly noted, "This work in the black-belt counties would not have gone as well as it did had it not been for the whole-hearted backing of SCEF. We are mighty indebted to you and to Ella."
years later, Jim wrote an extremely strong, kind statement for my career
reference file at Arizona State University. It was written carefully with pen
and ink. The original is shown in the
bloc of North Carolina Black-Belt material on our website and is also on the
JAMES ANDERSON DOMBROWSKI
[d. 1983] Director, Southern Conference Educational Fund. From a vigorously
positive letter of reference [9/17/79]:
"Mr. Salter is an unusual and many
talented person. He is a careful scholar, writes and speaks well, relates
easily to all kinds of people, understands and practices the art of
listening. He has few peers as a community organizer.
For those and other reasons, I hold Mr
Salter in the highest esteem, professionally and socially." James Anderson Dombrowski, PhD,
Executive Director, Southern Conference Educational Fund [Ret.]
JAMES ANDERSON DOMBROWSKI [d. 1983] Director, Southern Conference Educational Fund. From a vigorously positive letter of reference [9/17/79]:
"Mr. Salter is an unusual and many talented person. He is a careful scholar, writes and speaks well, relates easily to all kinds of people, understands and practices the art of listening. He has few peers as a community organizer.
For those and other reasons, I hold Mr Salter in the highest esteem, professionally and socially."
James Anderson Dombrowski, PhD, Executive Director, Southern Conference Educational Fund [Ret.]
The basic sections in my report to the SCEF Board, April 15/16 1965:
Halifax County Voters Movement
Political Action [First Portion]
Retreat of the County Officials
Attacks on Non-Literacy
The Willa Johnson Teaching Case
Change in the Attitude of the Whites
Political Action [Second Portion]
The Enfield and Weldon Gerrymandering
School Transfers [First Portion]
Black-Belt Counties Workshop/Conference
Political Action [Third Portion]
The First Successful Effort on Federal Food [Our mass demonstration at the Bertie courthouse]
School Transfers [Second Portion]
Northampton County [and other adjoining areas]
Impact on the State and Region
The basic sections of my report to the SCEF Board, October 5 1965:
Operation Head Start
Bertie Co. School System
Ku Klux Klan and Allied Activities
Other Aspects During This Latter Period
Involvement of SNCC
Some Continued Contact
Impact on the State and the Region
We have a great deal of Mississippi material on our Lair of Hunterbear website. What follows here is some SCEF and North Carolina material -- and then some high spots from some of the other many human rights campaigns that followed over the many years:
http://www.hunterbear.org/creative.htm [The initial, key link to 20 consecutive, sequential pages covering basics in the Northeastern North Carolina Black-Belt Project. Included is some SCEF material and three pages with photos [taken by J.V. Henry] of our historic Black Belt Conference, March, 1965.
http://www.hunterbear.org/salt2.htm [I was the speaker at Superior, Arizona in late 1963 -- a very long gathering indeed, heavily attended from a dozen, often widely scattered Mine-Mill copper locals, and sponsored by the Arizona Mine-Mill Council.
http://www.hunterbear.org/handling_the_klan_on_easter_sund.htm [Major, Southwide United Klans of America Rally in the Black-Belt and our effective non-violent counter-Klan activism.
http://www.hunterbear.org/training%20center.htm [Our Chicago-based Native American Community Organizational Training Center.
http://www.hunterbear.org/Devil's%20Lake.htm [Racism in the Northern Plains: Some Native Rights high spots.
http://www.hunterbear.org/lumbee_indians_of_north_carolina.htm [Lumbee Indians seek Federal recognition and social justice.
THE OBAMA VICTORY [HUNTER BEAR] MAY 6 2008:
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] Mi'kmaq
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´