A lifelong fight for Civil Rights Hunter Gray recalls his battle for justice


By Jimmy Hancock Journal Writer   January 15 2006   Idaho State Journal

    When Martin Luther King Jr. stepped off a plane in Jackson, Miss., in 1963 to attend the funeral of fellow civil rights activist Medgar Evers, it was Pocatello resident Hunter Gray, then known as John R. Salter Jr., who drove him to the mournful event.

    “King was already the lead figure in the civil rights movement,” Gray said. “I called him and invited him personally after Evers was murdered. He accepted immediately and took tremendous risk in doing it.”

    Gray said Jackson police grudgingly escorted Gray and King to the funeral. They were also posted at the service.

    Gray and his wife, Eldri, moved to Jackson in 1961 with the intention of getting involved in the state’s civil rights movement, he said from his Pocatello home.

    “We moved to Tougaloo because of the racial problems going on there,” Gray said.

    Gray was born John R. Salter Jr. and grew up in Flagstaff, Ariz., a town he said was not very racially tolerant.

    “My dad was the first Indian hired on the faculty at what was then Arizona State College at Flagstaff,” Gray said.

    He said there was even little tolerance then of “half-blood” Native Americans, like himself.

    “I grew up in that type of situation,” Gray said. “In that way, I was born into the cause of racial injustice.”

    His oppressed youth in Flagstaff led him to his passion for the civil rights movement and helped him key in on his Indian heritage.

    Gray’s father, who was born Frank Gray, was nearly 100 percent Native American comprised of St. Regis Mohawk, Micmac and St. Francis Abenaki. He was later adopted and his name changed to Salter. Hunter Gray spent many years of his life as a Salter, before legally changing his name.

    The effects of growing up in Flagstaff and the growing civil rights movement of the 1950s led Gray to a life seeking social justice. While earning his degree, he worked for Indian causes and labor issues, he said. In 1961, he took a teaching position at a college in Tougaloo, Miss.

    After just a short time in his position at Tougaloo Southern Christian College, he was asked to help start an NAACP youth council. That group would become the central organization in the fight for civil rights in Mississippi.

    “It started as a small youth council with myself as adviser that steadily grew,” Gray said. “Initially it was just high school students. Later it expanded to include Tougaloo students who were already involved in the civil rights movement.”

    Gray said many of his fellow faculty members advised him not to take the position, that it would mean a lot of trouble for him.

    “We knew that,” Gray said. “We knew what we were building toward.”

    The first order of business for the NAACP Youth Council under Gray’s direction was to boycott Jackson, Miss., retailers. Their logic was to put pressure on the political system through the business community, he said.

    “The white merchants in Jackson needed black dollars,” Gray said. “But they didn’t treat them very well.”

    The boycott was started in the fall of 1962. To further hamper the store’s sales during the holiday season, Gray, his wife and four black students from Tougaloo picketed a Jackson store. Gray said nearly 100 police officers came to the scene and the protesters were arrested.

    “Picketing and marching were illegal for blacks in Mississippi,” Gray said. “The funeral march for Medgar Evers was the first legal civil rights march in the history of Mississippi.”

    Less than two weeks later, on Dec. 21, several gunshots were fired into Gray’s home with one bullet narrowly missing his infant daughter in her crib. The following year the movement was enlarged to include large demonstrations.

    “Thousands were arrested and Medgar Evers was killed,” Gray said. “But Jackson was cracked. It was never the same. A year later, the civil rights bill was passed.”

    In the years since his time in Mississippi, Gray has continued to teach as well as organize different social movements. He spent several years as chairman of the Native American Organizational Training Center.

    In 1994 he retired as a professor at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks where he would live another three years before deciding to move to Pocatello.

    Gray has many ancestral ties to Idaho. There was once a large Mohawk tribe in Idaho. He also had one descendant from each side of the family who spent time in Idaho.

    His maternal grandfather spent several years as an engineer at a mine in northern Idaho, Gray said. His great great-great-grandfather, John Gray, came to the unsettled Snake River Plain in 1816, he said.

    His impact on the area was significant before leaving the state in the early 1840s. So much so, that Gray’s Lake is named for him, Gray said.

    As Gray looks back on his time in Mississippi, he is most impressed with the changes in some of the men who most fiercely fought the movement.

    “ One of the most interesting dinners I had was with a man named Erle Johnston,” Gray said. “He was the deadly enemy in the old days. They worried constantly about race and communism. We had dinner one night in 1988.”

    During the dinner in a Jackson restaurant, Gray said the two men and Gray’s son watched as several high school-aged youths celebrated at a fully integrated birthday party. He said they asked each other if they ever thought they would see that in Jackson.

    Even as early as 1970 he had a dinner with a former White Knight of the Ku Klux Klan who, along with his father, had put Gray’s name on a well distributed death list.

   “We’ve lived long enough not only to see the South change extensively, but to see a number of old foes change as well,” Gray said.

Journal photos by Joshua Duplechian Hunter Gray talks about his experiences with the Civil Rights movement. BELOW: Some of Gray’s articles from the movement.

NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR:  In the large, quite contemporary photo [above], I am wearing the extremely well done Navajo silver and turquoise bolo tie that was presented to me, along with several other highly meaningful gifts when, after several rich years at Navajo Community College [now Dine' College], we moved on to University of North Dakota where I was based in the Indian Studies program [and also Honors].  Tribally controlled, NCC/Dine' College lies under the great Lukachukai Mountains on the vast lands of Navajo Nation.  The bolo tie, carrying the symbol of the College, was presented to me by its then President, Dean Jackson.  It is only one of three made by a top flight Navajo silversmith, Albert Yazzie.

And another fine gift is the portrait of  Navajo Woman, done by the noted Navajo artist, Harry Walters, who, with his wife Anna, gave that great painting to us at the same honoring event.  It always hangs proudly in our home for all to see.



Good pub. It will be effective in letting people know who you are -- and where you came from. . .
Enjoy MLK day tomorrow; you earned it.
Peter Salter [Mack]
Very nice.  My mom recently sent us a photo of her and Dr. King when he came
to Tougaloo and she gave him a tour of the grounds (if I remember the story
correctly).  My kids, and wife, were astounded by the photo and such. 
Naturally, my kids have heard of Dr. King but like George Washington he's
someone in the history books.  It really made it come to life for them.
Loki Mulholland [son of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland of our Jackson sit-in, among many other things.]


Happy New Year:
Thank you for sharing. Give love to all. I will be in touch soon.
Colia L Clark 

[Colia Liddell  was the Tougaloo student who, in September 1961, recruited me as Advisor of the Jackson NAACP Youth Council. H]


You have a great web site and a inspiring story all my best in all you do!
In solidarity
Russ Ford
Fenton Mo


I now hear frequently from old comrades-in-arms from my so far 50+ years of grassroots activist organizing.  I am really pleased to hear from all of them!  This came last Fall [2005] from Colia Liddell Lafayette Clark, the Tougaloo student who recruited me as the Jackson NAACP Youth Advisor almost immediately after Eldri and I arrived in Mississippi in late Summer 1961:

From Colia to her list of colleagues:  9/14/05

Hi Everyone:
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
youthful organizers.

Hear him for he worthy to be heard.

Colia L. Clark


Things went well at our regional King Day celebration [Pocatello, Sunday
evening, 1/15] -- at which I was [as I had been in 2002] featured speaker.
Bad weather had hit in the morning, continuing with increasing snowfall
throughout the day and into the night. Roads and streets were in dangerous
shape. We came to the ecumenical affair via Jeep with 4WD: me, Eldri, Josie,
Cameron [who drove.]  About 70 hardy adults were present -- a good
sampling of grassroots people, university students, educators, clergy,
political folk.  As an organizer always should, I had handouts:  a collage
of Movement photos from Jackson, a several years old retrospective newspaper
piece discussing my civil rights activities in the South, a larger sheet
with my catechism:  "What Makes A Damn Good Community Organizer?" I spoke
for 35 or 40 minutes on social justice organizing, the Jackson Movement,
Martin King and Medgar Evers, Native American challenges -- threading all of
this together back and forth.  There was a fine Black choir and several
solid individual statements.  Lots of productive visiting afterwards.

The program was all filmed for an archival collection.

Earlier, and with no prior connection to my speaking thing, the Sunday
edition of our regional Idaho State Journal [published at Poky] carried a
long feature story on my background with a couple of very nicely done
photos.  We much like the inclusion of John Gray, our Mohawk fur hunting
ancestor and consistent activist [bane of the fur bosses] who headed the
large entourage of Mohawk [and some Abenaki] fur hunters in the Teton and
Snake River country in the Old Time.

Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
 and Ohkwari'


A few nights after this fine King Day Celebration, I was the featured speaker at another challenging meeting -- where things also went very well indeed.  There I addressed a large [and, believe me, very
lively] Cub Scout pack group. Since our oldest son, John [Beba] is coordinator
of the whole Cub Scout entourage in his Minnesota town -- helped by his good
spouse, Nancy -- I asked advice beforehand from that quarter. Something of
the flavor of my presentation is indicated by this portion of a note that I
later sent my grandson, Bret [Quick Bear]:

" My talk with the Cub Scouts last night went well. Eldri and Josie were
there. It was held in a large LDS [Mormon] Church and I had, as exhibits,
the Mohawk beaded bag, Grizzly claw, Wolf claw, Wolf tooth, heavy stone axe
head, deer-bone knife, tomahawk, and peace pipe. And my Navajo bolo tie.
Your Dad was right, they like weapons. Told my killing-the-bear story,
among other things."
Feedback indicates that my Bear Account was  a major high point.

And  I put in a very good word for wolves -- the Cubs have a Wolf Badge,
among others -- and no one present, kids or adults, took issue with me.

Hunter Bear



Martha Ture writes [and I then respond]:

Hunter, your lifelong experience has given you plenty of perspective.  In
your opinion, is the present political situation in the US significantly
similar to the pre-McKinley era, when Populists were a legitimate,
grassroots third party until absorbed and marginalized by the Democratic
Party?  In looking back on the organizing history of the past 70 years, do
you think the United States has achieved any permanent improvements as a
result of organizing?  And what kind of future do you forsee for the United
States, given the likely seating of Alito on the Supreme Court?

From Hunter:

You caught me, Martha, about the time I was thinking of turning in for a few
hours.  But, how can I let your good queries pass without  [ostensibly] sage
comment?  Anyway, recognizing the vast complexities, this is a scratch
somewhat below the surface:

I don't think we have had a force in this country that's even somewhat
similar to the old Populist movement and its first cousin in American
socialism [small s], since some elements of the old New Deal of the '30s
[itself certainly stimulated by widespread national protests], and the
accompanying industrial union movement as well -- and then the Civil Rights
struggle of the '60s into the '70s.  The New Deal, whatever its limitations,
did help many indeed [and some surviving dimensions of it still do] but its
momentum was badly slowed by World War II and then killed during the Cold
War which also began the stifling of militant labor. And much of the Civil
Rights Movement was eventually co-opted by the Democratic Party -- initially
very much via the main thrust of the so-called anti-poverty programs and
then by a kind of patronage/osmosis which often settled for sloganeering

[Some anti-poverty programs were genuinely militant and often grassroots
controlled and accomplished something of significance -- but most in the end
did not.]

I don't see the grassroots upsurges of today, focused primarily on very
necessarily urgent anti-war efforts, as representing a cogent political
movement.  At least  not yet, but if other currents -- especially
economic -- join with these, there could eventually be functionally
cohesive, people-oriented, and democratic political and related movements of
really effective significance. This isn't going to emerge overnight but some
of the springs and their respective water flow can now be seen.

I do think we have "gained much ground" via Organizing since I appeared
[noisily] in 1934.  Rank hunger -- rampant during the Depression and Dust
Bowl era and beyond -- has been sharply reduced, but far from eliminated.
Economic well-being [and its component and collateral dimensions such as
decent housing] is now seen by more and more as a human right, as is health
care -- and, even though these remain out of reach for many in this country
[and certainly throughout the world] -- they are now increasingly
institutionalized as visionary goals. I am certain the labor movement will
revive -- though there may be many changes in structure and form.  On the
racial front, the hard-lines of resistance to positive social change are
broken [but big pieces of that resistance remain, especially in the
institutionalized sense], the atmosphere of racist terrorism is virtually
gone, the right to demonstrate and to vote are widespread -- even in the
most reactionary bastions.

Native people are no longer seen as "archaic museum pieces", but as Living
Real in every individual, social, and cultural sense and as permanent parts
of United States and Canadian geography.  That basic Native goal of genuine
self-determination in the context of expanding sovereignty and full
maintenance of treaty and related rights flies high and pervasively today.
Organizing and sensible fighting are responsible for that -- and the
struggle is obviously constant.

Struggle generally is continuing in this country -- as elsewhere -- and I do
remain an optimist.  I think a major, probably pluralistic social movement
of considerable substance lies ahead for this country -- one involving a
number of related goals and encompassing a wide range of the people of the
fewest alternatives and people of deep and enduring good will.

Grassroots movement always affects the courts -- even the judicial dinosaurs
in their Jurassic Parks.  And, in any case, People Movement ultimately
trumps All Else.  I think Big, Good Things will be occurring in the next ten
years in many global settings -- including that of the United States.

And Organizing is always Immortal Genesis.

All best -  H


Hunter, that's the most hopeful perspective I've read in 5 years.  Thank
you. I'm going to ponder it a lot. 

 Martha E. Ture
This is awesome and timely Edward, thank you greatly!!

I also would like to ask that we all read:
Civil  Disobedience  by Henry David Thoreau -  1849
FYI.... i love the ripples. sometimes our left circles are just way to self
effacing and unprepared to toss pebbles in the still waters that do indeed
run deep.
Ed Pickersgill [Who forwarded it to others and who has reprinted my piece in my section of his large My Town website]




Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
 and Ohkwari'

Check out our big page on the art and practice of Community Organizing

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]










A diesel generator is the combination of a diesel engine with an electrical generator.