MEDGAR W. EVERS: PERSONAL REFLECTION AND APPRECIATION [HUNTER GRAY / HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R. SALTER, JR.] UPDATED 10/29/2012
AND ALSO CLEVELAND DONALD, JR.
James Loewen (author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and other works), November 9 2012:
Hi John: [from Colia Liddell
Lafayette Clark] 9/14/05
Thank you for this beautiful piece on the role and function of the
organizer. We do ever need to be reminded that hard work brings forth great
The flood tides are rising and its high time that the organizers get busy
bringing the community the information and tools needed to get to high
ground . We can and must do it, if we are to score a victory against
imperial capitalism world wide.
From Colia to her list of colleagues: 9/14/05
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 L. Clark
THROWING DOWN THE GAUNTLET: JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI 1963 -- SENT TO A WIDE RANGE OF INDIVIDUAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL COMPONENTS OF THE JACKSON AND MISSISSIPPI POWER STRUCTURE.
A historic document from the immediately above Scrapbook pak: We broaden our five month highly successful boycott of downtown Jackson into a full-scale mass, non-violent Movement.
Comment by Hunter Bear: January 15 2004.
This is the season in which Martin King -- and the Movement -- are
especially honoured. And rightly so indeed. [I always do hope, however,
that Dr King's many positive qualities are not exaggerated to the point that no young person feels he/she can emulate them. Great man, for sure -- a saint, no.]
I knew Martin King -- not deeply and well --
but consistently. I called him
on the night of June 13 1963 from Jackson -- two days after Medgar Evers was shot and killed. Our rapidly growing protest demonstrations were being bloodily suppressed. I asked Dr King to come to Jackson for Medgar's funeral on June 15. He readily agreed to do so. We picked him up and several key staff of his -- Ralph Abernathy, Wyatt Walker and others -- at the police-drenched Jackson airport. It was already very hot and the temperature was to go, that day, to 102 super-humid degrees. Martin King and Dr Abernathy rode in my car -- along with Bill Kunstler -- and the others were brought by Ed King. We had a very grudging police escort from the city's all-White police department. The Jackson setting could not have been more lethally dangerous for all of us -- but Dr King visited easily and casually with me, and I with him, as we traveled the very dangerous several miles to the Negro Masonic Temple on Lynch Street. The funeral was huge -- several thousand people, inside and out -- and, following the funeral, six thousand of us marched the two miles or so from the Temple to the Collins Funeral Home on Farish Street. [It was the first "legal" civil rights demonstration in Mississippi's hate-filled, sanguinary history.] Then, there was a second massive demonstration -- which is discussed in my following post on Medgar Evers.
I knew Medgar Wiley Evers deeply and well.
This extensive document focuses heavily and in considerable detail on my personal and direct recollections of Medgar W. Evers. It also deals with the epochal Jackson Movement of 1961- 1963. Written by me [Hunter Gray] on September 27 1966 -- little more than three years after Medgar's death in 1963 -- to Ms. Polly Greenberg, a writer from New York City -- my recollections were fresh, sharp and vivid. [And they certainly still are -- etched forever in my psyche.]
Copies of this letter are held in my collected papers at State Historical Society of Wisconsin and Mississippi Department of Archives and History. A copy is also held by a very good and faithful colleague, Mrs. Doris Allison of Jackson, then President of the Jackson Branch of NAACP, and, with Medgar and myself, a signer of our famous letter of May 12, 1963 -- which threw down the gauntlet to the power structure of Jackson and Mississippi. [Mrs. Allison and I talk several times each month.]
Very curiously -- surprisingly -- this extensive personal reflection/appreciation with respect to Medgar W. Evers, a major civil rights figure in Mississippi and national martyr, has been ignored by most writers who have had access to it. One of those who did use it -- and quite effectively -- was the New York Times reporter, Adam Nossiter, in his good Of Long Memory: Mississippi and the Murder of Medgar Evers, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1994.
I now make it quite public.
To Ms. Polly Greenberg, New
I knew Medgar Evers very well from 1961 to his death. I was the Advisor to
the Jackson Youth Council of the NAACP, a member of the board of directors
of the Mississippi NAACP, and chairman of the strategy committee of the
Jackson Movement. I worked with Medgar closely. And I always had
tremendous respect for him. . .
Medgar was a very stable, very cool person. The only time that I ever saw
him break down came in the Fall of 1961, at an evening dinner session of the
annual convention of the Mississippi NAACP -- in the Masonic Temple on Lynch
Street. The police were parked outside and, inside, the delegates from the
scattered, and generally moribund NAACP units around the state, had finished
giving their reports. Medgar got up and began to speak on the matter of
Clyde Kennard of Forrest Co. who, a year or so before, had been spirited off
to the penitentiary on the trumped-up charge of receiving stolen
chicken-feed -- all of this stemming from Kennard's several attempts to
enter all-white Mississippi Southern at Hattiesburg. As Medgar talked on
about the Kennard case, his voice shook and, in what was obviously deep
sorrow and frustration, he wept openly. With one accord -- and with many
others weeping by this time -- all arose and began singing "We Are Climbing
Jacob's Ladder." When the song was over, Medgar continued, outwardly calm.
The Evers family lived under constant threat of violence. I can recall
that, in the days just preceding the Meredith-Oxford crisis in September,
1962 -- all sorts of legal maneuvers were going on in the Federal district
and Fifth Circuit courts -- my wife and I went one Saturday night to the
Evers home. We knew Medgar was probably in New Orleans where the Fifth
Circuit was then grinding away, and we thought we should see his wife,
Myrlie. We parked, went to the door, and knocked. Medgar's police dog was
barking in the back yard (fenced up). There was no answer to our knock and
I knocked again. Then the door opened, only a crack, and I could see a gun.
I called my name and Medgar opened the door, instantly apologetic. He had
come to Jackson for the weekend. Inside the Evers home, furniture was piled
in front of all of the windows. At least a half dozen firearms were in the
living room and kitchen. The children were in bed and Medgar and his wife
and Eldri and myself visited for a good while. The barricaded nature of the
Evers home was not uncommon for a civil rights person in Mississippi; what
was uncommon was the fact that both Medgar and his wife were mighty calm.
It was a very pleasant visit -- unusually so considering the fact that, next
perhaps to Meredith, no one was any more prime a target in the Deep South at
that time than was Medgar.
I can recall one occasion that Medgar conceded fear -- at least as he
recounted the experience to me. He had gotten a new Oldsmobile, but up in
the northern part of the state it had broken down. The only place he could
get it fixed was at the garage owned by the county president of the Citizens
' Council -- so the car was towed there. Apparently, the garage was, in the
purest sense of the term, a cracker nest. The owner and his men recognized
Medgar's name immediately, but began to work on the car. He didn't want to
stay in the garage for the day that it would take to fix it, but on the
other hand he was afraid to leave for fear they'd somehow sabotage the car.
He wound up staying the whole day, right by his car while the mechanics
worked on it. Many people came by to look at him, but he stuck it out until
the car was fixed; then left just before sundown.
But he was cool: I recall leaving Greenwood with him one night at
midnight -- and we left at 90 mph -- with Medgar casually talking about a
rumor he'd heard to the effect that a segregationist killer outfit in
Leflore Co. had installed infra-red lights on the cars, which could allow
them to see the highway, but which couldn't be spotted by whoever they were
following. By the time he finished discussing this, we were going about 100
mph! But he was driving easily and well and his talk was calm in tone, if
not in content.
But Medgar did not take chances, and no one could seriously accuse him of
consciously or unconsciously seeking martyrdom. In the spring of 1963, he
and I and several members of the Jackson Youth Council began to try to pull
together a little Movement in Canton -- the first efforts along those lines
since the Citizens' Council had destroyed a tiny NAACP in Canton around
1955. Our first meetings, which had been preceded by promises from, say, 50
or so to attend, featured turnouts of around 5 and 6 people -- but the
little group (we met in the Sunday School room of an old church) began to
grow slowly. The whole town was filled with terror; Billy Noble was sheriff
then -- I understand he's police chief now -- and there had been a number of
killings of Negroes, none solved, in the fall of '62 and the winter of '62-'
63. After we had had several meetings, cars of whites began to cruise
around, up and down the streets, in front of the church when we were in
there. Medgar always insisted on people not standing in the light; he,
himself, stayed in the shadows -- took every safety precaution. He never
left Canton at night unless I, or someone else, was in another car right
behind him. He didn't want martyrdom; just wanted to keep on living and
No matter how discouraged he might feel, Medgar was always able to
communicate -- or at least made a hell of an effort to communicate --
enthusiasm to those with whom he was working. In the early days of the
Jackson Movement, our "mass" meetings were tiny affairs, yet Medgar always
functioned as though the meetings were the last crucial ones before the
Revolution broke in Mississippi: he met each person on an equal to equal
basis, smiled, joked, gave them the recognition of human dignity that each
human being warrants; by the time the meeting began even the little handful
of faithful felt it was worth holding; never an orator, Medgar was a good
firm speaker -- by the time the meeting was over, he'd given it all he had,
and the handful went home determined to do what they could. Those early
meetings in Canton were the most terror-stricken I'd ever seen -- but, even
there, he communicated enthusiasm: talked about crops, then about voting.
But Medgar Evers could, privately, get discouraged. In his neighborhood,
for example, lived many teachers. Most would scarcely talk to him -- they
were scared to death to even see him. Many of the clergymen in Jackson were
afraid to exchange words with him. One evening Medgar came out to our home
at Tougaloo; he'd spent the day trying to draw some teachers into the NAACP.
They had turned thumbs down on it; had even told him, in effect, that the
state's Negro community would be better off without him. He had had it that
day and, I recall, talked then -- as he always did when he got
discouraged -- about giving up the NAACP field secretary job and getting
into the Ole Miss law school in the fall. I think he would have ultimately
gone to law school, and most likely at the University of Mississippi -- but
it would probably have been many years before he would have stopped his
field work. He'd get discouraged, privately -- never publicly, but a day or
so later, he'd be back in form.
Medgar was a great friend of kids and, having been a football player at
Alcorn, he maintained quite an interest in the sport. He used to play --
when he had some free time -- with the neighborhood kids. He was also an
avid fisherman and did some hunting.
In the late fall of 1962, our Youth Council began the boycott of downtown
Jackson, and we did a tremendous amount of grassroots organizing to support
the boycott -- which was successful. As the boycott went on into the
spring, we broadened it into an all-out desegregation campaign -- picketing,
sit-ins, massive marches. This was in May and June, 1963. It was the first
widespread grassroots challenge to the system in Mississippi -- was the
Jackson Movement -- and there was solid opposition from [Governor] Barnett
right on down. Mass arrests and much brutality occurred each day; lawmen
from all over the state poured into Jackson to join the several hundred
Jackson regulars, the Jackson police auxiliary, state police, etc. Hoodlums
from all over the state -- Klan-types, although the KKK as an organization
was just formally beginning in Mississippi -- poured into Jackson. The
National Office of the NAACP, which had reluctantly agreed to support our
Jackson campaign, became frightened -- because of the vicious repression and
because it was costing money -- and also the National Office was under heavy
pressure from the Federal government to let Jackson cool off. A sharp split
occurred on the strategy committee. Several of us, the youth leaders,
myself, Ed King and a few others, wanted to continue, even intensify the
mass demonstrations; others, such as the National Office people and
conservative clergy wanted to shift everything into a voter registration
campaign (meaningless then, under the circumstances.) There was very sharp
internecine warfare between our militant group and the conservatives.
Medgar was caught in the middle. As a staff employee of the National
Office, he was under their direct control; as a Mississippian, he knew that
only massive demonstrations could crack Jackson. (And we knew if we cracked
Jackson, we had begun to crack the state.) The stakes were high and
everyone -- our militant faction on the strategy committee, the conservative
group, the segregationists, Federal government -- knew it.
The NAACP National Office began to cut off the bail bond money; and also
packed the strategy committee with conservative clergy. It was a hell of a
situation. Despite everything that I and Ed and the youth leaders could do,
the National Office was choking the Jackson Movement to death. It waned
almost into nothing in the second week in June.
I saw Medgar late one afternoon, Tuesday, June 11. He was dead tired and
really discouraged -- sick at what was happening to the Jackson Movement,
but too much a staff man to openly challenge it. (Back in January, 1963, he
had openly challenged the National Office; told New York to speed up the
Jackson school desegregation suit -- of which two of his own children were
plaintiffs -- and hinted if they didn't, he might resign his job. The
National Office had speeded it up -- a little.) But, in this situation,
although he was with us intellectually and emotionally, he didn't really
buck the National Office. We had a long talk and, despite the internal
situation, an extremely cordial one. But he was more disheartened than I
had ever known him to be. Later that evening, we were all at a little mass
meeting (the size of the meetings had grown as the Movement had grown, from
a handful to 1,500 or 2,000 a night, but now, as the Movement waned, they
were waning in size) and at this meeting it was announced by the National
Office people that the focus of the Jackson Movement was now officially
voter registration -- no more demonstrations. The boycott, out of which it
had all grown, would continue -- but no more demonstrations. NAACP T-shirts
were being sold. It was a sorry mess. Medgar had no enthusiasm at all;
said virtually nothing at the meeting; looked, indeed, as though he was
ready to die. A few hours later, he was shot to death in front of his home.
His death was the resurrection of the Jackson Movement. Within hours, we
had organized huge demonstrations which poured out onto the streets; the
National Office had no alternative, under the circumstances, but to let us
go ahead. Police brutality and terror mounted steadily -- it was in a much
grimmer dimension than it had ever been. About 6,500 people, from all over
Mississippi -- from places in which no civil rights worker had ever set foot
yet -- came into Jackson for Medgar's funeral. A number of nationally
prominent people were there. At the funeral, little was said about Medgar
the man -- a lot was said about the glorious career of the NAACP. Most in
attendance at the funeral marched the 3 miles or so from the Masonic Temple
to Mrs. Harvey's funeral parlor (Collins Funeral Home) on N. Farish Street.
This was the first "legal" mass civil rights-type march ever held in
Mississippi's history -- and it was held only because we had let the power
structure know we'd march anyway. (National Office had really been against
it; two days or so after Medgar's death, the National Office was once again
trying to stop the mass demonstrations). Once at the funeral home, the
nationally prominent folk -- including the top NAACP leaders and others --
left the area. The thousands of Negro Mississippians stayed there, in front
of the funeral parlor into which Medgar had been taken following the
funeral. Then we had the second huge demonstration of the day -- this one
"illegal" -- several thousand of us pressing back down N. Farish Street
toward Capitol Street. There must have been 2,000 law officers massed in
and around the whole area -- and several hundred blocking N. Farish St.
where it enters Capitol St. About 30 of us that the police recognized,
including Ed King and myself, were arrested; the cops clubbed the others
back down N. Farish Street, fired over their heads, shot out windows etc.
Those of us who had been arrested were carried to the fairgrounds [the State
Fairgrounds had been serving as a massive concentration camp.] John Doar of
the Justice Dept., assisted by several National Office people, finally
persuaded the remaining demonstrators to go home. That was the largest
demonstration of an "illegal" nature that has ever occurred in Mississippi;
it lasted about 2 hours. Shortly after that, the Kennedys got on the phone,
the National Office cut off the bail bond, Ed King and myself were nearly
killed in a rigged auto wreck and my car in which we were riding was
completely destroyed. [We were hospitalized.] Ten days after Medgar's
death, the Jackson Movement was essentially dead -- sold out. [The boycott
This is an extremely bitter story and I have not done it justice, as far as
detail, in this letter. I have written a book about it which will be
published sometime. [ Note: March 3, 2001: The book was finally published:
John R. Salter, Jr., Jackson: Mississippi: An American Chronicle of
Struggle and Schism, 1979 -- and a slightly expanded Krieger Publishing
paperback edition, 1987. In addition, I've done a number of oral histories
on the Jackson situation and much more.]
When I first came into Mississippi, in 1961, it was a lonely place for a
civil rights worker -- and it must have been even lonelier back in 1954 when
Medgar went to work full-time for the NAACP. No one really gave a damn
about Mississippi -- it was the tail end of the world. In 1961 and 1962,
there was only a handful of civil rights activists in the state. Medgar
belonged to that early era. He wasn't really an organizer; was sort of a
lone wolf who traveled lonely and mighty dangerous trails. He kept the few
dissidents that existed in the state together in little groups that did as
much as they felt they could do; persuaded people to attach their names to
pioneer civil rights lawsuits etc; investigated and tried to publicize the
many atrocities which occurred each week. And, on orders from the National
Office, he sold NAACP membership cards. Cliche it may be, but he was,
simply and in every sense of the word, a hell of a brave pioneer deep in
the wilderness. His death ended one era in Mississippi, and began another;
he had hardly been buried in faraway Arlington cemetery when dozens, and
then hundreds, of activists began to pour into Mississippi from all over.
And then, thank God, the wilderness began to recede.
I hope this has all been of some help. Give us a call, or drop us a line,
if there is anything else you need -- or anything that needs elaboration.
Keep the Ebony article as long as you wish; but please return it when you
Again, good talking with you.
John R. Salter, Jr. [Hunter Gray] 9/27/66
And a final, quick clarifying note [3/3/01]: When I write about thousands of Black Mississippians from the funeral march remaining in front of the Collins Funeral Home, I of course mean that much of the huge throng was packed into surrounding side streets and neighborhoods -- with the funeral home being the prime focal point. - HG
I spoke at various places around Mississippi. Sometimes, as with this visit to McComb, Eldri and Maria traveled with me [and with my revolver.] My precise departure and arrival times were always kept in an extremely small circle.]
Outlaw Trail: The Native as Organizer: http://hunterbear.org/outlaw_trail1.htm
CLEVELAND DONALD. JR. [HUNTER GRAY FEBRUARY 2 2012]
[Cleveland was an activist and scholar -- and the second Black student to graduate from the University of Mississippi]
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN
R SALTER JR] Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by NaŽshdoŽiŽbaŽiŽ
I have always lived and worked in the Borderlands.
Our Hunterbear website is now eleven years old..
Check out http://hunterbear.org/directory.htm
See - Personal and Detailed Background Narrative:
See this on the new, expanded edition of my book,
Jackson Mississippi -- the classic
account of the historic and bloody Jackson Movement of almost
50 years ago: http://hunterbear.org/jackson.htm
And see Shooting Lupus (my killing a deadly disease that
did its best to kill me):