MORE NORTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA BLACK-BELT CIVIL RIGHTS (HUNTER GRAY 2002 / UPDATE 2011)
Dr. Willa Johnson Cofield [Halifax County] [And Notes On Attorney Floyd McKissick Of CORE]
PLUS A NEW -- 2011 -- PIECE OF MINE ON BERTIE COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA
AND CLEMENCY LETTER TO NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR [HUNTER GRAY 1/05/02 ] [AND SENTENCE COMMUTED! HUNTER GRAY 1/10/02]
FOR MUCH MORE ON THE NORTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA BLACK BELT CAMPAIGN, SEE:
And for anti-poverty battles in the North Carolina Black-Belt: http://www.hunterbear.org/poverty_wars_and_the_seeds_of_la.htm
For a number of North Carolina situations -- including Durham/Lacrosse and Halifax memories -- see this: http://www.hunterbear.org/NORTH%20CAROLINA%20THOUGHTS%20AND%20MEMORIES.htm
I still hear from people in the Northeastern North Carolina Black-Belt. A good friend indeed, the late Attorney Floyd B. McKissick of Durham, N.C., at one time National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality and later CORE's Executive Director, commented to me years later, "You'll always be welcome, John, in every Black home in the [N.C.] Black-Belt. Any and everyone will always be glad to see you."
We've always kept in touch with Willa Johnson Cofield, the very courageous teacher activist of Halifax County. After her major teacher rights victory in the high Federal courts, Willa eventually moved to New Jersey and got her PhD in Urban Planning at Rutgers. In the fall of 1998, she visited us in Idaho -- well aware that we were having some very strange experiences at Pocatello with so-called "lawmen" and racist characters. Several years earlier, February 26, 1995, she had written a very long letter to the Dakota Student, official student newspaper of the University of North Dakota. I had retired as a full professor and former departmental chair only a few months before and Willa was aware that not everyone there -- and not everyone in Grand Forks where we continued to live for some years -- was a friend of mine by any means. Here is a portion of her kind letter and related written comment:
". . .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 demonstrations.
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 registered.
In the 1980s, those voters helped send two Black men to the North Carolina Legislature. Two years ago, they sent Eva Clayton, a Black woman, to Congress.
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 bodies.
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 to injustice.
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 admiration. It is sad to hear that in another place and time [University of North Dakota and Grand Forks] one of the most courageous leaders of the civil rights struggle is maligned rather than honored.
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, New Jersey
And in a note on my copy of the letter, Willa Cofield wrote: "John -- You have successfully weathered worse storms. Don't let the Bastards get you down. Love - Willa "
We fought on. And we fight on.
Attorney Floyd McKissick ["Mack"], a North Carolinian, Chair of the Congress of Racial Equality and later its Executive Director, was a strong and dependable friend always, "through thick and thin." His daughter, Joycelyn, was a special friend of Eldri and myself. I have many "McKissick stories" -- all very positive! We met the first time early in 1964. I had been jailed in a small North Carolina town -- the cell was cold and the food, of course, almost nil. Called by local leaders, McKissick came fast to get me out, and he was successful. Outside, he asked if I was hungry? "Damn hungry" was my reply. "The only place around here we can eat," said he, "serves only soul food. How do you feel about that?" And I told him, "Take me there." We ate heartily. Then he told me something interesting: "You had no sooner gotten here to North Carolina," he said, "then the damned FBI came to see me. They warned me about you -- said you were a radical." He added, "They also said there were white people all over the South who would kill you in a minute." I grinned at him. "That's no news," said I. "And that's why I often have my .38 Special Smith & Wesson right handy." Now McKissick grinned. "Smart kid," he said. "And any man the FBI doesn't like because he's too radical is a friend of mine."
And we were friends all the way through. In 1969, Mack made a point of personally presenting me with a just-out copy of his excellent book, Three Fifths of a Man [New York: Macmillan, 1969] -- with a foreword by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. The book, very timely to this moment, is a clearly written blunt and candid work which, attacking racism in intricate detail, examines the U.S. Constitution and its relationship to American minority people -- with especial emphasis on the Constitution's great uses in the struggle for economic justice and full freedom. And the book strongly supports the right to bear arms -- pointing out the great importance of firearms ownership to Southern Blacks with particular emphasis on protection against racists and hunting for food. I've always appreciated the kind inscription -- " To John Salter A Friend and a Damn Good Fighter" -- that he wrote in my copy:
Like a vast number of people in this country and, I'm sure, many globally, I've been watching with chilled fascination the effects of the Great Tornado Horror that's hit Kansas and Oklahoma down into Dixie and up the eastern seaboard into the Carolinas and Virginia. Jackson, Mississippi, of course, we know well -- and I could recognize a locale or two -- and the same with some areas just to the north of there: fringes of the Tougaloo community and the newer suburbs reaching toward Canton. The same with North Carolina, especially at Raleigh where we had once been based for several years, and -- very, very much Bertie County in the Northeastern Black-Belt into which, as with other counties in that region, we had carried our civil rights organizing campaign in the mid-1960s widely and successfully.
SOME ANTI-KLAN STUFF [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] POSTED APRIL 23 2012.
"In the 1950s and 1960s, a new civil rights movement began in the South. White supremacist tactics were just as violent as they had been during Reconstruction. Blacks and civil rights workers armed for self-defense.
John Salter, a professor at Tougaloo College and chief organizer of the N.A.A.C.P.'s Jackson Movement during the early 1960s, wrote, "No one knows what kind of massive racist retaliation would have been directed against grass-roots black people had the black community not had a healthy measure of firearms within it."
Salter personally had to defend his home and family several times against attacks by night riders. After Salter fired back, the night riders fled.
The unburned Ku Klux Klan cross in the Smithsonian Institution was donated by a civil rights worker whose shotgun blast drove Klansmen away from her driveway.
State or federal assistance sometimes came not when disorder began but when blacks reacted by arming themselves. In North Carolina, Governor Terry Sanford refused to command state police to protect a civil rights march from Klan attacks. When Salter warned Governor Sanford that if there were no police, the marchers would be armed for self-defense, the Governor provided police protection."
CLEMENCY LETTER TO NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR [HUNTER GRAY 1/05/02 ]
Honorable Mike Easley
State of North Carolina
Dear Governor Easley:
I am writing you, from Idaho, to urge clemency in the case of Mr. Charles
Mason Alston, Jr. who I understand is scheduled for execution on January
11, 2002. At the same time, I respectfully urge you to use your good
offices to declare a moratorium on all executions in the state. That would
be courageously consistent with the spirit that is now, with whatever
deliberate speed, emerging in our country.
A sociologist, and a mixed-blood Native American, I was privileged to spend
the years 1961-67 in the South, consistently and deeply involved in the
Civil Rights Movement. Initially, I was extremely active in Mississippi
where I was a prime organizer of the historic Jackson Movement and chair of
its strategy committee. [It was during this sanguinary struggle that our
very good friend and colleague, Medgar W. Evers, was murdered.] At the end
of the summer of 1963, I became Field Organizer for the Southern Conference
Educational Fund [headed by the Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth of
Birmingham, National Secretary of the Southern Christian Leadership
Focusing on systematic grassroots civil rights and anti-Klan organizing, I
was based at Raleigh -- 828 Newcombe Road, in Biltmore Hills, and from there
worked across the hard-core South. I increasingly came to concentrate my
organizing efforts in the rigidly segregated, poverty-stricken, and
Klan-infested Northeastern North Carolina Black Belt. Those efforts began
in earnest in Halifax County in the late winter of 1964, and then moved out
across the Black Belt: Northampton County, Bertie, Hertford, into Nash and
Edgecombe -- with significant involvements in the broad, surrounding areas.
We used non-violent direct action, economic boycotts, Federal lawsuits via
our own attorneys, and intensive voter registration/education/political
action. Our major voting case, brought by our attorneys, was won in Federal
District Court at Raleigh in May, 1964: Alston v. Butts. Later, the case
of Willa Johnson v. Joseph Branch et al. established -- when the USSC
refused to hear North Carolina's appeal of our Fourth Circuit victory -- the
right of all Black public school teachers to engage in civil rights
activities without being summarily fired [as Ms. Johnson -- now Dr Willa
Cofield -- had been, by the Halifax County School Board and its District
Committee. And there were other cases.
Out of that struggle -- which lasted for me well into 1967 -- came many
victories: we broke the hard lines of resistance to social change and
established strong and democratic grassroots movements with vigorous local
leadership. We established the right to organize and dissent and register
and vote. Widespread and increasing Black political participation began and
has continued vigorously, of course, to this moment. Very substantial
desegregation -- and increasing integration -- emerged. We won major
victories for sharecroppers. The Klan was driven out of the Black Belt and
the oft-pervasive atmosphere of terrorism ended. There was a basis for
democratic, interracial unionism -- and, indeed, much of that has emerged.
Attorney T.T. Clayton of Warrenton was always very helpful. Congresswoman
Eva Clayton recently conveyed to me her very cordial regards via a mutual
I keep very much in touch with both Mississippi and North Carolina. My
oldest son, now a successful writer with a book coming out next month via an
Alabama University Press, was born at Raleigh in 1965.
I have taken occasion to look closely into the Charles Mason Alston, Jr.
case. It seems very clear to me, as it obviously does to so many others,
that, at the very least, many very substantive questions exist in his
case -- questions so clear and so obvious that clemency from your good
offices is eminently warranted and compelled.
I thank you, Governor, for your consideration and I wish you well.
Hunter Gray [ known in those days as John R. Salter, Jr.]
2000 Sandy Lane
Pocatello, Idaho 83204
[AND SENTENCE COMMUTED! HUNTER GRAY 1/10/02]
Friends -- from Hunterbear:
It's certainly a very good feeling indeed to be able to report that Governor
Mike Easley of North Carolina has just commuted the death sentence of
Charles Mason Alston, Jr of Warren County to life imprisonment.
Obviously, thanks to everyone who sent e-mails to the Governor -- and who
thought good thoughts. Thanks especially to Ed Whitfield of Greensboro who
brought it to our attention. Here's the story:
Associated Press Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A condemned man who steadfastly denied beating his
girlfriend to death in 1990 escaped execution Thursday as Gov. Mike Easley
commuted his death sentence to life in prison.
Charlie Mason Alston Jr., 42, was to die by injection at 2 a.m. Friday at
Alston was sentenced to death in 1992 for the beating and suffocation death
of his former girlfriend, Pamela Renee Perry, who was hit in the face with a
No one saw the killing and no blood or fingerprint evidence connected the
attack to Alston, who had been convicted about six weeks earlier of
Alston, a brick mason, contended his innocence would be proved by DNA tests
on evidence that has disappeared. Prosecutors said the evidence, scrapings
from beneath Perry's fingernails, would confirm the guilty verdict.
At the time, DNA evidence wasn't commonly used in murder trials. Just last
year, the Legislature approved a law allowing every inmate charged with
first-degree murder to request a DNA test.
Defense attorneys asked Easley to grant clemency because the law should
apply to Alston. State courts already have rejected similar arguments.
The state said in documents filed in the U.S. Supreme Court that the
evidence was "anything but weak ... that verdict has withstood the tests of
time and close scrutiny by both state and federal courts simply because the
evidence is so strong."
Easley did not specify why he commuted the sentence.
"After long and careful consideration of all the facts and circumstances of
this case in its entirety, I conclude that the appropriate sentence for the
defendant is life in prison without parole," he said.
The Supreme Court rejected Alston's two remaining appeals Thursday
afternoon. As his execution approached, Alston met with his parents, brother
and son and talked to his lawyers, while supporters scheduled protest
rallies around the state and at the governor's mansion.
"This case involves a man sentenced to death despite the fact that not a
single shred of physical evidence tied him to the murder," said Steven
Hawkins, executive director of the Washington-based National Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty.
FROM AN IDAHO WINDOW: THINGS -- INCLUDING PHONE MONITORING IN NORTH CAROLINA [HUNTER GRAY AUGUST 9 2012]
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR]
Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by NaŽshdoŽiŽbaŽiŽ
(much social justice material)
For the new, just out (11/2011) and expanded/updated
edition of my "Organizer's Book," JACKSON MISSISSIPPI --
with a new and substantial Introduction by me:
Our community organizing course:
Personal Background Narrative (with many links):