Article on Hunter Gray, Part I

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Wed Jan 10 09:24:20 MST 2001

[ forward from Lou, Part I]

"I Consider Myself a Real Red:" The Social Thought of American Civil
Rights Organizer John R. (Salter) Hunter Gray

by Roy T. Wortman, Department of History, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio
43022 USA

"Thanks to you and a few others we now have a much better state. We
owe to you a debt that obviously won't ever get paid, except in the
devalued currency of kind thoughts and appreciative words from those
of us who have some understanding of what you stood for and were
motivated by." ---William F. Winter, Jackson, Mississippi, letter to
John R. Salter, Nov. 21, 1990.  Winter was governor of Mississippi,
1980 - 84. During the desegregation battles in the 1960s, while a
state official, Winter courageously remained in a minority by refusing
to join the White Citizens Council which endorsed segregation. Copies
of letter in the Salter Papers, Social Action Archives, Wisconsin
Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin; and in Salter Papers,
Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi.

"I consider myself a Real Red. In addition to being a half - breed
Indian, I belonged, in the 1950s, to the last of the really old-time
Industrial Workers of the World and I was also an International Union
of Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers man."

"I've been a social justice agitator all my life and I always will be
one: a radical.... I very strongly believe, from my basic roots, that,
if you're going to really believe in something, make it something that
serves humanity in a deep and enduring sense and not simply something
that serves only oneself. " ---John R. (Salter) Hunter Gray,
Manuscript letter to the author, February 21, 2000.


Civil rights, labor, and civil liberties organizer, and educator in
sociology and Indian Studies, Hunter Gray, in his own words, devoted
his entire life to "full - time organizing and part - time teaching;
or full - time teaching and full - time organizing." This article's
purpose is not to chronicle Hunter Gray's involvement in political,
civil rights, labor, and civil liberties organizations. Instead, it
seeks to point to those events, environments, individuals, and
organizations which made an impact in shaping Hunter Grays's social
thought. An earlier brief article (Wortman: 1997) outlines in skeletal
form Hunter Gray's various organizational civil rights drives. The
current article is based in large part on what that my earlier brief
article could not say, given limitations of space and purpose in the
Encyclopedia of Native American Civil Rights. This article, which
examines those signposts that influenced and shaped Hunter Gray's
social thought, is based on a thirty -four page manuscript dated
February 21, 2000, in which Hunter Gray responded to a wide variety of
questions I sent him about influences on his mind and work. With the
exception of those parenthetical citations that mention a source or
letter from Hunter Gray other than the thirty-four page manuscript
letter to this author, all quotations and paraphrased remarks herein
derive from that manuscript.  Aware of "the need to include Indian
voices" (Mihesuah, 1998: 1 - 2) as an ethical and professional
imperative, I asked for and received Hunter Gray's assistance in
verifying this article for concept and accuracy to maintain the
integrity of his voice in this essay.

Hunter Gray epitomizes a synthesis of progressive intellectual
sensibilities on race and civil rights intertwined with an American
Indian heritage as well as a radical critique of society inherited
from the "Old Left" of the labor movement. Hunter Gray describes
himself as a "Real Red: In addition to being a half-breed Indian, I
belonged, in the 1950s, to the last of the really old - time
Industrial Workers of the World [IWW] and I was also [a]... Mine, Mill
and Smelter Workers man." The statement is deceptively simple: Hunter
Gray's affiliation with the old - time IWW and the Mine - Mill union
connect him to an older era of struggles for working people even as
his allusion to his "half-breed Indian" ancestry connects him to a
lifetime of struggles for justice in civil rights. Hunter Gray
uniquely synthesizes both civil rights and labor struggles while
simultaneously maintaining a strong, lifelong belief in the sanctity
of the individual and in the deep, traditional American right to keep
and bear arms for lawful self - defense, especially against armed
racist aggression.  His social thought at once, and without
contradiction to him, maintains powerful emphasis on cultural
communities, recognizing the deep historical connections between past
and present, especially for American Indians.  Simultaneously, he
maintains a strong and abiding libertarian sense for the right of the
individual to maintain self - sufficiency and self - defense as a
moral as well as a legal right in the United States: Hunter Gray
argues that aggregations of individuals who form an ethnic or
otherwise identifiable minority community are entitled to self -
defense and the right to lawfully keep and bear arms against racist
aggression and marauding. A contemporary reader of the progressive
persuasion, be he or she in Canada or the United States, jumping to
reflex reactions, would argue that civil rights and labor organizing
on the one hand, and advocacy for the right to keep and bear arms on
the other, are contradictory: one is on "the left," and the other is
on "the right." Hunter Gray abjures this kind of simplistic political
dichotomy; these issues are too complex to make for a simplistic
divide either morally or in political terms. Given his experiences,
there is no contradiction; to the contrary, there are multiple layers
of complexity, with but one thing in common: all layers point to the
potential of human beings not only to defend themselves from racist
intimidation or aggression, but as well to develop their full
potential as individuals within communities so as to reach as high as
they can in fulfilling their lives within the American
Republic. Hunter Gray puts this in powerful and passionate ways,
although he modesty calls it "strong personal stuff." Indeed, there is
a deep strand---not of romantic sensibilities, but of mysticism in
Hunter Gray's notion of what is right and proper: "I believe one
should Keep Fighting, all the way through: in the green oases of rich
and vibrant and far-flung struggle: and also in the long lonely
stretches of desert with the bitter … and critically important 'little
fights' ---and always with an eye on the Better World Over the
Mountain Yonder [italics supplied]."

Hunter Gray was born as John Randall Salter, Jr. in Flagstaff,
Arizona, in 1934. As he looks back on his life and social thought, he
credits, first and foremost, his family. His father, born Frank Gray,
was a full - blooded Indian of Micmac, St. Francis Abenaki, and Mohawk
ancestry, but was adopted by William Mackintire Salter and Mary
Gibbens Salter, New England liberals active in the Ethical Culture
Society, a secular group which affirmed moral and ethical principles
without the dogma, creed , or faith of organized religion. It was
William Mackintire Salter who changed Frank Gray's name to
Salter. Frank left the Salters in 1913, went to Indian Mexico for a
while, and then served in the US Navy in World War One. William Salter
left Frank out of his will. Mary Salter "left him what she could." It
was the family of American philosopher William James which funded
Frank through the Chicago Art Institute, and thus launched his career
as both artist and professor. Frank later earned both an MA and an MFA
at the University of Iowa. Frank was a Catholic, but "with mixed
tribal religion." Keenly aware of his Native ancestry, he resented his
adopted last name but did not change it before he died; but his son,
John, did change it, in May, 1995, in District Court, to Hunter Gray:
Hunter, after his mother's Scottish - American side; and Gray, from
his father's Mohawk side. Hunter Gray credits his father as a role
model "who maintained his primary commitment to aboriginal values but
[who] resisted all efforts to push him into a stereotypical mold."
Hunter Gray's mother's family was of Scottish and Swiss heritage. An
Anglican, her family of ranchers "abandoned Calvin for Cranmer, [the
latter, 1489 - 1556, a crucial figure in the English Protestant
Reformation]" a reference to social and economic mobility as the
family moved up to the perceived higher status of the Anglican, or
"High " Episcopalian Church in the United States. She was a "fighter
for good causes." Hunter Gray acknowledges his parents' commitment to
the causes of social progress, and always received their support for
his goals.  Additionally, although he never met them, he credits two
ancestors about whom he heard much as he was growing up in Flagstaff:
John Gray (Ignace Hatchiorauquasha), his great - great - great
grandfather, a Mohawk, who, with his Mohawk wife, Marianne Neketichon
(Mary Ann Charles) was active in both the Far Western fur trade and
Indian rights in the early nineteenth century. On Hunter Gray's
mother's side, Michael Senn, a Swiss immigrant to the United States,
was an early settler in the Kansas Territory, an Abolitionist and
Union veteran wounded in the American Civil War at Gettysburg, who,
after mustering out of the Army, spoke out against the 1864 massacre
of the Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek, Colorado. Senn was also one
of the founders of the Knights of Labor, and was a friend of Eugene
V. Debs, who would later become Socialist Party of America
presidential candidate and spokesman. In addition to his ancestors'
heritage, his wife, Eldri, of Scandinavian, Finnish, and Saami
heritage, "has been an extraordinarily positive influence on me from
our first association, and our subsequent marriage, in 1961, to the
present moment."  The daughter of a Lutheran minister "and his
faithful wife," Eldri graduated from Augsburg College, a Lutheran
institution in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with a degree in sociology and
served as campus representative for the Lutheran Student Foundation at
Wisconsin State College in Superior, Wisconsin, where she met her
future husband. While her own background was not that of a social
activist, recalls Hunter Gray, "she always had a hell of a strong
social conscience!" They married in late June, 1961. In between the
years from Wisconsin State College through the present "she lived with
me under many dangerous clouds (the South, Chicago, other situations);
picketed and was jailed in Jackson; helped much in my advising work
with the Jackson NAACP Youth movements; heard death threats flow into
our various settings for decades; saw Maria, our first baby, almost
hit by a Klansmen's bullet; saw me beaten and almost killed and
constantly surveilled and red-baited; was by herself with the slowly -
accumulating children while I was gone on the organizing road for days
and sometimes weeks at a time; moved frequently; handled the almost
always sparse finances; and has provided extremely basic and effective
words of optimism and wisdom."

Beyond family, Hunter Gray is quick to single out others who helped
shape his social concerns: Ned A. Hatathali (Navajo), his father's art
student and close family friend at then Arizona State College (now
Northern Arizona University), founder and first president of the
Navajo Community College (now Dine College); Frank Dolphin, left-wing
farm worker organizer in the 1930s, volunteer in the Royal Canadian
Air Force in the Second World War, and also an artist who was a
student of his father; CE Payne, on of the founders of the IWW in
1905, an editor and organizer who mentored Hunter Gray in the Pacific
Northwest in the mid - 1950s, and a person who asserted that
traditional Native tribalism offered industrial and urban civilization
a "trail to utopian development." Finally, another IWW, Fred Thompson,
a Canadian of Scots and Micmac heritage originally from St. John, New
Brunswick, also influenced Salter. Thompson, a socialist in Canada,
settled in the United States and became an editor and organizer for
the Industrial Workers of the World based in Chicago, but active
throughout the United States. He was instrumental in assisting in
organizing the Metal and Machinery Workers Industrial Union 440 in
Cleveland, Ohio after World War Two (Wortman: 1985). Thompson, editor
of the IWW Industrial Worker, gave Hunter Gray in his "hot-eyed kid"
days this advice: "You have to accurately describe the massive
injustice all around you and sensibly discuss basic curative
approaches and solutions." Hunter Gray followed that advice all his
professional life.

Although Hunter Gray respected his parents' religious heritage as well
as the foundations of justice in the Judeo-Christian ethos, religion
was not a fundamental influence in Hunter Gray's social justice
efforts. "I have never been a particularly 'churchy' person," he
wrote. Still, he acknowledges that Dorothy Day and Ammon Hennacy of
the liberal Catholic Worker movement influenced him "a goodly amount."
(Hunter Gray, letter to the author, 2 March 2000). In his later career
when he helped organize migrant Canadian Algonquin fur workers in
upstate New York, for the Rochester diocese, Catholic Worker advocates
were among his strongest supporters "through all sorts of struggles
with reactionary Church authorities and many other 'official'
adversaries" (Hunter Gray, letter to the author, 2 March 2000). Yet if
organized , institutional religion played a minimal role in shaping
Hunter Gray's thought, his idealism in good part was shaped by a
visionary and mystical spirituality that transcended formal
organizations. Hunter Gray's eclectic spirituality, in part define by
the way he talks and writes of a "better world over the Mountain," and
"reaching towards the Sun" are fundaments for an idealism supported by
traditional American Indian beliefs coupled with the mystical vision
of the Industrial Workers of the World, the "Wobblies," as they came
to be called in history. James Jones best captures that Wobbly vision,
even as he defines who they were, in his brilliant novel of the Second
World War, From Here to Eternity when he describes a sergeant who had
once been an IWW: " There has never been anything like them.... They
called themselves materialist - economists, but what they really were
was a religion.... It was their vision that made them great. And it
was their belief in it which made them powerful." Jones also
perceptively grasped the IWW in deeper ways as he explained their
mystique, their strength, and their weakness: "They had courage, and
what's more important, they had the soft heart to go with it. Their
defeat was due to faulty technique of execution, rather than to
concept. But also, I don't think the time was ripe for them yet."
(Jones, 1951, 640, 644.)

In addition to the IWW as an American institution whose history helped
shape Hunter Gray, a number of authors were significant in shaping his
attitudes: they included Ralph Chaplin, a lifetime Wobbly whose book,
Wobbly: The Rough and Tumble Story of an American Radical made an
impact on Hunter Gray; Susan Mary Power (Yanktonnai Sioux), who
emphasized Native intergenerational connections and cultural survival;
Arthur Koestler, whose anti - totalitarian and anti Stalinist classic,
Darkness at Noon, made an impression on Hunter Gray as a youth and who
read it several times since; Texas author J. Frank Dobie, who wrote of
the many - faceted cultures of the US Southwest; Arthur Parker
(Seneca), anthropologist and ethnologist; and John Reed, Progressive
Era radical journalist and author of Ten Days That Shook the World ,
on the Russian Revolution and who, significantly, had a strong streak
of "romantic" revolutionary" within his thought. It is significant to
note that with the exception of Koestler, a European - born anti -
Stalinist, all of Hunter Gray's formative authors were US - born. On
the surface, this is a minor matter; beneath the surface, however,
there is more significance to this than meets the eye: Hunter Gray's
radicalism and his quest for social justice stemmed not from European
origins, not from Jean Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Karl Kautsky, or
V.I. Lenin, but from an indigenous radical tradition rooted in
American history: the abolitionists, some of the populists of the
1880s and 1890, and Debsian socialism and the Industrial Workers of
the World owed their formation less to European thought than to an
American quest for justice, in some cases partly evangelical and in
part linked to the idea of a "moral economy" which sought to correct
grievances in the racial, economic or moral arenas (Lynd, 1968;
Salvatore, 1982; Wood, 1992). Hunter Gray's indigenous radicalism is
in within this American tradition even as it in good part stems from

Beyond the writers who helped shaped Hunter Gray's mind and vision, he
looked up to and admired heroes in American Indian history. In
addition to Navajo educator Ned A. Hatathali, Hunter Gray, as a child,
found meaning in Seneca ethnologist Arthur C. Parker, who was very
much "a Seneca, Iroquois, Native American." Clearly, to Hunter Gray,
Parker had no difficulties with identity. A founder of the Society of
American Indians, a pan - Indian rights organization founded mainly by
and for American mixed - blood intellectuals, (Hertzberg, 1971) Parker
was also instrumental in the founding, later on, of the National
Congress of American Indians. State anthropologist of New York,
researcher and writer, and academic notable, he furnished comfort to
Hunter Gray because he was someone who "refused to be stereotyped or
cast into an iron block mold." Hunter Gray found meaning in Parker's
words: "I don't have to play Indian to be Indian [Parker, cited by
Hunter Gray, emphasis supplied]" Hunter Gray took the caveat as a role
model; and from his parents "who always encouraged me to do my own
thing," Hunter Gray "cut my own trail just as I saw fit." He also
found inspiration in the historical roles of Billy Weatherford (Red
Eagle), a mixed - blood Creek war chief who resisted Andrew Jackson in
military combat; Louis Riel, martyred leader for the Canadian Metis
Nation; Frank Little, revered in IWW history and hagiography as "half
- Indian, half white man, and all IWW," who was lynched by vigilantes
in Butte, Montana, in 1917 at the peak of anti - IWW hysteria in World
War One (Dubofsky 1969); John Ross, Cherokee leader who used the US
court system as a battleground to gain legal rights in the
groundbreaking case Worcester v. Georgia (1832) which excluded state
jurisdiction; Geronimo, Mescalero Apache guerilla warrior who, in
Hunter Gray's words, "recognized the value of firearms and relentless
persistence" in opposing the United States Army in the Southwest
during the "Indian Wars;" Susan Kelly Power (Yanktonnai Sioux) who
helped found the nation's first Native urban center in Chicago in the
1950s; and William "Bill" Redcloud (White Earth Chippewa), an urban
Indian community worker who never sought fanfare for himself and who
was executive director of the Native American Community Organizational
Training Center of which Hunter Gray was chair in Chicago in the

Hunter Gray's consciousness about civil rights stemmed in large part
from the very environment of Flagstaff, Arizona, in which he grew
up. If there were any turning points in Hunter Gray's coming of age
they were through acts of discrimination and prejudice toward his
father, who was "very visibly Indian." Hunter Gray recalls signs such
as "No Indians or Dogs Allowed" posted in some cafes. He also
remembers an incident where two Black churchmen, one a minister, the
other a deacon, were shot and killed by a drunken White man on a
Sunday morning. The perpetrator was not taken into custody. So too,
Hunter Gray recalls Indians who died in city and county jails under
mysterious circumstances, events written off as either "suicide " or
"spinal meningitis." Hunter Gray's parents helped to change these
conditions even as they influenced him in his social awareness.
Reflecting on his own past history, Hunter Gray synthesized his birth
status and environment with two egalitarian and militant labor
organizations which influenced him: "I was born, a half - breed, into
the civil rights situation---with an Indian father and an Anglo mother
and an often hostile Anglo social environment around us. The IWW was
thoroughly egalitarian and Mine - Mill's record for actively fighting
for full minority rights was absolutely exemplary. While it was a
gradual process, the River of Civil Rights Awareness moved with
increasing rapidity for me [emphasis supplied]."

In addition to social justice in race relations, Hunter Gray's
consciousness on economic and social class issues was heightened by
the Industrial Workers of the World, which he joined in the mid -
1950s.  Although ferociously anti - Communist, the IWW, during
President Harry Truman's administration in the late 1940s, was placed
on the United States Attorney General's list for subversive
groups. Its radicalism was eclectic, and devoid of a rigid,
compartmentalized ideological teleology. Anti - capitalist more in an
emotional and visceral way rather than in the than a disciplined
ideological structure of Marxism - Leninism, it emphasized democracy
from the rank and file rather than absolutist, hierarchical
organization and power from the top down. The IWW rejected the elitist
ideological vanguard concept of disciplined, tightly organized cadres
emphasized by Marxism - Leninism and the Communist Party. Hunter Gray
did not become involved in the sectarian ideological battles that the
IWW had with the Communist Party; there was so much red hysteria and
red scare in the American Southwest that Hunter Gray selected his
priorities to focus his energy on issues that mattered to him. "I've
never worried a great deal about, say, the Communist Party. Where I
grew up, every movement that challenged the status quo was red -
baited incessantly by the power structure types---and this was
certainly true in the South where every civil rights
organization---from the NAACP to the Southern Conference Educational
Fund (old New Deal origins, Eleanor Roosevelt a long time supporter)
was consistently called 'Communist" (Hunter Gray, letter to the
author, 1 March 2000.) Hunter Gray's association with the IWW enabled
him to nurture his incipient talents as both radical and organizer
even as he was exposed to the mystique and working class
egalitarianism of the organization. He remained with the IWW until
1960, but the Wobblies, by then, had lost their strength and receded
into historical myth, memory, and shadow. Hunter Gray also joined the
International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, which he
regarded as "consistently tough and consistently radical;" he served
as a volunteer organizer in strike support and grassroots labor
defense. His last speech to a Mine - Mill group--a large contingent of
delegations from the Arizona locals-- was in December, 1963, when he
traveled from the Deep South to Arizona to speak on the civil rights
struggle. In the larger sense Hunter Gray's involvement with both the
IWW and Mine-Mill, as well as his own personal background, meshed and
merged by the time he was in his twenties. By that time, the die had
been fully cast for his intellectual development. An earlier two -
year stint with the United States Army--Hunter Gray volunteered for
induction early in 1953--only helped reinforce what he had found out
over time: "In one company that had been until very recently all -
Black (and which still had virtually all Black officers and cadre---I
liked them a lot)," there was "a broad sweep of troopers drawn not
only from the Southwest but the Deep South as well---I saw how quickly
young White segregationist attitudes could change radically for the
better....(Hunter Gray, letter to the author, 19 March 2000)"

As a student at Arizona State University, at age 24, Hunter Gray had a
key role in organizing dormitories and fraternities and sororities to
get better food and to increase the wages of student employees. In
1960, at 26, he assisted in demonstrations against the then-mandatory
Reserve Officers Training Corps. At Wisconsin State College, Superior,
at his first teaching job, he helped organize--with limited
success--the American Federation of Teachers. He was much more
successful in organizing a large student contingent against "a
thoroughly reactionary college administration" headed by a president
who held a commission as a general in the Wisconsin Army National
Guard. While in Wisconsin, he and his wife read of the Freedom Rides
of civil rights advocates who protested legal segregation in the Deep
South. Spurred on by his own consciousness and experiences, which all
seemed to crest and culminate, Hunter Gray, after a solitary walk in
the woods, decided that he should go into the South and teach in a
Black college. Upon consultation his wife also agreed to this. In the
summer of 1961 Hunter Gray, on the advice of a white Southerner who
was a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Glen Smiley,
obtained a position at Tougaloo Southern Christian College, Jackson,
Mississippi. There he became advisor to the Jackson Youth Council of
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP), and met Medgar Evers, field secretary of the Mississippi
NAACP. Hunter Gray, Evers and others, founded the Mississippi Free
Press , the first civil rights newspaper in the state.  And there, as
they settled into their new home and job, Hunter Gray and Eldri
organized young people into the Youth Council. In 1962 the NAACP Youth
Council started its boycott of white businesses in Jackson, which
rapidly bloomed into the large non - violent "Jackson Movement."
Hunter Gray's involvement in this episode is chronicled in his
Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism
(1979 and 1987).  In brief, he was the leading link in the Movement's
strategy committee, as well as a teacher, organizer, and tactician who
witnessed police and mob violence and massive arrests in one of the
highest waves of civil rights protests and activity. Violence caught
up with the civil rights organizers.  Medgar Evers, "An eminently
sensible activist, thoroughly committed, a fine and loyal friend," was
murdered. Hunter Gray was seriously injured in a rigged car accident,
but the Jackson Movement sustained itself with staying power and set
in motion changes in Mississippi and all over the American
South. After Jackson, Hunter Gray went into full time civil rights
work as field organizer for the radical Southern Conference
Educational Fund, where he served as grassroots anti-Ku Klux Klan and
civil rights organizer "in a hard - core, Deep South setting."

Hunter Gray recalls that Mississippi's Choctaw population in the early
and mid 1960s "just tried to stay out of it all" when it came to civil
rights issues. In that era the Choctaws were in a tenuous
position. Hunter Gray notes that "The Mississippi band has always had
a tough time," and remained, "in that era of generally limited roads,"
distant and isolated from Jackson, which was the center of civil
rights activity in the early and mid 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s
Hunter Gray had more contact with the Choctaws, and was especially
active for Native rights in the American South in Eastern North
Carolina where he brought Indians "into those hard - fought
campaigns." In later anti - poverty organizing Hunter Gray's work
embraced both Native people in general and, more specifically, Indian
youth training programs. In his Jackson, Mississippi years, however,
most of Hunter Gray's civil rights organizing work involved improving
the standing of the state's Black population. Hunter Gray's over -
three thousand page FBI file, which he obtained under the Freedom of
Information Act, contains a newspaper article from the Jackson
newspaper which headlined his involvement as follows: "Salter led
Jackson Agitation. Tougaloo Prof Joins Pro - Red Organization ." The
newspaper ended its article with a brief sentence about Eldri: "His
wife has also been active in the integration movement." (Jackson Daily
News, 25 September 1963, in unclassified and released Freedom of
Information Act FBI file, item number 100 - 9943 - 2, copy provided by
Hunter Gray). Given the climate of opposition to civil rights as well
as the violence endemic to that era and place, such a public headline
was as good as a death warrant. From those idealistic yet stress -
filled days Hunter Gray and his wife moved into militant anti-poverty
organizing, and thereafter continued in both civil rights and anti -
poverty organization as he taught in various places in the United

[ to be continued ]

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