Article on Hunter Gray, Part II

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Wed Jan 10 09:31:55 MST 2001

[ part II ]

With a lifetime background in civil rights, Hunter Gray, upon
reflection, views with admiration Black intellectual and social
theorist W.E.B. DuBois as fundamental to his civil rights organizing
and thinking because of DuBois' emphasis on action coupled with his
belief in integration grounded in egalitarianism. Hunter Gray points
also to James A. Dombrowski, a White Southerner and founder of the
Southern Conference for Human Welfare in the 1930s and its
organizational descendant, the Southern Conference Educational Funds
in which Hunter Gray served as field organizer.  Additionally, he
cites Ella J. Baker, Black civil rights advocate who held various
positions in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People, Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference,
and the Southern Conference Educational Fund among other
organizations. Hunter Gray holds her up as an example of a person
"vigorously committed to long - term democratic grass roots organizing
and sensible independent political and organizational action." Hunter
Gray's other two exemplars in civil rights were James Farmer, active
in the pacifist Fellowship for Reconciliation, a democratic socialist
who supported labor causes and a leader of the Congress of Racial
Equality; and the lawyer, Floyd B. McKissick, chairman of the Congress
of Racial Equality.

Having worked in both Black and American Indian civil rights advocacy,
Hunter Gray sees contrasts between the two. Historically, the quest
for Black civil rights sought equality of the law and integration as
its primary goals. Where Black Americans sought to become part of the
broader United States society, American Indians sought to remain as
much as possible apart from that sphere because of their historical
and legal traditions based on treaties. Thus, civil rights for
American Indians focused on self - determination and protection of
Native resources, as well as protecting Native individuals from both
tribal or federal government abuses. Hunter Gray is quick to point out
that broad facets of federal civil rights acts in areas of public
accommodations, fair housing and voting rights do apply, quite
properly, to Native peoples in off - reservation situations. If there
is an alternative to dependency and trusteeship relations between the
federal government and Native Indian tribes, it is through the full
honoring of treaty rights as well as substantial federal funding for
urban, off - reservation rural, and reservation peoples. What Hunter
Gray sees as the fundamental key here is maximum self-determination
within treaty rights. He was concerned with what happened in
termination during the Eisenhower years wherein certain tribal groups
such as the Menominee and Klamath lost their relationship to the
federal government and had no recognized treaty rights at
all. (Fixico, 1986) In maintaining treaty rights, dependency, say
Hunter Gray, whether directly or by implication, is unavoidable in a
trusteeship environment. At one time the trustee relationship between
Natives and the federal government was "sadly necessary," but in a
situation where "the 'trustee' has become increasingly Machiavellian
and the 'wards' increasingly more sophisticated and self-confident,
the time has come to end the relationship, Hunter Gray asserts.

For American Indian civil rights issues, Hunter Gray believes that in
the United States there has been "substantial progress on many fronts"
to include an increase in Native Indian professionals; a more vigorous
Indian leadership; an increase in inter-tribal coalitioning; better
advances in health and education; an effective expansion in treaty
rights and increased protection of natural resources; increasingly
successful Indian land claims; a more heightened sensitivity to
cultural preservation and heritage; better support for off reservation
and urban Indians; and more effective laws protecting American Indian
civil rights, self-determination, and religious freedom. All of these
advances Hunter Gray sees as riding the crest of an increased Native
optimism, political awareness, and confidence, coupled with a growing
public awareness by the non-Indian public of both Indian causes and
"the Native situation." Still, says Hunter Gray, the struggle is far
from over: "there is still a hell of a long way to go on all fronts."

What Hunter Gray sees as major changes in American Indian history
since his involvement with the civil rights movement in the early
1960s is an increased Native grassroots activism and organization
connected to more litigation and political action against both state
and federal government.  He also singles out educational efforts in
educating the non-Indian public.  Increased Native self-determination,
brought on by legislative efforts of the federal government in
reaction to vigorous Native responses to grievances, and a more aware
general American public are trends that Hunter Gray sees as major
changes. To put it another way, "The End of the Trail" painting offers
a vivid, sad image, replete with tired horse, downcast and fatigued
rider, and an overall ambience that is devoid of any vitality of
potential for a Native future. Erroneous as it is, it represented what
many Americans thought of as the plight of American Indians at the
beginning of the twentieth century. Yet Native history did not have a
final end: instead, through the course of the twentieth century, it
became, in Hunter Gray's words, a strong, vital, and vibrant presence
in which "late nineteenth and early (and some mid) twentieth century
predictions notwithstanding, Indian people and cultures are a
permanent part of the scenery." Thus, from a public perception as a
vanishing people, the Native presence became, instead, a permanent
part of the political, social, cultural, and economic part of the
American landscape.

Hunter Gray would hope to see improvement in federal adherence to
treaty obligations. He cautions that "self-determination" without
treaty rights means, finally, termination. Thus, it is critical that
treaty rights, as part of the "supreme law of the land," should be
absolute. He hopes that there could be a speedier process for federal
recognition of non-federal tribes. In this regard, he would like to
see an expansion of the 1921 Snyder Act so as to allow the array of
federal Indian services in the United States to be applied to all
Indians within the United States, be they federally recognized or
not. He would also include Canadian Natives living in the United
States. The Synder Acts's original intent was to broadly cover all
Indians in the United States, but its thrust was limited by federal
government fiat to only those Natives living on federally recognized
reservations (Tyler, 1973: 247). This narrower application of the Act
excluded rural, off-reservation Indians who lacked tribal or treaty
affiliation with the federal government. It also excluded urban
Indians.  Beyond this, Hunter Gray would like to see the removal of
the Bureau of Indian Affairs from the Department of the Interior,
which has been "perennially sensitive to the corporations." The BIA's
elevation to a cabinet - level rank would, argues Hunter Gray, be
appropriate. While Hunter Gray sees the Nixon administration's 1975
American Indian Self- Determination Act as "an important first step,"
he would like to see it taken a step further with additional and
substantial federal government monies for Indian-controlled and
Indian-directed programs in health, education, and justice in urban
and non-reservation rural settings as well as in reservations. Federal
funding for tribally-owned and tribally - controlled resource
development and other economic programs, and federal assistance to
tribes building back their reservation land base are other areas of
government intervention and assistance that Hunter Gray advocates.  He
believes that tribes should operate casinos as they deem appropriate;
the 1988 Indian Gaming Act needs correction and reinterpretation. It
compels tribes to reach an agreement with the states in which they are
located, and thus circumvents the Worcester v. Georgia decision of
1832 in which the United States Supreme Court excluded state
jurisdiction over tribes. Hunter Gray sees the entire matter of Indian
gaming in the United States as becoming more and more confused. "The
tribes ought to be able to do their own thing their own way." For the
1988 Act to be operative and effective, clarification is required so
that Native sovereignty is strengthened. As to whether or not gaming
in the first place should be on a reservation, Hunter Gray believes
that the decision should be left up to the tribe. Finally, Hunter Gray
affirms federal government establishment of full tribal and criminal
jurisdiction on tribal lands in an effort to extricate both government
and Indians from the "current situation... a nightmarish mess for
tribes, states, Federal government." Religious freedom and rights both
on an off reservation, vigorous protection of tribal water rights,
"and either freedom - with - pardon for Leonard Peltier or, at the
very least, a new trial in a properly objective setting" would be
appropriate goals for the United State government. To the National
Congress of American Indians, to which Hunter Gray has been a sometime
member, he suggests " more militancy," that it broaden its base of
support to include non-federally recognized Indian people, and that it
campaign for increased tribal and individual membership.

Hunter Gray does not believe that there is an "Aboriginal way of
knowing" rooted in blood and genes. Given the fashionable emphasis on
biological reductionism and essentialism in the Academy in the last
decade and a half, Hunter Gray is "skeptical of anything that sees the
conveyance of knowledge and basic nature stemming from 'blood' and
'genes.'" He explicates that individual family genealogy can have
tendencies toward intuitive temperament and general intellectual and
mental ability but understands, finally, the impact of culture and
environment when it comes to the formation of human personality. "The
'blood and genes' concept," he cautions, "can easily--however
inadvertently--veer into biological racism."  He is equally skeptical
of ideological strictures and constraints, as, for example, in a
Marxist-Leninist worldview in interpreting American Indian issues: "In
any case, from whatever ideological perspective they may spring,
elitism and rigidity run directly counter to the ethos of any Native
tribe or band. (Hunter Gray, letter to the author, 17 March 2000)"

Hunter Gray's experiences might lead one to believe that the grimness
of human nature he witnessed in fighting racism made him into a
skeptic or cynic about the nature of mankind. To the contrary, looking
back on his career, and again forward to the future, he sees
optimism. "From my earliest years onward--through all kinds of
personal and social crises--I've always felt that if I and/or we can
just keep going, we can make things work out.... I have seen
successes, big and small, in social struggles.... Maybe, basically,
I've always liked most people I've met --can usually find some common
ground. And perhaps, even more basically, I've always felt that this
is a friendly universe and that the Creator intends for all of
us... to move, ever more steadily, closer and closer to the One Big

Yet his optimism is not absolute; it is tempered with a cautious and
pragmatic realism. He understands the linkage between White poverty
and the development of White racism in the United States. Once, in
1964, after a particularly "hard - fought and terror - ridden Southern
rural civil rights campaign" Hunter Gray, one night, rested under a
thicket of pine trees and watched as a Ku Klux Klan rally, well - lit
by generators operating off a flatbed truck, took place in an open
field. "I was struck by the obvious poverty stricken nature of most of
the people who came--- battered cars and pickups and, even in their
garb and from a distance, worn and lined faces."  Much later in time
Hunter Gray talked with former Klansmen including one who had put his
name on a South - wide death list. "They're people and we have to
sensibly and effectively address the situations which produce this
sort of racial sickness." He is aware of their marginal status, and
believes that "most of these economically poor White people can be
effectively reached," through, for example, integrated labor
unions. Hunter Gray differentiates between the economically
disenfranchised and, on the other hand, ideological Nazis who are
"more fanatically bent." Yet even in this situation Hunter Gray argues
that there is a relationship between economics and virulent racism,
especially with white youth subcultures. As to racial sensibilities
among American Blacks, Hunter Gray believes that Martin Luther King's
vision is more pervasive than that of Black separatists. While fully
understanding the appeal of Malcolm X to young ghetto Blacks, Hunter
Gray sees no fundamental difference between those two visions which,
ultimately, do not compete, but rather merge, given Malcolm X's
broader, more universal approach in his later years. Drawing on his
own civil rights experience, Hunter Gray does not see Lewis
Farrakhan's separatist and racist agendas as having "any large stable
following among Blacks although, at certain critical points, he can
obviously rally people." "Jesse Jackson, whatever his limitations,
certainly has more of a following than Farrakhan---and Jackson, too,
has been blending King and the latter day Malcolm X more and more." It
is a thoughtful, reflective assessment of how Jackson as a civil
rights representative synthesizes King and the mature, later years of
Malcolm X. While there is no doubt of the appeal of Black nationalism
and separatism to some Black youth, Hunter Gray does not see it "as

Hunter Gray affirms recognition of both the individual and his or her
dignity, and the community. He sees no contradiction between his
strong civil libertarian involvement in the right to keep and bear
arms for lawful self - defense and the collective and community -
vision oriented IWW to which he once belonged and for which he
maintains a historical appreciation and affection. With a good amount
of accuracy Hunter Gray sees the old IWW "very individualistic
indeed," although he qualifies this with a cautionary "in their own
way." They were so eclectic and sensitive to hierarchical
over-organization that "they would take orders from no one," and
because of this they were on occasion divided by factionalism. Hunter
Gray does believe that even a fierce individualism and a communitarian
approach can not only live together but thrive in functional and
productive ways.  Emphasis needs to be given, he affirms, to the
ancient principle of "tribal responsibility." While within tribal
communities there are strong dimensions of mutual obligation between
individual and tribe, there are none the less areas where individual
and family autonomy are important to the point where the tribe does
not intrude. In modernity, where tribal communities do not define the
foundation of urban - industrial society, it is of paramount
significance that there be "clearly defined areas of individual rights
which are sacrosanct." There is never a "perfect balance" between
individual and collective well-being, but "with vision, dedication,
and hard work" humans can "build a balance and keep it essentially
steady."  There is a note of urgency in Hunter Gray's assessment of
individualism and community: "We absolutely have to reconcile
individual and collective dimensions if we're ever going to really
develop a full measure of economic and libertarian well-being for
long-suffering humanity." He admires Bertrand Russell's genteel "guild
socialism," harmonizing political socialism and industrial syndicalism
with checks and balances on the government to include clearly defined
civil liberties, voting rights, and the right of unions to strike
against publicly-owned industries. It provides for Hunter Gray
"significant long-range guideposts." His admiration of Russell's guild
socialism clearly leans more toward recognition of democratic than of
authoritarian socialism. At the very same time there appears to be a
tension in Hunter Gray's thought in that he recognizes the power and
importance of political action more "than I once did," yet "I really
don't trust politicians or government." An older colleague of Hunter
Gray's understood this by telling him recently that "You'll always
have a Wobbly heart, John [emphasis supplied]."

The eclectic libertarianism and communitarianism of the IWW connects
to Hunter Gray's life - long quest, not only for civil rights, but for
lawful self-defense within the American republican and libertarian
tradition of the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights. His own self-
defense weapons of choice, he once told a Kenyon College audience,
included a Ruger .357 single action revolver and a Marlin .444 lever
action rifle. This was, perhaps, the first time brand name firearms
were given an endorsement in the civil rights struggle. He owned his
first rifle at the age of seven.  Hunting and firearms were a part of
his boyhood environment and his coming of age even as they are now a
part of his persona. "When I was seven I wanted a Red Ryder BB
gun. Dad was all for it; Mother---who had nothing at all against
guns... dragged her feet as mothers do with the first child.  There
was a three-way hassle: me and my two parents, Dad on my side. An
older cousin settled the whole issue by giving me as a gift, when I
was still age seven, a very nicely kept .22 Wincherster 1890 pump, 24"
octagon barrel.... I never thought about a BB gun again (Hunter Gray,
letter to the author, 29 March 2000)." The culture of hunting and of
safe, responsible use of firearms was simply a normal part of Hunter
Gray's growing up. As a rite of passage in his own maturation and
personal growth, Hunter Gray, as a boy, killed his first Black Bear
(estimated at 650 pounds live weight by educated adult guesses),
"fulfilling a very important coming of age River to Cross. I used an
old 30/30 Model 94, "24 octagon barrel, curved butt plate.... We ate
every bit of his meat and his skull hangs from the wall over our bed,
right here, right now. The Tooth has always been extremely important
to us from the perspective of protection / self-defense: blocking
malevolence and sending it right back into the perpetrator(s)---all of
this perfectly consistent...with principled self-defense." (Hunter
Gray to the author, 29 March 2000.) He qualified as an expert marksman
while in the Army. At a broader level he understands that both
American and Canadian "grassroots people " are knowledgeable about
firearms and their safe use, but that media, "tied often to
self-serving and frequently demagogic political agendas...continue to
push the anti-gun campaign with no regard for truth and reality."
Hunter Gray served as a volunteer National Rifle Association civil
liberties and media organizer in North Dakota, and continues in these
capacities in his retirement in Idaho.

Hunter Gray criticizes the mainstream media for failing to realize the
importance of self- defense and civil rights in such situations as
labor and civil rights as well as in men's resistance to
violence. What concerns Hunter Gray for the United States is that the
mainstream media deny that the Bill of Rights, including the Second
Amendment, is "a statement of natural rights [emphasis supplied]."
Moreover, in their attempt to restrict if not prohibit firearms,
politicians and media bypass the basic cause of crime: "economic
deprivation, racism and ethnocentrism, and urban congestion---and, in
that context, interpersonal and value alienation." Yet the existence
of crime must not deter the law - abiding from lawful self - defense:
"In the end, Roy, we are many, and there are lots of guns and will
continue to be. I just hope that, in a generation or two, there are
still many of us: the gun people. I think there will be." (Hunter
Gray, letter to the author, 29 March 2000.) The point here is that
Hunter Gray views lawful possession as a natural right, compatible
with the democratic heritage and historical origin of the American
Republic, which trusted its people to take to arms for defense of self
and commonwealth. Added to this in Hunter Gray's mind are the complex
issues in a modern bureaucratic and regulatory society, which impinge
on individual freedom. This makes for a draconian police state in the
name of "gun control," which Hunter Gray fully understands to mean
firearms prohibition and intimidation by government of the
law-abiding. Predatory, violent criminals, as individuals or as
paramilitary organized groups have been and will continue to be exempt
from administrative and legislative measures to restrict the use of
firearms.  Hunter Gray's concern is that only the non-criminal element
in the United States will suffer and be denied the right to
self-defense and resistance against tyranny. In this view he is in the
company of the founders of the American Republic. Hunter Gray's
amplification of the right to keep and bear arms is also colored by
the twentieth century experience of minority groups in Europe, North
America, and elsewhere in suffering at the hands of armed racist state
or paramilitary aggressors. Such minority groups must have the right,
the sacred right and duty of resistance. For Hunter Gray it once again
comes down to a principled matter of freedom with justice: not
anarchy, and not chaos, but freedom for the law - abiding to resist
violent dominators and intruders in their lives, and freedom from the
bureaucratic heavy hand of the all-powerful regulatory state which, in
this instance, rather than maximizing human freedom, constricts it
with restrictive legislation and sanctions against self-defense. Once
again, things come full circle for Hunter Gray, and once again, to
him, without contradiction.

Reflecting on his career, he views several episodes as most
meaningful: the Jackson, Mississippi struggle was significant in
having a profound effect not only on Mississippi but on the entire
American nation as well. In northeastern North Carolina he organized
Indians and Blacks in grassroots movements even as they broke the
primacy of the KKK in that state. In Chicago, for four years Hunter
Gray directed large-scale community organization in the city's violent
South and Southwest side through some three hundred block clubs which
fought Mayor Daley's political machine and helped end White violence
toward non-whites. "There were many organizing campaigns before
Jackson and many since Chicago that have given me much
satisfaction. I'll always be an organizer. We're damn busy working on
basic civil rights/civil liberties issues right now in Pocatello,
Idaho." If Hunter Gray had to live his life over again he sees nothing
that he would do differently. Looking back, he thinks that everything
seems to have fit together, to have worked out, "almost as though it
was all quite 'meant.'  And perhaps it has been."


The author acknowledges, with appreciation, the energy and time of
John Hunter Gray in answering numerous queries, most of which are
contained in Hunter Gray's thirty-four page compilation of answers to
the author dated 21 February, 2000. Additional letters from him
followed, in part because of a flurry of more questions, by telephone
and e-mail, from the author. But more than that, I asked him to read
and re-read my manuscript for accuracy in including his voice and
view: Hunter Gray was neither "object" nor "informant." Ethically and
professionally, the inclusion of his voice, and verification of
factual material mattered to me. A brief biographical sketch on Hunter
Gray is my essay on him in The Encyclopedia of Native American Civil
Rights (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997). Hunter Gray's major work
is Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism
(Kreiger, 1979 and 1987). His papers are in the Mississippi Department
of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi, and in the Social
Action Collection of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin,
Madison, Wisconsin. Hunter Gray's articles, most of which have
appeared under the name of John R. Salter, are in such diverse
journals as Argosy, Mississippi Free Press, The Catholic Courier
(Rochester, NY), Liberty: A Magazine of Religious Freedom, Klanwatch,
Pacific Historian, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Labor Notes,
Integrated Education, and Freedomways, among many
others. Additionally, he contributed chapters to numerous anthologies.
Among the anthologies are The Gun Culture and Its Enemies (1990),
Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out (1979), Freedom
is a Constant Struggle: An Anthology of the Mississippi Civil Rights
Movement (1999), and Celestial Healing: Close Encounters that Cure
(1999). The author gratefully acknowledges the outstanding aid of Jean
Demaree of Kenyon College's History Department.

Works Cited:

Dubofsky, M. (1969). We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial
Workers of the World. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.

Fixico, Donald L. (1986). Termination and Relocation: Federal Indian
Policy, 1945 - 1960. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Hertzberg, H. (1971). The Search for an American Indian Identity:
Modern Pan -Indian Movements. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Jones, J. (1951). From Here to Eternity. New York: Scribner.

Lynd, S. (1968). Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism. New
York: Pantheon Books.

Mihesuah, D. (1998). Natives and Academics: Researching and Writing
about American Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Salvatore, N. (1982). Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist. Urbana:
University of Illinois Press.

Tyler, S. (1973). A History of American Indian Policy. Washington, DC:
Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior.

Wood, G (1992). The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York:
AA Knopf.

Wortman, R. (1997). "John R. (Salter) Hunter Gray," Encyclopedia of
Native American Civil Rights. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Wortman, R. (1985). From Syndicalism to Trade Unionism: The Industrial
Workers of the World in Ohio, 1905 - 1950. New York: Garland Press.

"I Consider Myself a Real Red: The Social Thought of American Civil
Rights Organizer John R. (Salter) Hunter Gray". Roy Wortman. Journal
of Indigenous Thought. Regina: SIFC-Department of Indian Studies

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