Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at hunterbear.org
Fri Jun 1 05:08:44 MDT 2012

I wrote this short piece a number of years ago.  But it's very durable and the story it tells is forever engraved in the minds of myself and my good spouse, Eldri.  There are some very good reasons why I am running it widely at this point.  Among them, we are now into the month of June and quite close indeed to the 50th anniversary of the massive Jackson Movement of 1962-63.  I should add that I still have -- and always will -- the infamous License Plate.   In Solidarity, Hunter Gray (Hunter Bear)


Check this out. 

Steven McNichols  4/10/05

 Like the Canton piece, lots of drama.

John Salter   4/11/05 


Great story. Can we add this to the "Our Stories" section of the "Civil
Rights Movement Veterans" website (http://www.crmvet.org)? If so, how
should it be titled?


Bruce Hartford  4/15/05
Webspinner, Civil Rights Movement Veterans website


Every now and then, as I did this morning, I catch pieces of the fine
Mississippi film, A Time to Kill, based on the John Grisham novel.  I saw it
when it initially appeared in 1996, intrigued by the fact that it was filmed
on location at Canton, Madison County -- a small city just north of
Jackson -- and one of the worst racist settings of them all in the Bad Old
Days.  I have many Canton stories, some as early as '61.

I am not known for admitting mistakes, but . . . here is a big one that
directly involved me and Eldri.

On June 18, 1963, at Jackson, in the heat of our Movement, I was lethally
targeted via a most interesting car wreck. I was seriously injured, almost killed as
was a friend, Ed King, riding with me.  My vehicle, a '61 Rambler, was totaled.
Healing fast, I was functionally out of the hospital in a matter of days [my
friend was there much longer.]  A few days before the wreck, I had sent
Eldri and Baby Maria out of state via airplane to her parents in Minnesota
because of constant threats -- especially  bomb threats. She had not wanted
to go but I forced it.  [There is a very poignant scene in A Time to Kill in
which the young liberal lawyer, defending a Black man in Canton, does the
very same thing with his wife and child -- in relatively contemporary times.
Can't help but wonder if Grisham read my book!]

Anyway, Eldri returned via air as soon as she learned of the wreck and our
profound injuries. Maria remained with her grandparents. We had no car.
Very soon after I was back at Tougaloo, still obviously quite physically
damaged, the car salesman from McKay Motors in Jackson arrived driving a
brand-new Rambler.  He was accompanied by a colleague in another car [to
drive him back, obviously], and he came into our on-campus house with a
handful of papers. [McKay Motors was one of the few white firms that we all
were not boycotting. Medgar Evers, who knew the scene intricately, had
indicated they had repeatedly declined to contribute to white Citizens
Council causes.]

"I have a car for you," our salesman said cheerfully.  "And I have all the
papers right here for your signature. All worked out with CIT [credit.]"

I didn't even go out to look at the new car.  I signed and, when I had
finished, our man added, "You understand, of course, that, under the
circumstances, I can't give you the CIT life insurance policy that normally
goes along with this kind of arrangement."

"I understand perfectly," said I -- and then pointed to the old Winchester
'73 44/40 that Medgar had loaned me some weeks before.  "That's my life
insurance policy," I added.

He and his friend nodded in understanding fashion, then left.  [I had other
firearms as well -- and also a life insurance policy from Phoenix Local 1010
of AFT to which I belonged on an at-large basis. That had been arranged by
Bill Karnes, its president and a national AFT vice-president.]

We now had a car which we drove around with its temporary license sticker.
But we needed a regular plate.  About one half of Tougaloo College and
grounds are in Hinds County [Jackson] and the other half -- the one in which
we lived -- is in Madison County [Canton, of course.]  One quiet, hot
afternoon, that early July, Eldri and I decided to just drive up to Canton
in leisurely fashion and get it.

In an extraordinary omission, we told no one where we were going.  When we
got to Canton, we went to the old white courthouse [same one that's in the
film] and I parked adjacent to the nice green lawn.  Leaving Eldri, I went
into the building and down, as I recall, to its rather dim lower level.
Seeing the sign for license plates, I wandered over.  The little lady at the
window, dressed in Western style and smoking a cigarette, [could have come
out of my home county in Arizona], smiled cordially as I gave her my vehicle
papers.  She gave me something to fill out personal info-wise and, as I did,
I saw two men behind her -- wearing widebrimmed hats -- seated at a table,
their backs to me.  They were working on papers.]  Completing the form she
had given me, I plunked down the cash, turned and walked a very few feet
down the corridor to glance momentarily at a bulletin board, then returned
for my plate.

But much had changed in that moment.  My little lady was truly ashen-faced,
frozen save for badly trembling hands.  The two men had turned around and,
mouths open, were staring at me.  One was Sheriff Billy Noble, one of the
worst racist officials in the state, and the other was his Chief Deputy,
Jack Cauthen.  Cauthen, a month earlier, had come with a bevy of heavily
armed deputies to Tougaloo to serve me and others with the sweeping
anti-Movement injunction issued by the Hinds County Chancery Court:  City of
Jackson vs. John R Salter, Jr et al.  I had gone outside to them, struck by
the fact that it was truly an Old West scene or at least something out of
Salt of the Earth.  Cauthen had smirked as he gave me the sheaf of papers
which he obviously saw as Holy Writ and had, pro forma, shaken hands.  The
others had looked on coldly.

We defied the injunction, of course.

And now here we were.  I was deep in their bailiwick -- if not in their
hearts.  There they were.  And sweet Eldri was sitting in the new car

And then, through my mind, came a few lines from the old Arizona cowboy
ballad, The Sirey Peaks [a big range in the north central part of the
state]: "And who should they see but the Devil Himself come riding down the

There was an extremely long moment, during which I realized the fool thing I
had done to come by ourselves under these circumstances.

But I remained expressionless, didn't blink an eye nor move. Slit-eyed and
stony faced.

And then suddenly the Sheriff and the Chief Deputy abruptly turned their
chairs and returned to their paper work.

And the little lady, still shaking, hastily pushed the metal license plate
out to me.

"Thank you, Ma'am," said I in my very best homegrown Northern Arizona twangy
drawl.  She did not acknowledge.

I left the courthouse very casually and Eldri and I returned to Tougaloo.
Then and only then, did I tell her the events inside the big old white

She is not comfortable watching A Time to Kill.

Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk 
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´ 
and Ohkwari' 
Member, National Writers Union AFL-CIO
(much social justice material)
See the Stormy Adoption of an Indian Child [My Father]:
(Expanded much in May/June 2012 -- and also some photos.)
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.  We are now at 
the 50th Anniversary of the massive Jackson Movement of
Ghosts  (Near death experience in Sycamore Canyon Wilderness):

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