For the past several months, we’ve been getting a fair amount of attention with respect to my several years of very successful grassroots organizing in the Northeastern North Carolina Black-Belt back in the ’60s. We accomplished a great many tangible things in that vast setting. And we have a number of Web Pages on that epic struggle — and they are heavily visited these days, sometimes generating strong appreciation by readers. Some of this interest stems from the contemporary civil rights struggle in the state, named Moral . (I sometimes refer to it — in obviously complimentary fashion –as the New Moral Majority.) Some of the interest comes from academic quarters — professors and students. North Carolina’s historic and truly huge KKK movement back in our day is very much an object of interest and I gave a long telephone interview on that quite recently. Here is an excerpt from one of our North Carolina pages — and I list our main North Carolina links at the bottom. Note Floyd McKissick’s book — and his kind inscription to me. “Mack’s” book, among other things, makes a strong case for the right to keep and bear arms.
“If I had worried one iota about what other people think of me, I would never have accomplished that which I have and, God willing, that which I may yet accomplish.”
Unlike some radicals, I have never used an alias. It’s totally foreign to my nature. (If others do it, fine.) In my early journalism for the IWW’s Industrial Worker, out of Tucson, I used the handle, Cactus Jack — but my real name was often attached to the column. Twice, during our North Carolina work, I found myself in counties outside our project area and wanting a motel. The Klan was pervasively thick in much of the whole region. The United Klan’s newspaper, The Fiery Cross, out of Tuscaloosa, occasionally ran a hate column on me. In our Blackbelt, there were a vast number of homes at which I could stay. But in these two out-side county situations, I did use another name as I registered at the two motels. Otherwise, to me, an alias is anathema. (H)
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:
St. Francis Abenaki / St. Regis Mohawk
Member, National Writers Union AFL-CIO
one-half Bobcat, Cloudy Gray, and to Sky Gray:http://hunterbear.org/cloudy_
ORGANIZER — AND AN EFFECTIVE ONE (Mississippi et al.):http://crmvet.org/comm/
page — with a great deal of practical material:http://hunterbear.org/my_
JACKSON MISSISSIPPI — with a new 10,000 word
introduction by me. This page lists many reviews.
And this book is also an activist’s how-to manual: