Radical Tales, From New Mexico to Mississippi, Hunter Gray, Dr. John Salter, Jr., Hunter Bear (all in the same) reminisces about ‘two special people’ involved in the modern civil rights movement

What a reunion! What a time! And the hot wind blew very hot and 
thirty to forty miles an hour. (Hunter Gray)

RETIRED PROFESSOR HUNTER GRAY (aka John Salter, Hunter Bear) has been involved in social justice organizing for virtually all of his life. It is in his heritage! I first “met” this remarkable sociologist while doing Mississippi Civil Rights (Emmett Till) research for Where Rebels Roost; Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited, and soon becoming amazed at the work he did at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., AND SO MUCH MORE, as a leader of the Jackson Movement.

You can google John Salter and “Mustard Man” along with Tougaloo College, and find some wonderful civil rights stories that show how things came down in Jackson in the early 60s.

THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA had its own civil rights activities, and this sociologist knows this history, as well. My husband Fred and I lived for several years in the Delta while he worked as head prison psychologist for the state. While he worked, I drove around the Delta, meeting people and hearing their stories. But sometimes I traveled south to Jackson, occasionally searching the archives at Tougaloo. (Their archives are now gone. They were given away by a politically and historically naïve college president. But that is another story.)

After learning about Salter, and actually meeting one of his cohorts, Dr. Ed King, whenever I visited this campus, I could feel winds of  Mississippi’s history by simply walking around the grounds. I hope today’s students know the stories and history of these two brave men, because the college has a significant, historical past in the modern civil rights movement. Both men were close to Medgar Evers, the state’s first NAACP leader who was murdered on June 12, 1963 as he walked up to his Jackson home, after an evening political meeting.

For the new, just out (11/2011) and expanded/updated edition of Salter’s “Organizer’s Book,” JACKSON MISSISSIPPI — with a new and substantial Introduction by Salter.  Visit
“We are close upon the 50th anniversary of the massive Jackson Movement of 1962-63:

Over the past few years, Hunter Gray (Salter) and I have kept in touch – even discovering how our paths have mysteriously crossed in Iowa, Idaho and even in Gallup, New Mexico, where I currently live. (Hunter once taught at nearby Navajo Community College [now Dine’College] with the major campus set in Tsaile (Tsééhílí), Arizona, the “place where the stream flows into the canyon.” Sites are now at Window Rock, only about 30 miles away, and also Chinle, Ganado, Kayenta, and Tuba City as well as Shiprock and a Site at Crownpoint that erves New Mexico residents.)


JUST A FEW DAYS ago, I received still another fascinating report from Hunter, focusing on how he liked most of the higher ed places  he has been – “and I’ve always liked all of the students, whoever and wherever.”

Dr. Salter knew so many fascinating people – local, regional and national, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—and the focus of this email was his reminiscing about  “two very special colleges that I, and my good wife of almost 51 years, always remember fondly. (And they’re the only two schools whose catalogs reside in my Collected Papers.) We speak of them often. Here is something on them — and two very special people.  [H]”

Presented here is Dr. John Salter’s (aka Hunter Grey, Hunter Bear) most recent email – because I wanted to share this wonderful history with you:

Dr Borinski at Tougaloo [From Swastika to Jim Crow] and Phil Reno at Navajo Community College

Posted initially on January 30, 2001. Reposted occasionally — with this new intro:
Note by Hunter Bear:

I initially made this post several years ago — when the PBS film, From Swastika to Jim Crow, appeared — dealing with the significant role of Jewish refugee academics in Southern Black colleges.  This was a relationship that benefited all good people! [And I posted it again over a year ago on a couple of lists in connection with another, related topic.]

The film should be coming around again and, if you didn’t see it initially, do. My post deals specifically with one refugee sociologist – the extraordinarily gifted and very, very human Dr Ernst Borinski, who I worked with  closely at Tougaloo, saw very regularly in the years that followed, and with whom I kept in close contact until his death.  He is very well and very widely remembered.

I also deal with refugees from McCarthyism and specifically the radical economist, Phil Reno, who was given a secure and congenial place at which to work long and productively — at Navajo Community College [now Dine’ College] — and with whom I was also privileged to work closely for a substantial period of time.  

New Mexico and Dine’ College (Navajo Community College)

It [was] just about 22 years to the day in 1981 since Phil [at the Shiprock campus of NCC] came to see me [at the main NCC campus at Tsaile] and presented me with one of his tiny number of give-away copies of his just out classic:  Mother Earth, Father Sky, and Economic Development:  Navajo Resources and Their Use [University of New Mexico Press.]   He died three weeks later at Farmington.  Our Redbadbear list especially has on it a number of New Mexico activists of many ethnicities — and One Struggle.

Among the major and historic radical figures at Phil’s memorial service at Shiprock was Craig Vincent who, with his wife Jenny, had once owned and operated the famous San Cristobal Valley Ranch, deep in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, close to Taos.  Always staunchly interracial and always radical, the Ranch, in the ’40s and ’50s, was vacation and R & R host to a long flow of  embattled Left activists.

An enduring treasure of my family – the Summer, 1953 issue of the California Quarterly, devoted in its entirety to the just filmed Salt of the Earth [with the original film script, many photos, and interviews with principals], carries some interesting ads.  And one states:  Vacation At San Cristobal Valley Ranch  /  Interracial  /  for reservations write:  Craig and Jenny Vincent  San Cristobal, New Mexico.

Phil Reno, a great fighter, had spent a lot of time there. 
It’s genuinely gratifying that writers and film people are providing solid works concerning the significantly positive roles played by refugee Jewish academics in Southern Black colleges [these almost always being those schools under private auspices, rather than those under Southern state — segregationist — control.]

Life at Tougaloo with Dr. Borinski

JUST MARRIED,  my wife, Eldri, and I arrived –I to teach and she to work in the business office — at Tougaloo Southern Christian College [now simply Tougaloo College],  a few miles north of Jackson, in the ominous summer of ’61 and were immediately taken in tow by a number of  very friendly Tougalooans — and very much indeed by my divisional chair, the cordial Dr. Ernst Borinski.  [He was always “Dr Borinski” to me.]  When I first saw him, short and stocky with a face that was an almost consistently cordial smile, he wore a white — very slightly soup-stained — shirt and a tie. 

Entrance to Tougaloo College

He never seemed to  Eldri or to me or to most others  to  ever age or change [ very rarely he wore a rumpled black suit coat as a token concession to whatever formal occasion ] — over the almost quarter of a century, until his death, in which we remained good friends. 

His Social Science Lab at Tougaloo, and his  extraordinarily stimulating Social Science Forums — I remember, for example, the still not that widely known Martin King as one Forum figure and also the quite left Dr Otto Nathan  from New York as another; and Pete Seeger came  [and many other fine activist and academic movers and shakers. ] And the Forums occasionally drew a few Mississippi white students and a Mississippi white professor or two as visitors — this enraging the virulently racist Hederman press [Clarion-Ledger and Jackson Daily News] whose tirades had absolutely no inhibiting effect whatsoever on Dr Borinski or anyone else at Tougaloo.


[In an interesting commentary on human complexity and evolution of some sort, the  somewhat changing South  eventually saw the younger Hedermans turn the utterly racist Jackson newspapers into at least fairly reasonable things.  But they  then sold out to Gannett and moved to New York and bought and still have the New York Review of Books.] 

Dr Borinski, though never referring to himself as an activist, was always very much indeed a teacher activist. While he never seemed to consider himself a radical – he certainly always called me one, and always cordially so!  — he was very much indeed a radical in the best “to the roots”  socio-economic sense.

AS WE MUCH YOUNGER folk moved in 1962 and 1963 to build the massive, non-violent direct-actionist and  ultimately blood-dimmed Jackson Movement, Dr Borinski was a very strong and consistently dependable back-up supporter — as he was of all human rights endeavours, whether in the Closed Society of the Jim Crow South or anywhere else on the planet.  Dr Borinski was also an excellent cook, whose luncheons at the Social Science Lab  were and are certainly very well remembered by the countless fortunate — and he channeled all sorts of excellent European food concepts and tangibles directly into Mississippi culture. 

To the end of his life, he kept up deeply and well with people.  He always gave excellent books to  many young people; and my son, John, still has all of those he received [the last being just before Dr Borinski’s death], now all read by John’s own children.
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ANOTHER STORY TO be told is the role of certain of the more courageous private Black colleges in the South — two examples of several were Tougaloo and Alabama’s Talladega College — both under Northern church auspices and affiliated with the United Negro College Fund — in providing a teaching/activist base for  very explicitly  radical professors. And there are other interesting and positive tales in this vein:  the first of the Native-controlled tribal colleges in the United States was Navajo Community College [now Dine’ College], founded and led — until his tragic death in ’72 — by a very close friend of our family, Ned A. Hatathli [or Hatathali.]

Ned was quick indeed — and very fortunate — to hire Philip Reno, a Marxist economist and very well known radical as faculty  member and as a general consultant: Phil, a New Deal figure, had been viciously attacked by Whittaker Chambers, had played a major role in the Henry Wallace/Progressive Party campaign in Colorado and New Mexico, served as a key economist for the left Cheddi Jagan administration in Guyana, worked for Mine-Mill, and much much more. I was very privileged to teach with Phil when I, too, wound up at NCC — in the 1978-81 period. [ I became chair of Social Sciences, based at the main Tsaile campus and Phil was on the Shiprock campus — but we were always, of course, very closely linked in a variety of endeavours.]

Like Dr. Borinski, Phil Reno was a sharp and genuinely practicing  multi-cultural entity and a very effective teacher/activist/radical in every fine sense. And like Dr. Borinski at Tougaloo,  Phil Reno was  very deeply admired and respected in the NCC community. Just before his death [May 1981], Phil presented me with an inscribed copy of his just out work:  Mother Earth, Father Sky, and Economic Development: Navajo Resources and Their Use (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1981).  [I’m happy to say that this fine classic  has since been reissued by UNM Press.] 

The outdoor memorial service for Phil Reno was held at Shiprock (N.M.).  The invocation was given  in Navajo and English by Dr Bahe Billy, a close friend of Phil’s, Dean of the Shiprock Campus, a traditional Navajo who was also a Mormon.  A large number of Native people — mostly Navajo but from other tribes as well, were present along with academics  — and the most  absolutely fascinating  collection of old-time Western radicals ever gathered in such a setting.  

What a reunion! What a time! And the hot wind blew very hot and thirty to forty miles an hour.


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Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari’
Member, National Writers Union AFL-CIO
(much social justice material)
I have always lived and worked in Borderlands.
See the Stormy Adoption of an Indian Child [My Father]:
(Expanded and feathered out much in May 2012)
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 close upon
the 50th anniversary of the massive Jackson Movement of1962-63:
Personal Background Narrative (with many links):