Hunter Gray (John R. Salter) Papers, 1889-1992, 1996-2000

Biography/History

John R. Salter Jr., was born February 14, 1934 and raised in Flagstaff, Arizona. His father, a Wabanaki Indian (Micmac/Penobscot), was the adopted son of William Mackintire Salter, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Ethical Culture Society, and was a leader of the Indian Rights Association.

John Salter Jr., graduated from high school in 1951, and then earned bachelor's and master's degrees in sociology in 1958 and 1960 from Arizona State University. During his years in college, Salter organized student groups at ASU, and did volunteer work for the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, among other groups. Following graduation, Salter taught sociology at Superior State College, Superior, Wisconsin, 1960-1961, and in 1961, became an assistant professor at Tougaloo Southern Christian College, in Jackson, Mississippi. He quickly became a leader in civil rights and community organizing activities. On December 12, 1962, Salter, his wife Eldri, and four Tougaloo students helped organize a boycott of white businesses in downtown Jackson, demanding an end to discrimination against black workers and consumers. The boycott was continued by the Jackson chapter at the NAACP, and backed by the national NAACP, Congress of Racial Equality, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Southern Conference Educational Fund, and the Gandhi Society for Human Rights. Although Salter and the other picketers were beaten and arrested, the long-term boycott proved successful, especially as a means of organizing the Jackson black community. However, the withdrawal of NAACP support of direct action, coupled with the June 12, 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers, and the injuries boycott leaders Salter and Rev. Edwin King suffered in a car accident on June 18 (an accident that Salter believed was “rigged”), led to the end of the mass demonstrations.

In September of that year, the Salters moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he began work as a SCEF field secretary. For much of the following four years Salter worked with Southern poor people, helping them to develop grassroots community organizations. Two of those years were spent with SCEF projects in North Carolina and elsewhere in the South. In Halifax County, North Carolina, Salter organized boycotts, non-violent demonstrations, and federal lawsuits to obtain voting rights, and to curb segregation and Ku Klux Klan terror. He also acted as a consultant for several anti-poverty programs, among them The North Carolina Fund and the Peoples' Program on Poverty, which he helped to organize. During the 1965-1966 school year Salter taught at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, but then returned to North Carolina as director of training with the North Carolina Fund, a state-wide poverty agency. He was eventually deemed “too radical” for the position, and fired. In 1967, Salter moved to Buckley, Washington, where he spent a year teaching low-income Indians, blacks, and whites at Rainier State School, and also pursued doctoral level work at the University of Washington. The next year he taught at Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and organized locally for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

In early 1969, Salter became southside director of the Chicago Commons Association, one of Chicago's largest and oldest private social service agencies. While working with the Association, Salter became involved with local American Indian programs, and worked with the American Indian Center. He also taught part-time at Roosevelt University in Chicago. From 1973 to 1976 he chaired the Chicago-based Native American Community Organizational Training Center. He continued his community organizing and work with Native Americans as a member of the department of urban and regional planning and advisor to Indian students at the University of Iowa, and developed the American Indian Cultural Center at Iowa State Penitentiary, both from the summer of 1973 until December 1976. At that time he became the director of the Office of Human Development of the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, New York. Also from 1973 to 1976, Salter developed and taught courses for the American Indian Cultural Center at the Iowa State Penitentiary, and served as a member of the federally-funded American Indian Business Association and of the Iowa State Indian Education Advisory Committee.

Among his projects while director of the Rochester programs were the establishment of low-income neighborhood and block groups, and the organization of a 1977-1978 strike of Algonquin Indian mink-skinners in Ontario County, who were protesting low pay and substandard working conditions. Not all of Salter's activities nor his independence pleased his superiors, however, and in 1978 he was dismissed for insubordination. In 1979, Salter published a book, Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism, and a piece for the book, Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out. From 1978 to 1981 Salter was chairman of the Education and Social Sciences Division and taught sociology at the Navajo Community College, Tsaile, Arizona. In 1981 he moved to the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, North Dakota. He has also been active in many American Indian rights causes.

Salter married Eldri Johanson, the daughter of a Dalton, Minnesota, Lutheran minister. They are the parents of four children, Maria, John III, Peter, and Josephine. John R. Salter changed his name, circa 1995, to John Hunter Gray, his original family name, and in 2000 to just Hunter Gray.