As remembered by Hunter Bear
February 2, 2012
The news of Cleveland Donald, Jr.'s passing comes as a stunning and extremely heavy shock to myself and Eldri. We have corresponded very regularly with Cleveland on a number of social justice matters — including global issues involving people of color — for the past several years. We have known him since he was 14 years old and a founding member of the North Jackson NAACP Youth Council to which I was Advisor. He played a major role in the development of our Jackson Boycott in 1962-63 which grew into the massive Jackson Movement of 1963. Along with a great many other people in that epoch of great struggle, he and his parents ran many risks of many kinds. But Cleveland and his family always kept going toward the Sun, steadily and sturdily.
Eldri has always recalled giving Cleveland several of her college philosophy books which he devoured — and always saved.
Just two weeks or so ago, he wrote to congratulate me on having been one of four Native civil rights activists honored on Martin Luther King Day. He also gave the basic points of a fine and inspirational sermon he had just composed.
Cleveland will always go on fighting and learning for very good causes. A great many of us will always carry him with us.
And here is a written account of mine involving a very long telephone coversation Cleveland and I had in 2009:
A LONG TALK AND A LONG WALK, BACK AND FORTH THROUGH TIME [HUNTER BEAR/HUNTER GRAY — SUMMER, 2009]
Yesterday around these parts — as has been the case for weeks — we've had extremely heavy rain. Record-setting and the whole region is under a serious flash-flood watch. Up here on our Idaho hill we are, of course, "high and dry" with a large blooming green yard area and the ever-imperialistic Russian Olive tree [only one of our many trees] moving again to try to envelop our house. Josie [our youngest] and Cameron and Baby Aiden ["Exit"] were in the nearby small town of Inkom which was inundated with flash flood stuff but were on higher ground at Cameron's aunt's home — and eventually got back to Pocatello. Last night, my great Cat, the indefatigable Sky Gray awakened me as usual around 2 a.m. There is some question as to whether she sees me as a playmate or a plaything but her singular attention and devotion to me are infinite. [I am sure this strikes a considerable note of resonance with the several Cat people on some of these lists, e.g., David McReynolds, Sam Friedman, and Lois Chaffee.]
Intermixed with all of this, was a very long and excellent phone visit with Cleveland Donald, Jr. who called from the East Coast where he's a Black Studies — and also Caribbean — professor at a large university. And, at the same time, he's a busy clergyman. It was a time machine kind of conversation — laced with dramatic Mississippi episodes and the names of old friends, some still with us, some gone, and some — like murdered Medgar Evers — long gone. Cleveland was one of the first Jackson kids I met when I assumed the role of "Adult Advisor" of the then tiny — about nine members — North Jackson NAACP Youth Council at the end of the summer of 1961 soon after we came to Tougaloo College. At that time, he was 14, a serious guy who, when he visited us at Tougaloo, often became engrossed in Eldri's several books on philosophy — some of which she subsequently gave him.
Meeting in semi-clandestine fashion in an old church in the northern part of Jackson, the Youth Council grew steadily, carried out manageable and effective single-issue civil rights thrusts, and in the early fall of 1962, numbered several dozen stalwarts manging in age from nine years into the early 'twenties. Most were in high school. Early on we ditched and ignored — with Medgar Evers' [NAACP field secretary] quiet approval the requirement by the National NAACP office that all Youth Council members anywhere had to belong formally to the NAACP. At the same time, the Youth Council began to stimulate student activism at Tougaloo College — then a few miles north of Jackson. I met regularly with the North Jackson kids at the church and many began coming to our home on the Tougaloo campus. Lots of Tougaloo students also came to our place — and the Salter home became known to Magnolia friends and foes alike as "Salter's coffee house." The activist dream of a widespread multi-issue economic boycott of downtown Jackson — with the longer range vision of widespread and massive nonviolent direct action focused on even more issues — began with the Youth Council but very early on sparked great good fire at Tougaloo. Thus in that fall of '62, we planned the Jackson Boycott and its increasingly possible large scale direct action connotations with almost militaristic precision. [Given the state of militarism today, I would use the very apt term, "Iroquoian organizational methodology" — very systematic, carefully and reasonably structured, democratic.] Through all of this, Cleveland was a major stalwart.
On our discussion lists, Lois Chaffee, Joan Mulholland, and Steve Rutledge join me [and Cleveland] with those forever engraved-in-our- minds images of those truly Great — and extraordinarily dangerous — times. They certainly and personally know the score.
We launched the Jackson Boycott on December 12, 1962, when Eldri [my spouse] and I and four Black students picketed the Woolworth store on downtown Capitol Street. It was the first civil rights picket in the city's history. We were immediately arrested by between 75 and 100 of Jackson's huge all-White police force. The hysterical reaction by the power structure and news media gave us the publicity we needed. Concurrently, North Jackson and Tougaloo students began what became months of heavy sub-rosa boycott leafleting in the Black neighborhoods, and speaking appearances at Black churches began in earnest. The Youth Council flowered out with hundreds of youthful supporters and there was great activism from Tougaloo — where Eldri emerged as the Adult Advisor to the Tougaloo NAACP Chapter. In the meantime, we all welcomed support from those — not really that many in Jackson itself at that time — involved with other civil rights organizational perspectives.
The saga of the Jackson Boycott Movement and its emergence into the massively non-violent Jackson Movement — in the face of the most brutal and often bloody repression by hordes of "lawmen" and vigilante Klan types is covered in great detail, along with many collateral matters, in my own book, Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism. We also have a number of Hunterbear website pages on our wild — but always well organized — crusade — out on one of the most dramatic of "social frontiers."
At one point, at the end of May 1963, hundreds of Youth Council members and supporters gathered at Farish Street Baptist Church. After various speeches, they formed into a developing mass march and — as they moved out onto Farish Street, pointed — toward the downtown area — Cleveland was at the very front rank. He gave me a huge smile. The marchers were confronted by hundreds of Mississippi lawmen of various kinds who clubbed many, threw the "subversive" American flags carried by some marchers into the gutters of Farish street, and loaded the hundreds of demonstrators into a long fleet of dirty, filthy garbage trucks — carrying them to the Mississippi State Fairgrounds concentration camp on the edge of Jackson. Standing on Farish Street, Medgar Evers and I watched this display of the highest courage and the essence of rank brutality, and Medgar — a veteran of the late War's European theatre — commented,
"Just like Nazi Germany."
The Jackson Movement fought on through increasing drama and bloodshed. In the end, it cracked Jackson and sent deep fissures across the entire state. It played a key role in sparking comparable efforts in the Southern region and, very well publicized, it did a tremendous amount indeed to breach the "Cotton Curtain" and bring Dixie's version of racist totalitarianism to the attention of the nation and world.
Cleveland, like all of us, was always very supportive of Jim Meredith, whose entrance into Ole Miss as the first Black to crack Mississippi's rigidly segregated multi-level educational system came at the end of September 1962. That signal Happening was accompanied by massive racist demonstrations at Jackson itself, a destructive and lethal White riot at the Oxford-based University — well to the north of Jackson — involving at least many hundreds of White Mississippians and sympathetic racists from across the South, and more Federal and Federalized National Guard troops [with U.S. Marshals] than General Washington had commanded during the Revolutionary War.
But, after Meredith, always heavily guarded by Federals, was finally installed at Ole Miss, Cleveland told me, wistfully, "I wanted to be the first Negro into Ole Miss."
And I told him, "You'll get there."
And he did. He was a very, very early indeed Black student into that citadel — his entrance, though marked by tension, outwardly routine.
In 1979, he was a professor of Black Studies at Ole Miss. A large civil rights retrospective conference sponsored by Tougaloo and previously all-White Millsaps College at Jackson, was scheduled and I was one of a number of featured speakers. Cleveland asked me if I'd come to Ole Miss and speak to the Black students and any interested others. John, oldest son, and I came from the Navajo Nation in our big yellow Chev pickup [with New Mexico plates]. Cleveland, meeting us at our Oxford motel, escorted us to the meeting. There were, by that time, several hundred Black students at the University and, in addition to his personal sponsorship, the very large and enthusiastic meeting was under the auspices of the Black Student Union. Some interested non-Blacks, mostly Mississippians, were there as well.
Cleveland and I have always kept in touch. And when we talked for so long last night — traveling back and forth through personal and Movement epochs and contemporary challenges — we were, frequently and somehow still, the high school kid with the philosophy interests and the new-to-Mississippi agitator from Northern Arizona.
So, as the rain came down in Idaho, we covered a lot of time and turf.
In the mountains of Eastern Idaho
As remembered by Mary Ann Hall Williams
February 3, 2012
Mr. Salter, thanks so very much for this posting. I remember your telling me way back when I reconnected with you, that you were in contact with Cleveland. Didn't realize that he left Tougaloo in 1964 and became the second Black to attend Ole Miss. Goodness gracious, he certainly accomplished a lot.
Interestingly, he autographed my Tougaloo yearbook in May, 1964. That's when I realized how deep and philosophical he was. I always knew he wad a good, bright kid. Some kids would write any old thing as an autograph but he asked if he could take the book with him and return it later. I have reread his note on several occasions thru the years because it had such an impact. After 48 yrs. the ink is making it harder to read but I know it's there. Thanks again.
Incidentally, I had heard about his death via a friend in Facebook. Thanks again . Regards to the clan.
WWW, Mary Ann
As remembered by Steve Rutledge
February 3, 2012
Hunter — As one of the other people that first got to know Cleveland Donald Jr in the North Jackson NAACP Youth Council, I share your sadness and shock at his passing. He was like the "point of the spear", meaning he would always want to be out front leading by example. He, and others like him, are why we can continue to say with confidence, "We Will Win" no matter how many counter currents we go up against.
Thanks for sharing your recollections.
Yours in the struggle