Hunter Bear (John Salter, Hunter Gray)
(1935 — 2019)


As remembered by Hunter's grandson Bret and grandaughter Samantha
January 8, 2019

I am Hunter Gray's grandson, Bret, and I've been asked to let all of Hunter's friends know that he passed away in his home yesterday, the seventh of January, at the age of 84. We have received many fine tributes to Hunter Gray, and we find this one from his granddaughter Samantha especially fitting:

Even when you know it's coming, the death of a loved one is never an easy thing to swallow.

My grandfather lived a purposeful life. He was a civil rights leader in the 60s based in the deep red state of Mississippi, and he never let menacing opposition scare him away from standing up for injustice at every turn. He dedicated his life to the battlegrounds of protecting human liberties for all. Between experiencing various arrests, beatings by the police and racist bigots, and... even a bullet through one of his home windows, he never let those set on preserving prejudice slow him down or deter him from the cause. It's a rare type of stubborn bravery and conviction-based disobedience that the world is in desperate need of right now.

The thing I respect the most about him is that, despite his many encounters with individuals and organizations that espoused ugly, blinding hate, he never developed a misanthropic view of the world. He believed firmly that, although people were capable of doing horrific things and holding vile points of view that need to be opposed at every level, there wasn't a soul on Earth who was truly bad or beyond repair.

He may be gone from his home in Idaho, but his actions and his deeply held convictions have created lasting ripple effects that will linger on in wider society as well as in our small family.


As remembered by Joyce Ladner
January 8, 2019

I want to express my condolences to you and the rest of the family on the transition of Hunter Bear, whom I called Professor or Mr. Salter. . We met whenI was a freshman at Tougaloo College in 1961 or 1962 when he was a professor. I was quickly drawn to him and your grandmother, Eldri, because of their social activism in the Jackson, Mississippi boycott of downtown merchants. He and the slain civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, were partners in devising the strategy for the Jackson boycott.

This was the era of racial segregation and racial violence and it was not an easy or safe life for any of us. He and Eldri lived on the top floor of a white frame house next to a dormitory. I also spent part of the Christmas holidays with them at their home in Raleigh, North Carolina after they moved there to work for the AFSC, I think.

Although he is gone, he surely left the world far better, and his work will always speak for itself.


As remembered by Dave Ranney
January 8, 2019

I am sad to hear of his passing but feel privileged to have known and worked with Hunter. I met him when I was a young professor at the University of Iowa and he a community organizer in Chicago. I asked him to consider being a member of the faculty of Urban Planning at Iowa and he accepted. Our friendship deepened over those years and I learned a great deal from him. His book on Jackson is to my mind a classic.


As remembered by Jim Loewen
January 8, 2019

I first met John Salter (as he was known then) early in 1963, when I was a student (for just four days!) at Tougaloo College. This was part of my "junior year abroad" from Carleton College, which I spent mostly at MS State U (then "all-white") and at Tuskegee as well as Tougaloo. He was said to be "a Communist" and he said to me that he was. That knocked me for a loop, small- town Midwesterner that I was. I also met and became quick friends with Memphis Norman, and I met Joyce Ladner and other students who had already been mentored by John.

By the time I took up teaching duties at Tougaloo (1968-75), John was gone, but as you imply in your email, his influence lingered on. He and I have stayed in touch from then until now. His book, titled simply JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI, is a fine account of a crucial story in the deepest of all Deep South states. It will still be read a century hence.

In recent years, Tougaloo hurt John's feelings by not inviting him down as a paid speaker, but it wasn't on purpose. The college always struggles financially. I shall tell the Tougaloo "family" of his passing. Many will be moved. Let me invite everyone, if you wish, to make a donation to Tougaloo in the name of John Salter, Hunter Gray, or both! You could earmark your donation to the remarkable man who hired him, Dr. Ernst Borinski; a campaign to endow a chair in this famous man's name is underway but again, needs support. Or you could earmark your donation to Tougaloo's sputtering campaign to endow a "Mississippi Civil Rights Movement Chair."

Please note: I mention Tougaloo's financial need, but the college is viable, it just needs (and merits) financial help. The address:

Office of Institutional Advancement
Tougaloo College, 500 County Line Rd.
Tougaloo, MS, 39174.

John helped these two campaigns by supplying copies of his book, which then went to anyone donating a certain amount or more. I still have my personal copy, inscribed "With best wishes — John R. Salter Jr., Pocatello, Idaho, 12/10-/2011", and I shall send it to anyone who donates $1,000 (or more) to Tougaloo to support either the Borinski Chair campaign or the Civil Rights Chair campaign in John's memory.

Finally, I shall miss his always-interesting always upbeat comments to the "SNCC list," a.k.a. Civil Rights Movement volunteers.

Earth receive an honored guest.
Hunter Bear is laid to rest.

Addendum, July 17, 2020

He was the first live Communist I ever met. Growing up in Decatur, IL, and on the Republican side of town at that, never living outside the Midwest, and then I went to MS for my "jr. yr. abroad" in 1963 and spent four days at Tougaloo College. John (I knew him as John Salter, of course) was in the sociology dept., and I visited him at his/their (Eldri) home, on campus, and while I didn't expect to see actual horns, I wouldn't have been surprised ...

Gosh I was naive. But then, as Ernst Borinski always said, "What people have not learned, they do not know." MS in 1963 was an intensive learning experience for me, and Hunter Bear was an important part of my education.


As remembered by Virginia Aronson
January 8, 2019

I am sad and surprised to hear of Hunter Bear's passing. He participated in a book project of mine many years ago (Celestial Healing, Penguin, 1999) and we stayed in touch. He kept me updated regarding his health, which was surprisingly good despite the challenges he faced. His life stories are all so fascinating. Is anyone writing a biography?

He will be missed by many. An inspirational and courageous man.


As remembered by David Finkel, managing editor, Against the Current
January 8, 2019

Hunter Bear will be missed by us at Against the Current. Over the years he wrote several insightful and important articles for our magazine, most recently on the issue of guns Our Guns, Our Rights I thought of him as a bearer of profound, radical common sense that is all too rare these days.


As remembered by Amy Kittelst
January 8, 2019

Dear all, I share your sorrow upon the death of Hunter Gray. He was always so generous with his time and spirit--to many, I know, but to me it was responding to my questions about his father (whose adoptive father was central to my 2015 book) and going way beyond that to uplift my life and me as an individual. I will always remember his kindness, his strong sense of right, his devotion to the truth, and his blend of pride and humility. As his grandson rightly said, he was aware of injustice without hating. I am enriched to have known him.

Wishing you all well, grateful we remember him together.

Dear all who mourn, I wanted to make sure you knew that the Southern Poverty Law center just honored his passing on their Instagram page; I imagine they've put more elsewhere. I believe he would be gratified by this and thought I'd share this as comfort for all of us.


As remembered by Sam Friedman
January 8, 2019

I feel greatly saddened by this news and have spent the last several hours trying to take it in.

Hunter was an amazing and good person. I got to know him originally through email lists and was very impressed. When he got so sick with Lupus about 15 years ago, I decided that I wanted to meet him in person and arranged to be able to drive up from Salt Lake City to Pocatello to meet him and spend a couple of days with him and Eldri (and other members of his clan, including his cats). I am very glad that I did that! What a nice man! And perceptive! And I was also impressed by Eldri and other family members who were there.

I also had the opportunity to telephone him several times.

Hunter did remarkable things and accomplished an awful lot. He organized a lot of struggles and events, big and small, to the benefit of millions of people. I will treasure having known him.

I agree with David Finkel about the high quality of Hunter's writings in Against the Current and elsewhere. In line with David's comments, I am pasting below a short essay I wrote that discusses some of what Hunter taught me.


As remembered by Kathleen Marden
January 8, 2019

Thank you for notifying me of your grandfather's passing. He will be missed. Samantha has written a fitting tribute to your grandfather. He was one of this world's great men.

I met him at the home of my late aunt, Betty Hill, in Portsmouth, NH, shortly after his encounter with non-human entities many years ago. I also had the opportunity to meet your late grandmother, Eldri and their daughter Maria, on some of the several trips he made to visit my aunt. She thought very highly of him and your family. He mailed thick folders of information to Betty and me on the details of his experience, the positive physical changes he underwent that he believed were the direct result of contact, and his attitude toward his experience. He stated, "I think the ETs are definitely the children of the Creator, and I strongly think...that they are friendly but, given the turbulence of humanity, are understandably cautious."

Whereas many experiencers are traumatized by their experience, he perceived his encounter as benevolent. In my opinion, this is a reflection of who he was as a man. He had a sense of stubborn optimism that led him to to the opinion that strangers are not to be automatically perceived as enemies and that righteous and the greater good will prevail as long as as there are strong people willing to stand up against injustice. It was a great honor to meet him and to call him my friend.

My condolences to you and your family. May your fond memories of your grandfather carry you through this difficult time.


As remembered by Heather Tobis Booth
January 8, 2019

I never met Hunter, but was inspired by his courage and commitment. I was so impressed by how he passed on the lessons he learned for the next generation.

We can carry on his legacy to honor the many ways he made this a more just and democratic world.


As remembered by Romi Elnagar
January 8, 2019


Your grandfather was a light to many people. Please accept my sad and sincere condolences on behalf of your family.

We have known him to be ill for some time, and his death comes as no surprise, but I feel somehow that his spirit is still alive. He will be missed, but his words will continue to inspire me.

I came to know your grandfather several years ago through his Yahoo! group, RedBadBear and I have been proud to say that I know him, even at that distance. He has given me so much encouragement in my own views and life, and I will miss him very much. Many people knew him as a fighter, but I saw someone who was truly kind and compassionate, and I felt like he was like a father to me.

May God be with him, and with you and everyone whose life he touched.

Peace always,


As remembered by (Muriel) Elizabeth Hagen Smith
January 9, 2019

How sad to learn of Hunter Gray's death. His era comes to a close, and I'm not ready to accept it tho' I know our lives are brief and must end. Eldri, his wife, was my cousin. The family connection was cherished. Not everyone understood the meaning and breadth of their work for racial justice, but their work and advocacy served as a guiding beam of light in dark times. I always wished for more time to share thoughts and personal stories, and must now mourn my failure to stay more meaningfully in touch. Our paths in the journey for racial justice never crossed or merged in actual activities, but remained separated by time and place, tho' sharing a common vision.

I would treasure keeping in touch with children and grandchildren, even reading family archives should the opportunity ever open up. Progress towards justice continues, and we have the leadership and writings of Hunter Gray / John Salter to hold up as beacons through the opening paths (which are, alas, ever threatened by narrow minds).

I shall open up to read once more the one book, Jackson Mississippi, which we have in our personal library. Thank goodness it's still there as testimony. We have yet miles to go before we sleep.



As remembered by Joanne Gavin
January 10, 2019

Hunter Bear and I never met in person. He had left Jackson/Touglaoo shortly before I arrived there, and his days growing up in Flagstaff and friendships in the the Four Corners Navajo Community at Shonto were many years past when I visited my mother, who was at the time an employee of the Navajo/Dine' Nation at Shonto.

Some years even after that, just from reading his posts on this listserv, I thought he might have insight into some questions I had about those communities. He did, and generously shared them. He even remembered the cafi that my mother and her husband had operated in Flagstaff during a time that I had not visited there.

After that we had over the years several eMail conversations about various topics. When news came of his seemingly spontaneous remission from Lupus, I sent him a video of a Russian chorus singing the all-purpose Russian congratulatory song "Many Years!". He eMailed a delighted thanks.

From several other postings here I see that his generosity with may correspondents was legendary.

Thank you for your splendid life, Hunter Bear! You live on in the memories of many and will continue to do so for the "Many Years" that I am now singing to you in my thoughts. I will try to find it in a YouTube recording and listen. If anyone elese wants to share, the transliteration is probably listed as "Mnogai Ylyetta" or something close thereto.

Many, Many Years, Hunter Bear!!!



As remembered by Kari Fisher
January 12, 2019

Dear Bret and all of Hunter's family,

I thank you for letting me know about Hunter's death and Samantha, thank you, for articulating the essence of your grandfather. Yesterday, there was a public radio tribute to Hunter's life.

Even though I had never met Hunter in real life, I considered him a friend, comrade, and a mentor. In a time of reaction, he was a bold thinker who, as Samantha says, found the good in all of us (even when it seemed rather undetectable). On a number of occasions, I asked his advice — not just for political things, but as a parent and person in this world. He always made me feel like an equal — a rare gift. I so admired his ability to consistently and constantly reach out to all and to respond--probably the most important quality of an organizer. I will treasure his many emails and a copy of his book that he had sent me year ago.

Our friendship started with a response to an email question. I found myself surrounded my emails, resources, and an offer to join his list serve. I haven't been good of late in keeping up with it, but he had sent me a loving response when our friend David McReynolds died.

I will be thinking of you all and the deep legacy that he left us. I'm reminded of how he often says that his hard skull was an asset in this change the world stuff. I will strive to be more like Hunter--with a thicker skull, a more brave heart, and a more ability to respond.


As remembered by Amy Kittelstrom
February 2019

Thank you for the WaPo obituary; I found it gripping. I just thought I'd add below in case anyone is interested the background on his father, who was adopted by William Mackintire Salter, leader of the Chicago Ethical Culture Society, activist in defense of the Haymarket activists ... and assimilationist liberal. This connection is what got me corresponding with Hunter in the first place and I was grateful that he approved of my treatment of the topic, based heavily on his recall along with my research, in my book. So instead of the book I offer you a paragraph below for those who might be curious about that deeper context.

Grandfather Salter was active in the Indian Rights movement in the late nineteenth century, a "liberal" approach that centered on assimilation. Salter and his wife had lost a daughter, and when Frank Gray was orphaned they adopted him & brought him to Chicago, where Salter had been the most radical of liberals on the Haymarket affair and the conflict between labor and capital in general. Hunter told me that his father's life with the Salters was unhappy, so when they spent their summers in New England — in a house in Chocorua, NH, built on a lot carved from William James's parcel and sold to Salter for $1 — Frank Salter spent as much time with his Native relatives as he could. Ultimately he ran away and joined the military as a teenager. He later went to the Art Institute of Chicago with $ support from the children of William James; they'd played with Frank Salter as a child, considered him a cousin (and they weren't the children who mistreated him). Hunter sent me a woodcut print that his father had made, along with some precious photos (included in my book). I have the print on the wall near my desk and it speaks to me. It was scary for me to represent Hunter's family history in my book and when he approved of my treatment, I felt such relief. He was a rare and generous soul.


As remembered by Jim Williams
July 17, 2020

I always enjoyed Hunter's postings and ruminations. He was kind and helpful to me at a time when I needed some kindness and help.


As remembered by Bruce Hartford
July 17, 2020

He was unique. I always treasured his views and opinions so deeply and firmly rooted in the working class, up-from-the-bottom tradition of the American West and rank-and-file organizing.

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