Our world desperately needs many more men like John Salter

OPINION - Kids at Sarah Lawrence don't know oppression

A demonstrator in the bloody 1963 Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in that focused intense national debate on segregation, John Randall Salter Jr. died Jan. 7 at his home in Pocatello, Idaho, of natural causes. He was 84.

Please pardon me. I am angry. And upset.

Angry at the spoiled (I’m guessing mostly rich and white) kids at Sarah Lawrence who are so oppressed they have to demand that someone give them fabric softener!

Poor, pitiful babies.

What makes me so angry is to compare the childish stupidity of those spoiled (mostly rich white) kids with some (mostly poor) black students of Tougaloo College, in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1963, and what they asked for.

One of my genuine heroes, known to me as John Salter and, more recently, as Hunterbear Gray, as the faculty adviser to the Junior NAACP, literally and truly risked his life leading his students in civil rights demonstrations.

John Salter, a friend and father of my friend, also named John Salter, died in January. One of my great sorrows, on learning that news, is that I didn’t maintain closer contact. We had been corresponding, but desultorily. And when he didn’t answer my last few e-mails, I should have known then he was ill. I’m ashamed of myself, but proud I could have known such a hero, such an admirable and courageous man.

John Salter was a native of Arizona.

According to his son, Salter grew up in Arizona and worked as a labor union organizer in the Southwest before moving to Mississippi. In Mississippi, the elder Salter was a sociology teacher and NAACP youth adviser at Tougaloo College in Jackson.

 

As the faculty adviser to the Junior NAACP, he led his students in protest demonstrations in Jackson.

He became world famous because of the iconic photo of him, sitting stoically at a lunch counter while crazed and violent whites assaulted him.

When activist Medgar Evers was murdered outside his home, his wife Myrlie first called the police; then she called John Salter to warn him.

He finally did move from Mississippi.

After leaving, he worked on voting rights in North Carolina, taught in Iowa, did human rights work for Native Americans in New York state and Chicago, and taught American Indian studies at the University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks. That was where I got to know him and his two sons, while I was working at the university radio station.

If a person is lucky enough to know one such person with the courage and strength of John Salter, he is very lucky.

Our world desperately needs many more like him. R.I.P.