Obituary
Howard Jeter, 89, Was Civil Rights Activist

Contact Ryan Curtis at [email protected]





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Howard Jeter, a longtime Berkeley civil rights and fair housing activist, died early Friday morning of heart failure, according to his son. He was 89.

Known for being the first black substitute teacher in Berkeley, Jeter fought for fair housing as well as other civil rights issues for several decades in the Bay Area.

Born in Atlantic City, N.J., in 1917, Jeter first came to the Bay Area in the 1940s to recover from an injury he sustained while enrolled in the ROTC at West Virginia State College.

He would remain a Bay Area resident for the rest of his life.

“He lived in California for over 50 years,” said his son Charles Jeter. “He loved it as soon as he got here.”

Unable to purchase a house for himself in Berkeley because blacks were not allowed to own property in the city, Jeter had a white friend buy an apartment house on Ashby Avenue in 1948, which he rented to white residents.

“He had white tenants who paid him rent, but they couldn’t know it so he pretended to be the gardener,” Charles Jeter said. “When some of the tenants found out, they moved out in protest.”

Jeter was a substitute teacher during the 1950s in Berkeley and El Cerrito, and later taught biology in the San Francisco Unified School District, his son said. After a car accident in the early 1970s, Jeter took early retirement, giving him more time to pursue his other interests, and to advocate for civil rights.

During the 1960s, Jeter was involved in the Free Speech Movement and worked on the city’s Committee for Fair Housing to obtain fair housing for people of all races, religions and ethnicities.

“He was always very adamant about standing up for what you believe in,” Charles Jeter said. “He wanted to fight to help his family and those around him.”

Jeter was not the only one in his family who fought for civil rights. In 1963, his cousin Mildred Jeter married a white man, violating a ban on interracial marriages. After a series of lawsuits, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned their conviction in the landmark 1967 civil rights case Loving v. Virginia.

Jeter was also a farmer who owned 38 acres of land in Solano County from 1959 until 1976, growing hay and alfalfa and raising Black Angus cattle. He was a founding member of the Ecological Farming Association, an organization that aids organic farmers and advances ecologically sound agriculture.

Jeter also helped his friend Shyaam Shabaka open the EcoVillage Farm Learning Center, an environmental education and social justice organization in Richmond.

“He was a very hard worker and he never let anything stop him,” said Shabaka, now the center’s executive director. “This is a big loss for the whole community.”

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