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Date: Mon, 07 Jan 2002 17:56:16 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Negroes with guns
Negroes with guns
By Dr. Michael S. Brown
January 7, 2002
The year was 1957. Monroe, North Carolina, was a rigidly segregated town
where all levels of white society and government were dedicated to
preserving the racial status quo. Blacks who dared to speak out were
subject to brutal, sadistic violence.
It was common practice for convoys of Ku Klux Klan members to drive through
black neighborhoods shooting in all directions. A black physician who owned
a nice brick house on a main road was a frequent target of racist anger. In
the summer of 1957, a Klan motorcade sent to attack the house was met by a
disciplined volley of rifle fire from a group of black veterans and NRA
members led by civil rights activist Robert F. Williams.
Using military-surplus rifles from behind sandbag fortifications, the small
band of freedom fighters drove off the larger force of Klansmen with no
casualties reported on either side.
Williams, a former Marine who volunteered to lead the Monroe chapter of the
NAACP and founded a 60-member, NRA-chartered rifle club, described the
battle in his 1962 book, "Negroes With Guns," which was reprinted in 1998
by Wayne State University Press.
According to Williams, the Monroe group owed its survival in the face of
vicious violence to the fact that they were armed. In several cases, police
officials who normally ignored or encouraged Klan violence took steps to
prevent whites from attacking armed blacks. In other cases, fanatical
racists suddenly turned into cowards when they realized their intended
victims were armed.
Oddly, it appears that the organized armed blacks of Monroe never shot any
of their tormentors. The simple existence of guns in the hands of men who
were willing to use them prevented greater violence.
It is important to note that the guns were not used offensively. They were
part of an overall strategy that relied primarily on peaceful protest like
picketing or entering whites-only establishments. Williams demonstrated
that the dignified and responsible use of firearms for self-defense was an
important method to achieve justice for those denied fair treatment by all
institutions of government.
The civil rights movement was deeply divided between those who espoused a
pacifist, non-violent approach and those who believed that human beings had
a right and a duty to use force in self-defense. Williams was the most
influential leader of the self-defense wing of the movement.
His effort to provide guns and training to African-American civil rights
supporters was alarming to white politicians. Most state gun control laws,
not just in the South, were blatantly designed to keep guns out of the
hands of blacks and other minorities. Those with racist beliefs were not
pleased when blacks claimed the right to keep and bear arms that is
guaranteed to all Americans.
The connection with the NRA might surprise some people who portray the
organization as a haven for racist rednecks. Former NRA Executive Director
Tanya Metaksa spoke with Williams before his death. She recalls, "He was
very proud of being an NRA member and that the NRA sanctioned his club
The civil rights organizations of today bear little resemblance to the
deadly serious armed activists of Monroe. African-American leaders
generally support the liberal white line that guns are evil and have no
place in modern society.
On the other hand, small numbers of responsible black gun owners continue
to honor their heritage by practicing their marksmanship and joining gun
rights organizations. The tradition of the black gun club still lives on in
the Tenth Cavalry Gun club, led by Ken Blanchard in Prince Georges County,
While researching this column, I contacted Don Kates, a civil rights
attorney who went to North Carolina in 1963 to participate in the movement.
I asked if he ever carried a gun during those days and he responded with a
list of a half-dozen that were always within reach. Kates also suggested
that I read a letter written by an old friend of his from those days, John
R. Salter, Jr., who is now Professor Emeritus at the University of North
Dakota. Here are two brief quotes:
"In the early 1960's, I taught at Tougaloo College, a black school in
Jackson, Mississippi. I was a member of the statewide board of the NAACP
and was Chairman of the Jackson Movement. No one knows what kind of massive
racist retaliation would have been directed at grass-roots black people had
the black community not had a healthy measure of firearms within it."
"During most of the 1960's I did civil rights work in various parts of the
South and almost always had with me a .38 special Smith and Wesson
2-inch-barrel revolver - what you would now erroneously call a "Saturday
In 1962 the Monroe freedom fighters were overwhelmed by a huge mob that
converged on the town. The Justice Department and the state police ignored
calls for help. The rabid racists were aided by law enforcement who branded
Williams a communist and a dangerous schizophrenic.
Rob Williams eluded an FBI manhunt and fled to Cuba, which he erroneously
believed to be totally free of racism. Within five years he realized that
Cuba was not as he had imagined and moved on to China. There he was treated
as a celebrity and returned to the United States in 1969 with the quiet
blessing of Richard Nixon.
Williams worked as a China scholar at the University of Michigan and
reportedly advised Henry Kissinger on Chinese affairs. He died in 1996.
Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist and member of Doctors for Sensible
Gun Laws, www.dsgl.org. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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