Wednesday, 20 June 2007


In order to further popularise the legacy of Robert F Williams, a man who contributed maybe more than most to the emergence of the modern Black Liberation Movement in the US, Sons of Malcolm will be running extracts from his seminal text of the Black Liberation Movement in the US - Negroes with Guns by Robert F Williams which was first published in 1962.

Williams was instrumental in the development and rise of the new confident and un-compromising activism and politics of the Black Liberation Movement at the time of the early 1960s.

According the Timothy B Tyson's excellent biography (and the only biography) of Williams Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power, Malcolm X raised funds for Williams National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) chapter/branch in Monroe, North Carolina. Williams’ chapter/branch of the NAACP was a very militant chapter/branch of the NAACP which was attacked by the reformist and rather mild leadership of the national NAACP leadership.

Huey Newton states in his auto-biography Revolutionary Suicide (extracts from which 'Sons of Malcolm' will run at some future date) that Williams’ Negroes with Guns was one of the main inspirations in founding the Black Panther Party for Self Defence in 1966, along with Malcolm X / Malik El-Hajj Shabazz.

The situation in Monroe intensified between the Black community on the one hand which were brutally harassed for their struggle against racial segregation/apartheid by, on the other hand by colluding forces of the police, KKK and the largely racist white population black community in Monroe. Finally, Williams had to go into hiding after being wrongfully accused of kidnapping, was on the FBI ‘most wanted’ list. He found exile in Socialist Cuba, and later lived in Socialist China, where he got Mao to issue a call in support of the struggle in the US.

In the first of this series, the foreword to the book by Gloria House from the edition of the book which was published in 2002.

Sons of Malcolm
20th June 2007


Negroes With Guns

By, Robert F. Williams

Foreword by Gloria House

Gloria House is an associate professor in the College of
Life-Long Learning at Wayne State University.

In August 1965, Ruby Sales, Joyce Stokes, and I sat on
filthy bunks in the Lowndes County Jail in Hayneville,
, singing freedom songs with the brothers who had
been locked in cells on the second floor. We could hear
them well, and raised our voices as loudly as possible-to
be heard by them, and to distract ourselves from our dismal
surroundings. The jail floor was awash with spillovers from
poorly working toilets; we kept our feet up on the
lice-ridden mattresses, and tried not to be overwhelmed by
the stench. We were waiting for Scott B. Smith and Stokely
Carmichael (now Kwame Ture), themselves only recently
released from the jail, and the Student Non-Violent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC) staff in -Selma to try to
raise our bail. As we tried to keep ourselves occupied, we
overheard a newscast on a deputy’s radio that a riot was
occurring in Watts, California. We identified with that
community instantly, feeling that those brothers and
sisters, in venting their resentment against oppressive
conditions, somehow acted as our very own champions as we
sat behind bars.

After almost two weeks in the Hayneville jail, we were
forced out at gun point. Minutes later, when we had walked
only a block away, a member of our group, Jonathan Daniels,
an Episcopal seminarian, was murdered as we watched in
horror. Father Richard Morrisroe, a Catholic priest from
Chicago, was wounded in the back so critically that he
required years of rehabilitative therapy before he could
walk again. Both men had come to the South to take part in
the civil rights movement. Lowndes County officials had
planned to kill Jonathan and Fr. Morrisroe to frighten and
dissuade other whites from involvement in the movement.

Our group had picketed a store in Hayneville for about half
an hour before the sheriff ordered us arrested, hauled onto
a garbage truck, and dumped at the county jail. Two weeks
later, after the local officials had sufficient time to
identify and deputize a marksman, the guards came to our
cells and told us that we were being released on our own
recognizance. We hadn’t received word from the SNCC office
in Selma concerning such an arrangement, so didn’t believe
what we were being told. We refused to leave the jail,
suspecting there might be foul play. The guards then forced
us at gunpoint to leave the jail and its surrounding
property. As we turned onto the main street and approached
a nearby store, we heard gunfire. Not knowing at the time
that the two white demonstrators were targeted, we were
terrified that all of us would die on that curiously
deserted main street in the county seat. When the shooting
stopped, we ran from house to house, trying to arouse help
for Fr. Morrisroe, who was moaning in excruciating pain. No
one opened to us; they had been notified that there would
be killings. In their retreat behind closed doors,
“ordinary” citizens collaborated in the murder and
crippling of young men who had come seeking justice.

Experience of subtle and blatant abuse of our human rights
was typical in the daily life of freedom workers. Combat
zones like the Hayneville main street characterized the
South during the period. Racist citizens and “law officers”
could abuse, intimidate, abduct, and murder civil rights
workers with full support and protection of the legal
system. Jonathan Daniels’ killer was acquitted, as were
many others who killed in the cause of race supremacy.

Before finally finding the bodies of Andrew Goodman, James
Chaney and Michael Schwerner in a dam, Mississippi law
officers unearthed many Black bodies from the rivers of
Mississippi. The abduction and murder of two white
youngsters, Goodman and Schwerner, and the appeal of their
families to the national government, had prompted a search
that would not have been carried out had all three freedom
workers been African Americans. No such searches had been
conducted to ensure that Black families could give proper
burials to loved ones who had been “disappeared” in the
course of struggle. Most Americans associate official
kidnapping, torture, and murder of human rights activists
with the practices of South American dictators. They would
resist seeing the activities of their own officials in this

The menace of unmitigated violence inundated the Southern
air like a heavy, suffocating humidity. Everyone on the
side of justice had to push against this weight; but those
outside the movement did not perceive it, understand it, or
give it serious consideration as a crucial factor impacting
every Black person’s daily existence. Outside the movement,
people seemed oblivious to whites’ derisive sneers whenever
they came in contact with freedom workers, unaware of the
jailings, the nighttime drive-by shootings, the evictions,
the setting afire of homes and churches, the beatings in
isolated, secret places; the instances in which
demonstrators were spat upon, the harassment with vicious
dogs and other forms of terror and abuse to which Blacks in
the South were routinely subjected. The United States
government arrogantly condemns other countries for such
human rights violations.

Today, more than thirty years since the so-called civil
rights period, historians continue to disregard the
staggering burden these forms of violence imposed upon
Black communities. Perhaps we will never know the total
number of casualties in this domestic war on African
Americans, and we have still to answer the question: When
people are subjected to unrelenting violence by organized
citizens and their government collaborators, what recourse
do they have? Robert Williams’s Negroes with Guns requires
us to reassess this issue.

Negroes with Guns chronicles Williams’s involvement in the
civil rights movement of Monroe, North Carolina. Recounting
several cases in which the human rights of individuals and
the Black community at large were violated, Williams shows
how the community’s policy of self-defense developed, and
why the local activists came to support his conclusion that
they had to “meet violence with violence.”

In 1955 Williams returned to Monroe from service in the
U.S. Marines. Wanting to help make life better in his
community, he assumed leadership of the local NAACP
chapter. The legal cases that he relates emerged from civil
rights struggles advanced by the community. The grievances
involved, which were never redressed by the legal system,
reflect some of the most brutal forms of dehumanization - a
Black woman hotel worker kicked down a flight of stairs by
a white customer, two young boys jailed for expressing
affection to a playmate, attempted rape of a pregnant Black
woman, organized vigilante attacks on Black neighborhoods
and freedom workers.

Since the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, and local law enforcers refused to provide
protection while surreptitiously supporting and enabling
the perpetrators of violence, the Monroe Black community
had no alternative but to arm itself and fight back. The
Williams home became a focus of hatred and armed attacks as
the Monroe movement continued. However, when Black men
organized armed defense teams and returned fire, the racist
mobs lost their nerve. Confirming the cowardice inherent in
mob mentality, Williams concluded that racists who might
ruthlessly destroy a community if they alone have weapons
will cease fighting when they discover that Blacks are
armed, for they find it “impossible to stomach the thought
of violence” if their lives are at risk.

Three decades after the first publication of Negroes with
Guns, there is still much to learn from Williams’s
experience and philosophy. First, it is important to be
clear that Williams advocated self-defense, not aggression.
He reminded the nation that when African American militants
protect their people, they are not introducing violence,
they are combatting it. He pointed out that “when people
say that they are opposed to Negroes ‘resorting to
violence,’ what they really mean is that they are opposed
to Negroes defending themselves and challenging the
exclusive monopoly of violence practiced by white racists.”

Second, Williams did not suggest that armed self-defence
was the whole answer. He maintained that self-defence
should function as a critical component in a broadly
conceived strategy for liberation, along with other
non-violent forms of struggle. He advised that a
community’s self-defence readiness could secure a safer
environment in which non-violent campaigns would have
greater chance of success. This theory merits further
consideration by contemporary activists, for given the
persistence of the Ku Klux Klan and the rise of right-wing
militia and other neo-Nazi organizations in the United
States, we cannot predict what attacks individuals and
communities of color may face in coming years. In March
1996, a “skinhead” soldier in the U.S. Army was convicted
for arbitrarily murdering a Black couple to prove himself a
loyal Nazi.

The nation turned a petrified gaze on Monroe’s selfdefense
actions; government and establishment representatives lost
no time condemning Williams and pressuring African
Americans to do likewise. The NAACP appears to have been
all too willing to comply, withdrawing financial support
from the Monroe chapter when it was desperately needed,
undermining Williams’s leadership, vilifying him in the
national press, and finally suspending him from office as
local president. That the NAACP national leadership acted
on behalf of the so-called liberal power structure to
police Williams and the Monroe community holds another
lesson. Williams was one of the first African American
leaders with courage enough to say publicly, “there must be
a struggle within our own ranks to take leadership away
from the black Quislings who betray us.”

Many African Americans and our leaders are in deep denial
concerning the tragic status of the majority of our
population. It is still easy for some to pretend that
racism, discrimination, and control of government by
private corporations are not causative factors in wide
scale poverty, unemployment, disease, homelessness,
stupendous incarceration rates for young Black males, the
flow of drugs and automatic weapons into our communities,
and fratricide among our youth. To advance their own
political careers, some Black leaders form alliances with
those whose policies sabotage community-building efforts by
African Americans. With only recent access to halls of
power in cities where we are the majority, African
Americans are reluctant to denounce the leaders who sell
them out. We don’t want to split ranks, to air dirty
laundry for national television, even when matters of
justice and human rights are at stake. What social advances
are we sacrificing through such duplicity? Williams’s book
inspires us to find a stronger collective backbone.

Negroes with Guns raises yet another unresolved issue: the
devaluation and degradation of African American women by
the larger society. A few cases cited by Williams concerned
the Monroe community’s attempt to protect Black women from
racist, sexist attacks. These cases illustrate sharply the
dehumanizing ways in which African American women have been
viewed and treated historically. Racist white men in Monroe
and throughout the South took for granted that they could
disrespect Black women, exploit them and assault them at
will, impelled by anger or lust. Though contemporary
activists and scholars have focused a good deal of their
energy on eradicating the negative images associated with
Black women, and heating the wounds of historic abuse, we
have not yet been able to get rid of the stereotypes which
provide Euro-American society a rationalization for its
denigration of African American women.

In terms of a legacy of struggle, perhaps Williams’s most
significant contribution was his effort to situate the
African American liberation struggle in the context of the
entire world. He rejected labels that would frame the
movement in too narrow terms. He was a humanist and an
internationalist, someone who identified with all the
world’s oppressed. He enlightened them about us, and us
about them. He was our liaison, pulling us onto the world
stage, and out of the confines of the “civil rights”
struggle. Williams knew that the African American movement
of the 1960s was part of the post-World War II movement of
people of color worldwide, who fought off foreign rule and
all forces that constrained their freedom. In developing
solidarity with the peoples of Cuba, Vietnam, China, and
other Third World countries, Williams offered a model for a
twenty-first century internationalism.

A man of immense personal courage and vision, Williams
foresaw before the cycle of urban rebellions that began
with Watts that there would be “many more racial explosions
in the days to come. Monroe was just the beginning.” His
prediction must be reflected upon, for racism continues to
fracture American society, violence still pervades every
aspect of our lives, and government “law enforcement
policies steadily erode our human rights. One may be
certain that the question of self-defense will emerge again
for national discussion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was a wonderful piece on Rob. Williams. The issue of armed self- defense never left the table for most thinking people who observe America.

With president Obama now more so than ever b-4 we must be ready for a white racist back-lash.