Tuesday, 26 June 2007

SPECIAL ROBERT F WILLIAMS SERIES (part 2 - intro by T.B. Tyson)

In this Robert F Williams series, we present the second part in the form of Timothy B Tyson’s introduction to the 2002 edition of Robert F Williams’ Negroes with Guns which was first published in 1962.

Tyson has written the excellent and only biography of Williams in Radio Free Dixie: Robert F Williams & The Roots of Black Power. Through this book Tyson shows how much of a seismic impact Williams leadership, politics, strategies and tactics, and the experience of his struggle in his Monroe (North Carolina) NAACP chapter/branch, had on the Black Liberation Movement / Civil Rights Struggle.

It was through struggles such as Williams, Malcolm X / Malik El-Hajj Shabazz, Student Non-Violent Co-ordination Committee (SNCC) and others that contributed to the birth of the emerging mass militant phase of the struggle, in which the Black Panther Party formed in 1966, was the most powerful result. The US authorities managed to smash this struggle through a brutal campaign of black propaganda, assassination and imprisonment through the state program of COINTELPRO, a counter-insurgency program designed for dissent and urban rebellion in the US.

Negroes with Guns continues to be a seminal text for all those communities who struggle against racist and neo-colonialist oppression. Hopefully this Sons of Malcolm series will contribute in a small way to popularising Williams’ legacy.

Sons of Malcolm

26 June 2007


Robert F Williams, Black Power and the Roots of the African American Freedom Struggle

Timothy B. Tyson

Timothy B. Tyson is an assistant professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Michigan. He has written a biography of Robert F Williams ‘Radio Free Dixie’.

Negroes with Guns is one of the most telling and important documents of the African American freedom struggle. Hammered together by exile Robert F. Williams and editor Marc Schlieffer in Havana in 1962, this book influenced a generation of young black insurgents and helped to lay the groundwork for the Black Power movement. Negroes with Guns fascinated Huey P. Newton and became the most important intellectual influence on the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland, California.(1) Historians August Meier and Elliott Rudwick observe that Williams “had a profound effect” within the Congress of Racial Equality.(2) Williams also had a significant influence among members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the South and among residents of inner-city ghettos across the country.(3) A play based on Negroes with Guns, Frank Greenwood’s “If We Must Live,” ran in community theaters in the Watts section of Los Angeles for six months in 1965 to standing ovations from eager crowds.(4) For members of the Revolutionary Action Movement, the Republic of New Africa, and for many other young race rebels, Negroes with Guns became a kind of bible of black militance. It was not that Williams advocated violence against white people, Anne Braden, of the Southern Conference Educational Fund, noted in a review published in 1963.(5) Williams “merely articulated what many people feel and what many more people will express unless change comes rapidly.”

African Americans, however, were not waiting on the federal government to rescue them. “Armed self-defense is a fact of life in black communities-north and south,” one North Carolina activist wrote to Williams in 1965, “despite the pronouncements of the ‘leadership.’ “ (6) By the end of the decade, of course, many of the views that Williams expressed in the late 1950s would seem commonplace. But Negroes with Guns does more than introduce us to a prophetic figure, a harbinger of the violent upheavals to come. It captures for us a snapshot of the movement at what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “a stage of profound crisis.”(7) When Negroes with Guns appeared in 1962, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was six years in the distance and nonviolence had produced little in the way of tangible political results. The country’s response to the United States Supreme Court’s 1954 mandate to desegregate “with all deliberate speed” demonstrated no speed and little deliberation. As Negroes with Guns went to press, legal victories had produced only a wave of white terrorism, a smattering of token concessions, and a host of elaborate evasions of the law; nonviolent direct action had little to show for all the brutality it had unleashed in its opponents. On the side streets and back roads of the “civil rights”-era South, whatever dramas might play out in the public square by day, black activists slept lightly and kept their guns close at hand. Negroes with Guns gives us a remarkably vivid and accurate glimpse of the brutal and authentic political terrain that activists of the African American freedom movement sought to transform. It also affords us the best available view of a remarkable mind of the South, Robert F. Williams, one of the most dynamic race rebels of a generation that changed the world.

Robert Williams was born in 1925 to Emma C. and John L. Williams. His father was a railroad boiler washer in Monroe, North Carolina, a town of six thousand in the North Carolina piedmont .(8) Women born in slavery still tended vegetable gardens along the street where young “Rob” Williams grew up. His grandfather, Sikes Williams, born a slave in Union County, had attended Biddle Institute in nearby Charlotte after Emancipation and became one of Union County’s first black schoolteachers.(9) He enlisted as a Republican activist during the late 1800s and “traveled all over the county and the State making speeches and soliciting support for the Party.”(10) Sikes Williams also published a small newspaper called “The People’s Voice.” (11) The interracial “fusion” coalition of Republicans and Populists which he had labored to build won every statewide office in 1896. “THE CHAINS OF SERVITUDE ARE BROKEN,” Williams and his interracial allies proclaimed to their black constituents that year. “NOW NEVER LICK THE HAND THAT LASHED YOU.’(12) Two years later, however, white conservatives overthrew the democratic process. In a campaign of fraud and violence all across the state in 1898, the party of white supremacy seized what Democratic editor Josephus Daniels celebrated as “permanent good government by the party of the white man.”(13)

Robert’s grandmother, Ellen Isabel Williams, lived through all of these struggles and was “my greatest friend,” he wrote later.(14) “She read everything,” he recalled, and “specialized in history.” Ellen Williams would point to the iron printing press rusting in the shed and tell the young boy stories of Sikes Williams and the crusading editor’s political exploits. She reminded her grandson that she had been conceived in the union of her mother with their master, Daniel Tomblin. Before she died, Ellen Williams handed young Robert a gift that symbolized much that slavery and the struggle for liberty had taught her: she gave him the ancient rifle that his grandfather had wielded against white terrorists at the turn of the century.(15)

In 1946, 2 I-year-old Robert Williams stepped down from a segregated Greyhound in the uniform of his country. Military training had given black veterans “some feeling of security and self-assurance,” he recalled. “But most of all they taught us to use arms.”(16) Like thousands of other black veterans, Robert Williams did not come home to pick cotton.(17)

Another returning black veteran, a friend of Williams’s named Bennie Montgomery, did come home to raise cotton on the farm that his father operated as a sharecropper for W. W. Mangum, a large-scale white landowner near Monroe. Saturday, June 1, 1946, was a regular workday on the Mangum place, but Montgomery asked Mangum for his wages at noon, explaining that he needed to go to Monroe and have his father’s car repaired. Mangum apparently kicked and slapped the young veteran, and Montgomery pulled out a pocketknife and cut his employer’s throat. The Ku Klux Klan wanted to lynch the black sharecropper, but instead the state police whisked Montgomery out of town, tried and convicted him of murder, and ten months later executed him in the gas chamber at Central Prison in Raleigh.(18)

State authorities shipped the sharecropper’s remains back to Monroe. Robbed of their lynching, however, the local chapter of “the invisible empire” let it be known that Bennie Montgomery’s body belonged not to his family, but to the Ku Klux Klan. “They was gonna come and take Bennie’s body out and drag it up and down the streets,” J. W. McDow, another African American veteran, recalled. “I rather die and go to hell before I see that happen.”(19) A group of former soldiers met at Booker T. Perry’s barbershop and made a battle plan. When the Klan motorcade pulled up in front of Harris Funeral Home, 40 black men leveled their rifles, taking aim at the line of cars. Not a shot was fired; the Klansmen simply weighed their chances and drove away. Former U.S. Army PFC Robert F. Williams carried a carbine that night. So did three of the men who would become key lieutenants in the “black militia” that Williams organized ten years later.(20) “That was one of the first incidents,” Williams recalled, “that really started us to understanding that we had to resist, and that resistance could be effective if we resisted in groups, and if we resisted with guns.”(21)

Williams was in the Marine Corps in 1954 when he heard that the United States Supreme Court had struck down school segregation. “At last I felt that I was a part of America and that I belonged,” he wrote.(22) I was sure that this was the beginning of a new era of American democracy.” (23) When he came back to Monroe, however, he discovered that the Brown decision and the 1956 triumph of the Montgomery Bus Boycott provoked Ku Klux Klan rallies near Monroe with crowds as big as 15,000.(24) “The echo of shots and dynamite blasts,” the Southern Patriot reported in 1957, “has been almost continuous throughout the South.”(25) The Monroe NAACP dwindled to six members who then contemplated disbanding. When the newest member objected to dissolution, the departing membership chose him to lead the chapter. “They elected me president,” Robert Williams recalled, “and then they all left.” (26). Finding himself virtually a one-man NAACP chapter, Williams turned first to the black veterans with whom he had stood against the Klan that night back in 1946. Another veteran, Dr. Albert E. Perry, became vice president. Recruiting from the beauty parlors, pool halls, and street corners, Williams built a cadre of almost two hundred members within a year. (27) The Monroe branch of the NAACP became “the only one of its kind in existence,” Julian Mayfield wrote in Commentary in 1961. “Its members, and supporters, who are mostly workers and displaced farmers, constitute a well-armed and disciplined fighting unit.”(28)

Under the leadership of Williams and Perry, the Monroe NAACP soon launched a campaign in 1957 to desegregate the local tax-supported Monroe Country Club, where white children enjoyed free swimming lessons while black children swam in farm ponds and drainage ditches. Harry Golden, a prominent Jewish liberal from nearby Charlotte, called the Monroe swimming pool crusade “unwise and unrealistic.” Golden thought it “naive” of Williams to “experiment with the crude emotions of a small Southern agricultural community.”(29) But the decision to target the swimming pool was not a matter of ideology or tactics; several local African American children had drowned in these isolated and unsafe “swimming holes.” Golden was right, however, about what “crude emotions” could incite. The Ku Klux Klan blamed Dr. Perry for the resurgent black activism and a large, heavily armed Klan motorcade attacked the physician’s home one night that summer. Black veterans greeted the nightriders with sandbag fortifications and a hail of disciplined gunfire. The Monroe Board of Aldermen immediately passed an ordinance banning Ku Klux Klan motorcades, a measure they had refused to consider prior to the gun battle .(30)

An even more vivid local drama dragged Monroe onto the stage of international politics on October 28, 1958. Two African American boys, ‘Tuzzy” Simpson and Hanover Thompson, ages eight and ten, met some white children in a vacant lot. A kissing game ensued in which the ten-year-old Thompson and an eight-year-old white girl named Sissy Sutton kissed one another.(31) Rarely in history does an incident so small open a window so large into the life of a place and a people, a window that revealed both the visceral power of sexual questions in racial matters and the complex dynamics of Cold War politics for the African American freedom struggle .(32)

After the kissing incident, Sissy Sutton’s mother reported that she “would have killed Hanover myself if I had the chance.” (33) The girl’s father took a shotgun and went looking for the two boys. Neighbors reported that a white mob had roared up to the Thompson home and threatened not only to kill the boys but to lynch their mothers. (34) Later that afternoon, police officers spotted Hanover Thompson and Fuzzy Simpson pulling a wagon loaded with soft drink bottles. “Both cops jumped out with their guns drawn,” Thompson recalled. “They snatched us up and handcuffed us and threw us in the car. When we got to the jail, they drug us out of the car and started beating us.” The local juvenile court judge reported to Governor Hodges that the police had detained the boys “for their own good, due to local feeling in the case.”(35)

Authorities held the two boys for six days without permitting them to see parents, friends, or attorneys. Passing gunmen fired dozens of shots into the Thompson home. Klan terrorists torched crosses on the lawn.,”(36) For many white citizens, the case seemed to confirm the sexual fears that accompanied their vision of where school desegregation would lead. “If [black children] get into our rural schools and ride the buses with our white children,” one local woman wrote, “the Monroe ‘kissing’ incident is only a start of what we will have.’ (37). On November 4, Judge J. Hampton Price convened what he termed “separate but equal” hearings for the white parents and the black boys .(38) Denied the right to engage counsel or to confront their accusers, Hanover Thompson and Fuzzy Simpson were sentenced to Morrison Training School For Negroes. If they behaved well, Judge Price told the boys, it might be that they could be released before they were twenty-one. (39)

Robert Williams saw in the ‘Kissing Case” not only the irritational sexual lynch-pin of white supremacy but a unique political opportunity. The Monroe NAACP set in motion what Time magazine called “a rolling snowball” of worldwide publiCity.(40) In front of audiences across the country, Williams told stories of the two incarcerated boys and the freedom struggle in the South. Soon the ‘Kissing Case” emblazoned front pages around the globe, forcing Governor Hodges to hire a team of professors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to translate the tens of thousands of letters that poured into his office.(41) John Shure, head of the United States Information Agency at the Hague, reported that he himself had received over 12,000 letters “even though the response does not appear to have been organized.” (42) While the White House and the State Department expressed alarm at the damage to U.S. foreign relations, Williams had a ready answer: “If the U.S. government is so concerned about its image abroad, then let it create a society that will stand up under world scrutiny.” (43)

Governor Hodges soon launched a public relations campaign of his own to, as an aide urged the governor, “give the NAACP a taste of its own medicine ... [and] place the whole Confederacy in your debt.” The aide suggested to the governor that “by hitting directly at the communist connection, we might be able to convince people of the insincerity of these protests.” (44) The Federal Bureau of Investigation wrote to Governor Hodges that “Robert Williams has been under investigation for a considerable period of time” and that “you would have access to this information if you desire.” (45) The governor’s office then announced that the entire affair had been “a Communist-directed front,” that the families of both boys were “shiftless and irresponsible,” and that Hanover Thompson’s mother had “a reputation for using her daughters in prostitution.’ (46) The USIA and the U.S. State Department broadcast these charges around the world, apparently without convincing anyone. Three and a half months after Hanover and Sissy had kissed each other, Governor Hodges announced under enormous political pressure that “the home conditions have improved to the extent that the boys can be given conditional release.” (47)

The dynamics of racial conflict in Monroe not only undercut U.S. foreign policy but undermined the strategy of the national NAACP. The ‘Kissing Case” gained Robert Williams national attention. What was not well known was that some of the friends and allies he made during this period including Malcolin X, who invited him to speak at Harlem’s Temple Number 7 - raised money to buy military weapons for the Monroe NAACP.(48) The national office could not come to grips with either the urgent realities of racial politics in Monroe or the insurgent style of Robert F. Williams. The NAACP generally shunned so-called “sex cases” and any alliances that might leave the organization open to redbaiting.(49) Should the NAACP “ever get identified with communism,” Kelly Alexander, head of the North Carolina Conference of Branches, told a reporter, “the Ku Klux Klan and the White Councils will pick up the charge that we are ‘reds’ and use it as a club to beat us to death.”(50) Differences over strategy became bitter; Alexander complained to the national office that Williams “has completely turned his back on the one organization that is responsible for him being in the spotlight today,” while Williams griped that Alexander “sounds more like a Tom than ever.”(51) Roy Wilkins, the executive secretary of the national organization, began to refer to Williams in private as “Lancelot of Monroe.” (52)

In the late spring of 1959, two news stories from other parts of the South gripped black America. One was the lynching of Mack Charles Parker, accused of raping a white woman in Mississippi. Parker had been dragged from his cell and murdered by a mob that happened to have the jailer’s keys.(53) When Mississippi NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers heard the news of the Parker lynching, he told his wife, 1’d like to get a gun and start shooting.” (54) The other was the terrifying ordeal of four young black college students at Florida A&M Their double date after the college dance was interrupted by four white men with guns and knives. The drunken assailants forced the two 18-year-old black men to kneel at gunpoint while they undressed the two women and decided aloud which one they would kidnap and then gangrape.” In the wake of these notorious outrages, NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins conceded in a letter marked “NOT FOR PUBLICATION” that “I know the thought of violence has been much in the minds of Negroes.”(56) By early May, Wilkins admitted, the NAACP found it “harder and harder to keep feelings from boiling over in some of our branches.” (57)

Right on the heels of the Parker lynching and the terrors in Tallahassee, two pressing local matters brought Robert Williams and a crowd of black women to the Union County courthouse. B. F. Shaw, a white railroad engineer, was charged with attacking an African American maid at the Hotel Monroe. Georgia White, her attacker explained to the magistrate, had disturbed his sleep. Stepping into the hallway in his underwear, Shaw had struck the woman with his fist and kicked her down a flight of stairs. Slated for trial the same day, Lewis Medlin, a white mechanic, was accused of having beaten and sexually assaulted Mary Ruth Reid, a pregnant black woman, in the presence of her five children. (58) According to Williams, the black women of the Monroe NAACP had urged that two new machine guns that Julian Mayfield had smuggled into Monroe be tried out on Medlin before his trial.(59) “I told them that this matter would be handled through the law and the NAACP would help,” Williams recalled, “that we would be as bad as the white people if we resorted to violence.” (60)

The proceedings against the two white men compelled Williams to reconsider. The judge dropped the charges against Shaw in spite of the fact that he failed even to appear for court.(61) During the brief trial of Medlin, his attorney argued that he had been “drunk and having a little fun” at the time of the assault. Further, Medlin was married, his lawyer told the jury, “to a lovely white woman ... the pure flower of life ... do you think he would have left this pure flower for that?” He gestured toward Mary Ruth Reid, who began to cry uncontrollably.(62) Lewis Medlin was acquitted in minutes. Robert Williams recalled that “the [black] women in the courtroom made such an outcry, the judge had to send Medlin out the rear door.” The women then turned on Williams and bitterly shamed him for failing to see to their protection. (63)

At this burning moment of anger and humiliation, Robert Williams turned to wire service reporters and declared that it was time to “meet violence with violence.” Black citizens unable to enlist legal support must defend themselves. “Since the federal government will not stop lynching, and since the so-called courts lynch our people legally,” Williams declared, “if it’s necessary to stop lynching with lynching, then we must resort to that method.” (64) The next day Williams revised his remarks and specifically disavowed the reference to lynching. “I do not mean that Negroes should go out and attempt to get revenge for mistreatments or injustice,” he added, “but it is clear that there is no ... court protection of Negroes’ rights here, and Negroes have to defend themselves on the spot when they are attacked by whites.” (65)

Banner headlines flagged these words as symbols of “a new militancy among young Negroes of the South.”(66) Enemies of the NAACP blamed this “bloodthirsty remark squarely on the national office. “Hatred is the stock in trade of the NAACP,” Thomas Waring of the Charleston News and Courier charged. “High officials of the organization may speak in cultivated accents and dress like Wall Street lawyers, but they are engaged in a revolutionary enterprise.” (67) That very morning, when he read the words “meet violence with violence” on the UPI wire, Roy Wilkins telephoned Robert Williarns to inform him that he had been removed from his post as president of the Monroe NAACP. (68)

The 50th anniversary convention of the NAACP that summer of 1959 became a highly public show trial whose central issue was whether or not Robert Williarns would remain suspended. The national office printed up a pamphlet, “The Single Issue In The Robert Williams Case,” and distributed it to all delegates.(69) “The national office not only controlled the platform,” Louis Lomax wrote, but “they subjected the Williams forces to a heavy bombardment from the NAACPs big guns.” Thurgood Marshall visited the New York offices of the FBI on June 4, 1959 and urged agents to investigate Williams “in connection with [Marshall’s] efforts to combat communist attempts to infiltrate the NAACP,” an FBI memorandum stated.(70) Roy Wilkins twisted every available arm. Martin Luther King deployed his eloquence. Daisy Bates, the heroine of Little Rock, agreed to denounce Williams for advocating armed self-defense after the national office consented to buy $700 a month in “advertising” from her newspaper so that she could pay armed guards at her home.(71) Forty speakers, including King, Bates, and dozens of distinguished lawyers, rose one after the other to denounce Williams. But when the burly ex-Marine from Monroe finally strode down the aisle to speak, he was neither intimidated nor penitent.(72)

“There is no Fourteenth Amendment in this social jungle called Dixie,” Williams declared. “There is no equal protection under the law.” He had been angry, they all knew, trials had beset him, but never had he intended to advocate acts of war. Surely no one believed that. But if the black men of Poplarville, Mississippi had banded together to guard the jail the night that Mack Parker was lynched, he said, that would not have hurt the cause of justice. If the young black men who escorted the co-ed who was raped in Tallahassee had been able to defend her, Williams reminded them, such action would have been legal and justified “even if it meant that they themselves or the white rapists were killed.” “Please,” he beseeched the assembly, “I ask you not to come crawling to these whites on your hands and knees and make me a sacrificial lamb.” And there the pleading stopped. “We as men should stand up as men and protect our women and children,” Williams declared. “I am a man and I will walk upright as a man should. I WILL NOT CRAWL”. (73) In a controversy that the Carolina Times called “the biggest civil rights story of the year,” however, the NAACP convention upheld the suspension of Robert Williams.(74) The next day, Daisy Bates wrote to the Attorney General of the United States to complain about dynamite attacks on her home in Little Rock: ‘We have been compelled to employ private guards,” she wrote.(75)

Two weeks after the 1959 NAACP convention, FBI agents reported to J. Edgar Hoover that Williams “had recently begun selling a newsletter known as The Crusader on the streets of Monroe.” (76). The Crusader’s self-proclaimed mission was “ADVANCING THE CAUSE OF RACE PRIDE AND FREEDOM.” Sample mailings yielded several thousand subscribers across the country for The Crusader. Within weeks, the first published biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. appeared, hastily assembled by a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s board of directors. It was called Crusader Without Violence. (77)

These developments reflected the fact that, as Anne Braden of the Southern Conference Educational Fund wrote in late 1959, “the great debate in the integration movement in recent months has been the question of violence vs. nonviolence as instruments of change.” (78). In a series of public debates, Williams faced King, A. J. Muste, Bayard Rustin, David Dellinger, and others. He “drew a large audience to his debate with the pacifists,” George Weissman of the Socialist Workers Party wrote to Carl Braden in Loulsville, “and handled himself quite well.” (79) Among white Southerners, Williams argued, “there is open defiance to law and order throughout the South today.” Where law and order have broken down, he said, only self-defense can prevent murder by armed zealots who ‘ either believe they are killing for God or have abandoned conscience altogether. Always careful to endorse the methods espoused by King, Williams made the case for flexibility: “nonviolence is a very potent weapon when the opponent is civilized, but nonviolence is no repellent for a sadist.” Furthermore, he pointed out, “nowhere in the annals of history does the record show a people delivered from bondage by patience alone.” (80)

In a response to Williams published in Liberation and widely reprinted, Martin Luther King, Jr. conceded that white violence had brought the movement to “a stage of profound crisis.” The Supreme Court’s 1954 mandate and even the triumph at Montgomery had yielded small tokens, elaborate evasions, and widespread terror. Only three responses presented themselves. One could practice “pure nonviolence,” King said, but this path “could not readily attract large masses, for it requires extraordinary discipline and courage.” A position that encompassed legitimate self-defense was more practical. King pointed out that “all societies, from the most primitive to the most cultured and civilized, accept [self-defense] as moral and legal. The principle of self-defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed, has never been condemned, even by Gandhi. Here was where King the politician sensed his constituency. “When the Negro uses force in self-defense,” King continued, “he does not forfeit support-he may even win it, by the courage and self-respect it reflects.” This widely accepted position was, of course, precisely Williams’s view-which was King’s problem.

The third and most unacceptable position, King argued, was “the advocacy of violence as a tool of advancement, organized as in warfare, deliberately and consciously.” Here, then, was the pale beyond which King sought to cast his adversary. “Mr. Robert Williams would have us believe that there is no collective or practical alternative,” King insisted. “He argues that we must be cringing and submissive or take up arms.” Essentially, Dr. King had invented his own Williams, a kind of black Geronimo plotting military strikes against the white man, and then responded to that Robert Williarns instead of the calm but defiant man who had spoken. Lacking theological training and combative in his manner, Williams was vulnerable to this caricature. But the philosophical position from which King centered his own argument-preferring nonviolence, but endorsing “the principle of self-defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed” - was ‘precisely the position that Williams had taken. (81)

In 1961, Reverend Paul Brooks, employed by King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and James Forman, soon to become president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, came to Monroe in the company of 17 Freedom Riders fresh out of jail in Jackson, Mississippi. The young insurgents arrived in Monroe to launch a nonviolent campaign in Robert Williams’s backyard, though Forman later denied any intention to undermine Williams. One of the Freedom Riders announced that he had come to Monroe because he considered “Mr. Robert F. Williams to be the most dangerous person in America.” Another proclaimed: If the fight for civil rights is to remain nonviolent, we must be successful in Monroe. What happens here will determine the course taken in many other communities throughout the South.” (82)

Williams had a similar understanding of the stakes. I saw it first as a challenge,” he recalled, “but I also saw it as an opportunity to show that what King and them were preaching was bullshit.” (83) Two weeks of picketing at the Union County Courthouse grew progressively more perilous for the Freedom Riders. Crowds of hostile white onlookers grew larger and larger. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, August 28, a mob of more than 5,000 furious white people attacked the 30 demonstrators, badly injuring many. The nonviolent crusade swiftly deteriorated into mob gun battles. After a long night of terror, Williams and his family fled first to Canada, then on to Cuba, to escape the hordes of FBI agents who combed the countryside in search of them. One of the agents assigned to search for Williams reported his frustrations to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: “Subject has become something of a ‘John Brown’ to Negroes around Monroe and they will do anything for him.” (84)

The FBI dragnet never snared Williams, but it did not take Hoover long to hear from him. Every Friday night from 11:00 to midnight on Radio Havana, Williams hosted “Radio Free Dixie,” a program that from 1961 to 1964 could be heard as far away as New York and Los Angeles. Taped copies of the program circulated in Watts and Harlem. (85) From Cuba, Williams continued to edit The Crusader for about 40,000 subscribers .(86) Copies of The Crusader traveled down the Mississippi backroads with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizers; in 1964, when SNCC began to veer away from nonviolence, members cited Williams approvingly in the fierce internal debates. (87)

Though he became friends with Che Guevara and Castro himself, Williams yearned to return home and resisted the pressure to make his own politics conform to the Soviet line. Williams persuaded Castro to let him travel to North Vietnam in 1964, where he swapped Harlem stories with Ho Chi Minh and wrote propaganda aimed at African American soldiers. (88) In 1965, the Williams family relocated to Beijing, where they became friends with Mao Tse Tung and moved in the highest circles of the Chinese government for three years. When the Nixon administration moved toward opening diplomatic relations with China in the late 1960s, Williams bartered his almost exclusive knowledge of the Chinese government for safe passage home and a Ford Foundation-sponsored post at the Center For Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan. (89) Robert Williams spent the last 27 years of his life as a writer and activist in the small, troutfishing village of Baldwin, Michigan. At his funeral in Monroe, North Carolina on November 22, 1996, Mrs. Rosa Parks told the congregation that she and those who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Alabama had always admired Robert Williams “for his courage and his commitment to freedom. The work that he did should go down in history and never be forgotten.” (90) Above the desk where Williams completed his memoirs just before his death, there still hangs an ancient rifle-a gift, he said, from his grandmother.


1. In late September of 1966, Hugh Pearson reports, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale sat in the library of the North Oakland Center and constructed the theoretical basis for the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, relying heavily on Negroes with Guns. See Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther. Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America (Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1994), 28, 109. David Horowitz, who worked closely with the Black Panthers for a time, calls Negroes with Guns the most important intellectual influence on Newton. See Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties (New York: Summit, 1989), 146. Clayborne Carson names Williams as one of two central influences-the other being Malcolm X-on the formation of the Black Panthers. See Clayborne Carson, “The Black Panther Party,” in Encyclopedia of the American Left, ed. Mari Jo Buhle et al. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 96.

2. August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, CORE. A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942-1968 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975), 202-4.

3. Danny Lyons, Memories of the Civil Rights Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 147.

4. Anne Leslie, “Exciting in Form, Ugly in Content,” (Los Angeles) People’s World, July 3, 1965, p. 3. “LIVE is only running out of bookings now,” Frank Greenwood wrote to Williams six months after the play opened. “We appeared in Watts and really shook up and inspired the brothers out there.... My folks are ready, man! And particularly the young ones.... We did a free show for Watts and Venice teenagers at the center and afterwards they got up en masse and applauded.” See Frank Greenwood to Robert F. Williams, December 1, 1965, box 1, Robert F Williams Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, hereafter cited as Williams Papers.

5. Anne Braden, Southern Patriot 21, no. 2 (February 1963): 2.

6. Clyde Appleton to Robert F. Williams, September 20, 1965, box 1, Williams Papers.

7. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Social Organization of Nonviolence,” in A Testament of Hope: The Essentials Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James M. Washington (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991), 31.

8. Marcellus Barksdale, “Robert F. Williams and the Indigenous Civil Rights Movement in Monroe, North Carolina,” Journal of Negro History 69, no. 2 (spring 1984): 75; H. Nelson Walden, History of Monroe and Union County (Monroe, 1963), 15.

9. S. E. Williams, “Application Blank No. 15,” John Herman Williams Collection. I am grateful to Mr. Williams for sharing this and other family documents.

10. Crusader 1, no. 4 (July 18, 1959): 2; “The History of Our Family Reunion,” Robert and Mabel Williams Family Collection. 1 am grateful to Mrs. Mabel R. Williams for sharing family documents.

11. Robert F. Williams interview transcript, Robert C. Cohen Papers, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, hereafter cited as Cohen Papers, 53; Monroe Enquirer-Journal, “Monroe Historical Edition,” September 1974, 4-13,

12. “To the Colored Voters of Union County,” campaign flyer from Black History file, The Heritage Room, Union County Courthouse, Monroe, North Carolina.

13. See J. Morgan Kousser, The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), 76.

14. Robert Williams, “Someday I’m Going Back South,” Daily Worker, Detroit edition, April 9, 1949.

15. Crusader 1, no. 4 (July 18, 1959): 2; “The History Of Our Family Reunion,” Robert and Mabel Williams Family Collection; Tyson interview with Robert F. Williams, September 2, 1996.

16. Transcript of the Robert F. Williams interview with James Mosby, 18, Ralph Bunche Oral History Collection, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, hereafter cited as Williams interview with Mosby.

17. John Dittmer, Local People.. The Struggle For Civil Rights In Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 1-9.

18. Monroe Enquirer, June 31, 1946, 1, and March 31, 1947, 1.

19. J. W. McDow interview with Timothy B. Tyson, September 17,1993, hereafter cited as MeDow interview.

20. McDow interview; Woodrow Wilson interview with Marcellus Chandler Barksdale, Duke Oral History Collection, hereafter cited as Wilson interview with Barksdale; B. J. Winfield interview with Marcellus Chandler Barksdale, Duke Oral History Collection, hereafter cited as Winfield interview with Barksdale.

21. Williams interview with Mosby.

22. Southern Patriot 18, no. 11 (January 1960): 3.

23. Clayborne Carson et al., eds., The Eyes on the Prize Reader (New York: Penguin, 1991), 36.

24. (Charleston) News and Courier, September 21, 1956, 1-13, reports attendance at a Union, South Carolina rally at 12,000 to 15,000. Monroe Enquirer, March 17, 1958, 1, estimates that 1ast year ... cross-burnings and meetings here attracted thousands.”

25. Southern Patriot 15, no. 1 (January 1957): 1.

26. Williams interview with Mosby.

27. Williams, Negroes with Guns (New York: Marzani & Munsell, Inc., 1962), 50-51; McDow interview; Winfield interview with Barksdale; Wilson interview with Barksdale; Williams interview with the author; Williams interview with Mosby.

28. Julian Mayfield, “Challenge to Negro Leadership: The Case of Robert Williams,” Commentary, April 1961, 298.

29. Harry Golden, “Monroe, North Carolina and the ‘Kissing Case, Carolina Israelite, January 1955, 9 and January-February, 1959, 2.

30. “Article 111 Parades, Cavalcades, and Caravans,” in Code of The City of Monroe, 473-475, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

31. Kelly Alexander to Roy Wilkins, “A Report of Activities of the North Carolina State Conference of Branches in Reference to the Case of David Simpson and James H. Thompson of Monroe, North Carolina,” December 26, 1958, NAACP Papers.

32. See Patrick Jones, “ ‘Communist Front Shouts Kissing Case to the World: “The Committee to Combat Racial Injustice and the Politics of Race and Gender During the Cold War,” M.A. thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1996.

33. George Weissman, “The Kissing Case,” Nation, January 17, 1959, 47.

34. Gloster B. Current to Roy Wilkins, December 23, 1958, NAACP Papers. See also Charlotte Observer, January 12, 1959, 2-A; Carolina Times, January 10, 1959, 1; Monroe Enquirer, November 20, 1958, 1.

35. James Hanover Thompson interview with Timothy B. Tyson, May 13, 1993, hereafter cited as Thompson interview; J. Hampton Price to Luther H. Hodges, November 26, 1958, Box 423, “Segregation” folder, Governor Luther H. Hodges Papers, North Carolina Department of Archives and History, hereafter cited as Hodges Papers.

36. Thompson interview; Chicago Defender, January 17, 1959, 3.

37. Charlotte Observer, February 2, 1959, 2-B.

38. Chester Davis, “Press in North Gives Distorted Versions,” (Winston-Salem) Journal and Sentinel, February 8, 1958, 1.

39. “Transcript of Statements Made by Attorney Conrad Lynn During Interview on the Frank Ford Show,’ Radio Station WPEN, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 20, 1959, from 12:40 until 1:35 AM,” NAACP Papers.

40. The Time story, which appeared in the international edition of the magazine, was reprinted in full in the Monroe Enquirer, February 9, 1959,1.

41. Robert E. Giles to University of North Carolina President William C. Friday, February 6, 1959, Hodges Papers.

42. Basil L. Whitener to Luther H. Hodges, March 2, 1959, Hodges Papers.

43. Williams recounted these remarks in Crusader 4, no. 2 (August 1962): 4.

44. John Briggs to Bill Sharpe, cc to Luther H. Hodges, February 23, 1959; Bill Sharpe to Luther H. Hodges, February 12, 1959; Luther H. Hodges to Bill Sharpe, February 19, 1959, all in Hodges Papers.

45. 0. L. Richardson to Luther H. Flodges, n.d., Hodges Papers.

46. Chester Davis, “Communist Front Shouts Kissing Case to the World,” (Winston-Salem) Journal and Sentinel, February 8, 1958, 1.

47. Monroe Enquirer, February 16, 1959, 1.

48. Cohen Papers, 382. Malcolm referred to Williams as “my very good friend.” See David Gallen, ed., Malcolm X as They Knew Him (New York: Carrois’ Graf, 1992), 164.

49. Dan T. Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969).

50. Chester Davis, “Communist Front Shouts Kissing Case to the World,” 1.

51. Kelly M. Alexander to Roy Wilkins, “A Report of Activities of the N.C. Conference of Branches in Reference to the Case of David Simpson and James Thompson of Monroe, N.C.,” NAACP Papers; Robert F. Williams to George Weissman, December 17, 1958, Committee to Combat Racial Injustice Papers, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin, hereafter cited as CCRI Papers.

52. Roy Wilkins to P. L. Prattis, “Personal, Not For Publication,” May 28, 1959, NAACP Papers.

53. Howard Smead, Blood Justice: The Lynching of Mack Charles Parker (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

54. Mrs. Medgar Evers with William Peters, For Us, the Living (New York: Ace, 1970), 194.

55. Roy Wilkins, “Report of the Secretary to the Board of Directors for the Month of April 1.959,” NAACI‘ Papers. See also Washington Post, May 3, 1959, 4; (Baltimore) Afro-American, May 9, 1959; (Durham) Carolina Times, May 23, 1959, 1; New York Times, May 7, 1959, 22.

56. Roy Wilkins to P. L. Prattis, “Personal, Not for Publication,” May 28, 1959, NAACP Papers.

57. Afro-American, May 30, 1959, 4; Roy Wilkins, Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins (New York: Penguin, 1982), 265.

58. Monroe Enquirer, January 26, 1959, 1, and March 9, 1959, 1; New York Post, January 27, 1959, 4, May 7, 1959, 1, November 11, 1959, 1; Crusader 4, no. 7 (April 1963): 4; Carolina Times, February 7, 1959, 2, and January 31, 1959, 1.

59. Julian Mayfield, in his unpublished autobiography, claims that “a famous black writer made touch with gangsters in New Jersey and bought me two sub-machine guns which 1 took to Monroe.” See Julian Mayfield, “Tale From The Lido,” Julian Mayfield Papers, The Schomberg Center for the Study of Black Culture, New York Public Library. I am grateful to Kevin Gaines for sharing these materials.

60. Williams interview with Mosby.

61. Referral From May 11 Board Meeting,” I; Southern Patriot, vol. 18, no. 11 (January 1960): 3.

62. New York Post, May 7, 1959; Monroe Enquirer, May 7, 1959, 1; see also Jones, “ ‘Communist Front Shouts Kissing Case to the World,- 127.

63. Williams interview with Mosby.

64. “Rec’d via phone from UPI-May 6, 1959,” NAACP Papers; New York Times, May 7, 1959, 22.

65. “Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary, Complainant, against Robert F. Williams, Respondent, Brief for Respondent,” 1-2, NAACP Papers.

66. New York Times, May 7, 1959, 22; (Jackson, Mississippi) StateTimes, 1.

67. News and Courier, May 7, 1959.

68. Text of telegram from Roy Wilkins to Robert Williams, May 6, 1959, NAACP Papers.

69. “The Single Issue in the Robert Williams Case,” CCRI Papers.

70. Federal Bureau of Investigation Subject File, Thurgood Marshall, telegram from SAC, New York to Director, FBI, June 5, 1959. My thanks to Alex Charns for sharing these documents.

71. Daisy Bates to Roy Wilkins, July 23, 1959, Daisy Bates Papers, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

72. Louis Lomax, The Negro Revolt (New York: Signet, 1962), 112-114.

73. Pittsburgh Courier, July 25, 1959, 1; Crusader, July 25, 1959, 1.

74. Carolina Times, January 5, 1960, 1.

75. Daisy Bates, The Long Shadow of Little Rock (New York: David McKay Co., 1962), 162.

76. Robert Franklin Williams Federal Bureau of Investigation subject file, in possession of the author, hereafter cited as RFW/F131.

77. L. D. Reddick, The Crusader without Violence: A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959).

78. Southern Patriot 18, no. 11 (January 1960): 3.

79. George Weissman to Carl Braden, October 20, 1959, Carl and Anne Braden Papers, State Historical Society of Wisconsin. See also Crusader 1, no. 14 (September 26, 1959): 6.

80. Liberation, September 1959. See also Carson et al., Eyes on the Prize Reader, 110-13.

81. Carson et al., Eyes on the Prize Reader, 110-113.

82. Crusader 3, no. 6 (August 21, 1961): 3; James Forman interview with Timothy B. Tyson, January 17, 1997.

83. Williams interview with Mosby.

84. RFW/F131.

85. Robert Perkins to Robert F. Williams, Robert F. Williams Papers, University of Michigan.

86. United States Senate, Ninety-first Congress, Second Session, Part 1, Hearings Before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, Testimony of Robert F. Williams, February 16, 1970, 90.

87. Danny Lyons, Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 147.

88. Sidney Rittenberg, “Recollections of Robert Williams,” May 4, 1997, unpublished essay in possession of the author. See also Cohen Papers, 312; “Listen, Brother,” Williams Papers.

89. Rittenberg, “Recollection of Robert Williams,” 3. See also Williams, “While God Lay Sleeping: The Autobiography of Robert F. Williams,” typescript in the possession of Timothy B. Tyson, 237-319. My thanks to Robert Williams and the Williams family for sharing this manuscript.

90. Mrs. Rosa Parks, eulogy for Robert Williams, November 22, 1996, Central Methodist Church, Monroe, North Carolina.

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.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

‘OURAIM Magazine on Hamas & Hizbullah’ made illegal in Britain


Organisation to Understand Radical Arab & Islamist Movements


‘OURAIM Magazine on Hamas & Hizbullah’ now illegal in Britain

By Sukant Chandan


Editor of OURAIM publications

09 June 2007


- Magazine containing articles, extracts of books from academics and intellectuals and leaders of Hamas and Hizbullah closed down and magazines seized by police on Saturday 09 June under Section 44 Terrorism Act 2000 for displaying the Hamas logo on front cover.

- An attack on the democratic freedom to write, print and distribute information

- Reject criminalisation of independent media and journalistic activity

- The OURAIM Magazine on Hamas and Hizbullah has no direct or indirect organisational link to either organisation, and OURAIM does not support any Islamist movement

- An attack on the development mutual-understanding and respect between British and Arab and Muslim people, specifically Palestinians and Lebanese

- OURAIM stresses the necessity for developing dialogue and understanding as opposed to conflict and hostility


OURAIM’s magazine on Hamas and Hizbullah is a magazine that facilitates a greater understanding of the history, ideology of these organisations and their socio-political contexts. The magazine is purely for information purposes, and is in no way connected directly or indirectly to either Hamas or Hizbullah.

The magazine has been widely distributed in bookshops and at political events since the summer of 2006 when the Israeli military occupation and bombardment of Lebanon was at its peak.

The magazine features analysis of Hamas and Hizbullah by various academics such as Amal Saad al-Ghorayeb and Khaled Hroub, articles from political figures such as George Galloway MP in the article from The Socialist Worker, ‘Hizbullah is right to fight Zionist terror’. There are interviews, extracts from books and articles from newspapers of senior political leaders in the respective political organisations. One such article featured is Khalid Meshaal’s article in The Guardian, ‘We Shall Not Sell Our Principles for Foreign Aid’. Another such article are the extracts from Hizbullah Deputy General Secretary Sheikh Naim Qassem ‘Hizbullah, the story from within’, published by Saqi.


The OURAIM publication on Hamas and Hizbullah was effectively shut down and made illegal by the British state today on 9th June. This took place at approx 3.30pm, towards the end of the demonstration to commemorate the 40th year of the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories taken in the 1967 war.

Towards the end of the march, at the Strand edge of Trafalgar Square, I was apprehended by two police officers while selling these magazines on the demo. I was detained in total for one and a half hours on the side of the pavement, while the whole demonstration was streaming past. Five other demonstrators stopped to show support and were themselves detained by the police. We were asked to give our full personal details (name, address, DOB), and were searched (bags and pockets).

Another 11 demonstrators came to stand in support with us, and were very helpful and I would like to thank them all. Dr Mohammed Sawalha from the British Muslim Initiative was very helpful, as was another young Muslim man, and as were supporters of the magazine Fight Racism Fight Imperialism.

First the police officers informed me that the Hizbullah party logo which is displayed on the back cover of the magazine could be breaking the law, as they said Hizbullah are a proscribed terrorist organisation and the publication and promotion of the party through that logo could be breaking the law. This later proved to be incorrect as the police discovered after several calls to Special Branch from New Scotland Yard. In fact, Hizbullah is not a proscribed organisation in this country, nor is Hamas. It is Hizbullah’s foreign intelligence organisation and Hamas’ armed wing – the Ezzidine al-Qassam Brigades, that are proscribed on the terrorism list.

Towards the end of my detention by the police, a man from the demo approached me asking if he could buy the magazine, just as he was paying for it, the policeman said ‘I cannot allow you to sell it as it maybe illegal to be in possession of this magazine’.

Finally, about one hour and a half later, the police were told by Special Branch via phone calls, to state that it was not the Hizbullah logo that was the problem, but the Hamas logo on the front page, which was breaking the law under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, but they were going to let me and the other detainees go anyway. All of the magazines (the remaining 9, of a batch of one hundred which were all sold on the day) were seized as they were deemed to be illegal.

This act of political censorship and repression can be seen in context of the growing understanding, sympathy and even support for Hamas and Hizbullah in the British progressive, peace and solidarity movements. It must have been with consternation that the British establishment witnessed last summer on inner-city London streets people marching in opposition to the Israeli aggression against Lebanon, with many thousands of people carrying Hizbullah flags and one of the main slogans of the march itself being ‘We are all Hizbullah’. The seizure and banning of OURAIM’s magazine is a sign that the British state is clamping down on avenues of dialogue and understanding between people in Britain and in Palestine and Lebanon.



This act by the British state is an attack on the democratic rights of people to have access to information. Essentially, this banning is another example of the policies of the British state of criminalising attempts at pursuing, instead of war, violence and military occupation, strategies of mutual respect between the peoples of Britain and the peoples of the Arab and Islamic world.

It sounds rather bizarre to even have to assert an obvious democratic right; it is nevertheless important that people defend the democratic right to write, print and distribute, and have in one’s possession reading material such as the OURAIM magazine. It allows people access to a more nuanced and in-depth access to a subject which they would otherwise not find from the mainstream English-language media. Mainstream media seldom allows the opinions of real academic authorities on these issues, or the voice of the leaders of those movements. In the case of Hamas and Hizbullah, these are democratically elected political parties existing within mass municipal and national institutional and governmental structures.

It is very important to understand the significance and consequences of this clampdown. The Terrorism Act 2000 not only criminalises support (or suspected support) for democratic political organisations: by making possession of political literature a criminal offence, the state is attempting to put the public off political involvement altogether. Despite all the pious speeches about how to ‘re-engage’ a non-voting public, government policy in reality undermines the potential for engagement. If people see others being detained or arrested for possessing political literature, many will be scared to touch a political leaflet again.


Not Criminalisation and War

As in Ireland with the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Fein, Britain should pursue a path of political engagement based on the demands of the oppressed community: in the case of Ireland the Irish Catholics, Nationalists and Republicans; in the case of today, Muslims and Arabs (or anyone who might look like anything but white). Therefore it is even more important that people in Britain defend the right to have access to and read and hear these voices of the Arab and Muslim communities. The British could have saved thousands of lives had they engaged with the Republican Movement in the 1970s and 80s. British policy of criminalisation, imprisonment without trial (internment), supporting Loyalist death squads and military occupation didn’t work with the Irish, and it will not work today with Arab and Muslim people. British policies in Ireland in this period only served to lengthen the suffering of people then and intensify the conflict. Near exact British policies today are having the same effect in the Middle East and Afghanistan.


The sooner there is a political alternative based on mutual respect between the ‘West’ and the Arab and Islamic people, the sooner the world will avoid needless conflict and suffering, especially that of the Arabs and Muslims in the West and in the Arab and Islamic world. OURAIM seeks just this alternative through articles and analysis, publication and media work. We hope we can get wide support for our activities and other such similar activities.

Send messages of support to the OURAIM blog and donations via PayPal for our work and legal costs to the OURAIM to ouraim@gmail.com

Sukant Chandan is an expert on Arab and Islamic, Irish, Black Nationalist and Western Cultural Studies. He writes for two websites: Sons of Malcolm that focuses on ‘Third Worldist’ politics and the OURAIM website where one can regularly read articles and analysis about Arab and Islamic issues

He is the editor for the publications’ of OURAIM, which is a London based political think-tank seeking to understand radical Arab and Islamist movements. All proceeds from OURAIM magazines goes into the further development of OURAIM publications

He can be contacted at



Organisation to Understand Radical Arab & Islamist Movements