Negroes With Guns (A Book Review)

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October 11, 2014 by JImbo


You would not believe how many odd looks I’ve gotten trying to discuss this book with people. Apparently there’s something edgy and borderline racist about even saying the title? I don’t get it.

It wasn’t controversial when it was written… for the negro part. That’s what “African Americans” referred to themselves as back in the 1960s. It’s written by a leader of the Civil Rights movement, Robert Williams.

What WAS controversial was the guns part. Not because guns were controversial. Everybody had a gun back then. It was more of the “Holy crap black people in the South are shooting back at the Klan!” variety.

That’s what the main thrust of this book is about. Robert Williams organized his NAACP chapter in North Carolina as additionally an NRA club. The racist whites in North Carolina had taken to shooting at them at harrassing the local black folks in the town of Monroe.

When the Klan came to town in force again, the black folks SHOT BACK. The previously lethargic police department suddenly took notice. They banned the Klan from marching through town without a permit and decided it might be smart to listen to the demands of the black citizens.

Meanwhile, the FBI labeled Williams as a domestic terrorist and “kidnapper.” The case was flimsy, but it was enough for 1960s North Carolina. So, he fled to Canada and then Cuba.

The interesting part is that unlike say Malcolm X or the Black Panthers, Williams’ point isn’t that violence is the ONLY WAY. He in fact spoke against offensive violence. He even quotes Martin Luther King, Jr and others in his book.

He simply states that if you don’t stand up for yourself BEFORE you start peacefully picketing, the authorities will not take you seriously. You have to prove you are a man by defending yourself. Then others will think twice about treating you badly because you are a human being.

If you don’t stand up for yourself, you are still an animal. They don’t feel morally bad because you aren’t human. Therefore, it is alright for them to treat you like a beast.

Martin Luther King, Jr did say that peaceful resistance was not for everyone. It takes a really strong person to sit there and be beaten, without striking back.

Moreover, he did not say you had to be defenseless. In fact, the Reverend King applied for a pistol permit after many death threats. He was denied by the racist local authorities who said he “didn’t need one.” However, many of his allies DID carry them.

Didn’t know that did you? Neither did I till a few years ago. It’s something that tends to get left out of the history books.

You are taught there were “good negroes” and “bad negroes”… ones who sat quietly and were attacked by dogs… and those who blew stuff up and killed people.

Mr. Williams writes that there was a third way. That third way was what ACTUALLY happened and what WORKED. Without enough local communities taking up guns to defend themselves (not attack whites… just shoot back when the Klan came in the middle of the night), then the all the picketing in the world wouldn’t have helped.

I find the argument compelling. It does make more logical sense. Even the most racist, cold hearted S.O.B is going to think twice if they think you’re armed.

Having peaceful protests by day and protecting yourself from violence by night meant the racists had to treat you as Americans. After all, isn’t gun ownership a right of every citizen? If you deny citizens the right to bear arms you are denying their right to defend themselves. If you do it on the basis of skin color, then how can you still pretend to defend equality?

Today we would call it “Synergy.” It reminded me of the Day/Night bombing by the USA and Britain against Germany in the Second World War. The Germans got no sleep. It was relentless. The Germans couldn’t get a strike back.

In the South, the pickets were endless. They organized regular shifts. Attempts to screw with people at night were met with guards who scared the Klan off. Unable to scare them physically or legally… and with the protests led by clergy, the Southerners lost the moral high ground and had to retreat, albeit slowly.

I’m not sure I believe all the stories and anecdotes of what happened. They have the ring of truth, but everyone wants to portray themselves in the best light. Mr. Williams was a wanted man trying to clear his name after all!

However, looking back the strategy in the middle… the “defensively armed strategy” that isn’t entirely passive nor entirely violent seems to make sense. Where it wasn’t used, the picketers were beaten quite badly. Where there was only violence against white men, there were reprisals and not much changed except more bloodshed.

I’m not sure why this isn’t talked about more in the history books. Maybe the teachers are in favor of gun control? Talking about folks defending themselves with guns would send a “mixed message” to young kids?

Maybe they truly are idealists trying to teach that “violence is never the answer?” Well, clearly sometimes it is. Does anyone think that if Gandhi were up against ISIS, he wouldn’t be beheaded in moments?

He was a great man, but he wasn’t magical. He died just like everyone else. Some people just have no soul or conscience to appeal to.

We aren’t a nation of cowards or passivists. Thinking back, we did have mixed protests back to the beginning of our nation. We didn’t START the Revolution against the British with violence. We started with the Boston Tea Party and tossing boxes into the harbor.

It was only after the Boston Massacre where we were protesting with signs and the British SHOT our people that it became more violent. Then, we responded defensively. In fact, some have argued we were TOO defensive for too long because we didn’t want violence.

However, fighting back made the British respect us. Not LIKE us mind you. However, they had to respect our dedication. Negotiation was preferred, but we were ready to defend ourselves.

That’s the American way.

It reminds me of the Epistle by St. Paul to the Galatians.

A preacher of the Gospel, being regularly called, ought, above all things,. first, to purify himself before he teaches others. Is he able, with a good conscience, to remain unmarried? let him so remain; but if he cannot abstain living chastely, then let him take a wife;”

I don’t think many men, especially Americans, can simply “turn the other cheek.” I’ve been thinking about this with a lot of friends talking about gun confiscation and increasingly government control here in New York. I have always urged that we need to go through the political process and peaceful protest.

I do understand however that there are times when talking won’t work. I pray we won’t see that day, but if they try to grab the guns of law abiding citizens, that will count as actions against the people. Unconstitutional actions

I don’t say “illegal” because any law passed is “legal” in that it was passed through the hands of politicians. It doesn’t make it “right.” Hell, the laws to round up Jews in Germany and to round up Japanese in this country during World War II were “legal.”

They weren’t Constitutional. They weren’t Moral. They weren’t Ethical.

But, they were LEGAL.

This perspective on the Civil Rights movement in this book reinforced that notion that not everything “legal” is “right.” Just like the “Jim Crow” laws of the South, simply making a law doesn’t mean we should follow it. Not if it violates the rights we hold as Americans.

If we DO allow them to take our rights as citizens, then what does it mean to be a citizen? If you fail to defend your rights, who will take you seriously? No amount of protest will get you back your dignity as a human being.

I’m still going to work through the system while there’s any hope. I encourage others to do the same. There are lots of avenues still to be traveled in this fight.

However, decide now where the line is for you. In your head. For your rights.

I can’t speak for everyone. Some men can be pushed farther than others. I hope the State doesn’t push too hard. Not every man (and woman) is a saint. But they are all human beings and Americans.



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