Robert Williams’ first stint in the military did a small amount of good in his life by allowing him to take his first creative writing course. Now that he was discharged, he qualified for the GI Bill and other Veterans Administration Programs. He would return to North Carolina a man with a plan, to become educated and work as a writer.
This plan was interrupted by Williams’ first foray into armed self-defense. In 1946, Bernie Montgomery killed a white man in a dispute about payment for car repairs. He was convicted and sentenced to death. The local KKK planned to raid the funeral home that held Montgomery’s body to desecrate it in public. The black veterans of Monroe banded together and created a battle plan to defend the funeral home. When the KKK came, they were met with rifle fire and forced to retreat.
Fighting was not the only activity that Robert Williams found upon his return to Monroe. He met and married a local woman named Mabel Ola Robinson. Mabel will be crucial in the success of Robert Williams in the battle to come.
After two years of marriage, Williams decides he can best provide for his family by moving back to Detroit and working at Cadillac Motor Company. He also rejoins Local 600 UAW. Never giving up on his dream to be a writer, he got published in a 1949 issue of the Detroit Daily Worker. The piece was a fictional rendition of his own life. Working at a Cadillac plant provided enough stability for Mabel to finish high school.
As in many of Williams’s previous jobs, he butted heads with management. He was fired in February of 1949 for excessive absenteeism and threatening to beat up his boss. Never deterred, he enrolled in West Virginia State University, because they had one of the best courses in creative writing. Once he had another child, he felt it best to move back to North Carolina to get aid from his family while using the GI Bill.
The North Carolina College for Negros in Durham was the first stop in attempting to be educated back home. However, within the same year, he transferred to his Grandfather’s alma mater John C Smith College in Charlotte. His time at John C Smith was well used. Many newspapers published him including the Socialists Workers Party newspaper and Freedom edited by Paul Robeson. Unfortunately, the GI Bill ran out before Robert Williams completed school.
On the bright side, Williams was already a trained machinist with many years of experience. He moved to Woodbridge, NJ, to work in an aircraft factory while living in Harlem. This stint in Harlem was not the same as the first. This time he became associates with many communists and socialists. Never actually joining any organizations because he did not believe in many aspects of communist dogma. The first point of contention was communist opposition to religion. Another flaw in communist philosophy was the idea that Black and White workers would unite. Williams had been around white workers all his life. None ever wanted to unite with him.
The interaction with communists increased the FBI’s surveillance. Williams moved home to be with his family. He could only find menial work. So in 1954, Williams decided to go the Los Angeles to find factory work. The FBI informed potential employers he is a security risk, making landing interviews impossible. Angry and dejected Williams joined the Marine core to avoid homelessness.
Williams took the aptitude test and was told he could work in the communications division. It appeared his dream of becoming a professional writer was coming true. He breezed through basic training and felt he was finally being treated as an American. Then the reality of race hit him in the face. The Marines made him a supply sergeant. When Williams protested, the Marines told him no blacks were in the communications division.
This slight did not go without protest. Williams wrote many government officials, including the President, whom he told he wanted to renounce his American citizenship. As punishment, the Marines stationed him in Nevada at a location that tested soldiers’ ability at sub-zero temperatures. Williams continued to protest, resulting in a dishonorable discharge in 1955 after 16 months.
His stint in the military and civilian workforce hardened Williams militancy. At every turn, his hard work was repaid with slaps in the face due to race. When people live in a society that will not allow them to realize their potential, they inevitably become subversive.For the rest of the series click HERE