Black Leadership Analysis

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Commentary on Robert Williams

Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. King addressed the use of violence for self-defense in two speeches. One in 1959 and the other in 1962. In these speeches, he detailed how merely passing legislation does not translate into freedom for masses of people. Brown vs. Board of Education passed in 1954, yet few schools integrated. Many civil rights campaigns have led to limited integration in a few locales. An extended campaign of non-violent direct action undertaken by the masses is needed to ensure full integration and citizenship rights.

There were three philosophical schools of thought on violence. The first was the King/ Gandhi school of non-violent direct action. This method was seen as the most moral and is opposed to violence, even in self-defense. Because non-violent direct action took so much discipline and spiritual strength, it was difficult for people to join in the efforts. The second school allows for self-defense. As Gandhi said, self-defense is moral and acceptable for those who could not master non-violent direct action. The last school is the use of violence for advancement, warfare. King saw warfare as immoral.

King feared that Black people initially using violence in self-defense would devolve into warfare and vengeance-seeking. Neutralizing a small ban of rebellious blacks would be far easier the countering masses of non-violent protesters. Violence will end in the slaughter of people on both sides and the continued degradation and isolation of Blacks.

Only non-violent direct action can turn opponents’ hearts on civil rights and build the foundation of a new integrated society, as seen in India. It has also worked in Monroe, North Carolina, where authorities jailed a Black doctor. A non-violent protest freed him. The strategy can work if the masses of black people commit to resisting unjust laws.

In the speech given in 1959, King specifically addresses Robert Williams’s criticism. Williams accused King of only encouraging Blacks to be non-violent while being silent on America’s use of violence to suppress communism. King affirms he is against the use of violence by all actors. He opposed the war and the atomic bomb.

Truman Nelson

Truman Nelson wrote many books on the abolitionist movement. He compared the methods of Dr. King and Robert Williams to the abolitionists of the 1800s. He concluded that Mr. Williams’s efforts most parallel the abolitionist, and King’s strategy was incomplete.

Both William Lloyd Garrison and Henry David Thoreau began as pacifists. However, once they saw slaveholders use violence to hold on to power, they pivoted in favor of self-defense. Garrison went as far as supporting warfare in the case of John Brown’s raid. Oppressors never give up power unless forced.

Nelson also differentiates between vowing not to protect oneself versus not protecting others. It could be seen as moral to not fight back in self-defense, but cowardice cannot defend one’s brother. Gandhi went as far as to say “rivers of blood may flow, but let it be our (Indian) blood.” Is Gandhi showing moral superiority by sacrificing his fellow Hindus? What gives him the authority to make such a decision. One could ask the same question of King when he says protesters “should go to jail as a bridegroom enters the bride chambers.” Southern jails are known for torturing and assaulting prisoners. How can he ask his followers to go through this avoidable trauma?

The below quote sums up Truman Nelson’s view of non-violence for the Black Americans.

The American Negro is not a downtrodden Hindu, a palpitating mass of ingrained and inborn submission to being put in his place, a citizen of a land so impoverished and barren that a lifetime of abject starvation is the common lot, a land where living is so hard most want a God so they can hate him. 

The American Negro is a citizen of a rich land, with a citizen’s rights and duty to resist all attempts to deprive him of its manifold blessings. Why should he be urged to go through this Hinduizing to regain the rights he already won in 1776?

Marc Schleifer

Marc Schleifer wrote “A socialist plea for Black Nationalism” and was a writer for many socialist publications. He said Robert Williams would fit into the radical left labor traditions very easily. The old left holding onto the New Deal, opposes black militancy. Their way is dead as the New Deal loses more effectiveness every day. The new, more radical left can learn from Robert Williams. Black militancy is a new way forward for racial equality.

Robert F. William Philosophy

Robert F. Williams believed the Civil Rights Movement’s primary goal should be expanding economic opportunity. The equality he sought involved Black people not being hindered in economic advancement. Access to public accommodations was important but only as a preliminary step. His ten-point plan issued to Monroe County Government in 1961 best details his beliefs.

  1. Induce factories in this county to hire without discrimination.
  2. Induce the local employment agency to grant Non-Whites the same privileges given to Whites
  3. Instruct the Welfare Agency that Non-Whites are entitled to the same privileges, courtesies and consideration given to Whites.
  4. Construct a swimming pool in the Winchester Ave Area of Monroe
  5. Remove all signs in the city of Monroe designating one area from Colored and another for Whites.
  6. Desegregate the schools within one year.
  7. Provide adequate transportation for all school children.
  8. Formally request the Dr. Perry be reinstated to the state medical boards. His license was stripped for political reasons
  9. Employ Negros as supervisors in city government
  10. Act immediately on all these proposals

Other than the reinstatement of Dr. Perry and building a separate swimming pool, all the demands center on economic justice. Not only training through schools but access to jobs and government assistance programs.

Dr. King’s movement before 1961 focused on desegregating one local institution at a time. Mr. Williams applauds King’s efforts in the Montgomery Bus Boycott but realizes it was a small local victory. It did nothing to change Blacks’ plight in the rest of the country or the financial stability of Blacks in Montgomery. Ultimately, most Whites were wealthy enough to afford a car, so they didn’t care if blacks rode on the front of the bus.

What would it matter if a person is banned from going to restaurants if they never had enough money to go out. Economic justice made expanded accommodations matter. That is why those that push for economic justice will have far more resistance from the establishment. When the government turns on those advocating for progress, the only recourse is self-defense.

To be clear, Robert Williams did support and use non-violent direct action. He used a picket line to shut down the Monroe pool in 1957 and 1961. However, once counter-protesters began using violence, and the police refused to stop them, Williams saw he had to modify his tactics. The arming of the picketers forced the police to re-establish law and order. It reduced the violence an accelerated resolution. Once the establishment realized the continued conflict could result in the death of Whites. They found to compromise a suitable means of resolution.

Essentially, Williams differed from King because he saw non-violent direct action as a tactic not a way of life. The movement had to be flexible to be effective. If a situation arises when only a peaceful protest is needed, great. However, when the lives of friends and family are in danger, black people have just as much of a right as our colonial predecessors for self-defense. It is only when blacks decide to defend themselves are people upset.

Two weeks after Monroe’s Blacks defended the home of Dr. Perry, the Klan attacked a town of Native Americans. The press praised the natives’ ability to fight off the Kluxers but were silent on Monroe’s defense. The press understands if Blacks across the nation realize their power, they could shut the country down. There are not enough Natives to cripple the nation.

Blacks must overcome the fear that resistance would lead to annihilation. We are a strong and savvy people just as capable of defense as any other. Even when Blacks rebel on a small scale as they did in Detroit, the local economy was brought to its knees. If a large scale rebellion happened all over the country, American production would be brought to a standstill. The world would take notice, and many would aid Blacks in their struggle.

Violence for revenge is never condoned by Mr. Williams. He supported violence in self-defense. In a civilized society, where law and order existed for all citizens, passive resistance will be enough for change. However, the South was far from civilized. The idea that moral suasion could influence southern Whites was not realistic. These Whites didn’t feel shame for how they treated Blacks.

In summary, self-defense does these four things. First, it weakens the enemy and incentivizes granting concessions because they understand White life will be lost. Second, it reduces violence from racists. Lastly, it draws world attention to the atrocities of the South. Once the world sees that Blacks are strong people willing to defend themselves, they will win the respect of people worldwide.

Violence is deeply ingrained in racism. Without violence, there would be no reason for anyone to adhere to the system. Racism permeates every area of American life. In Monroe, blacks had a separate pet cemetery. Even in the death of pets, the races had to be pure. Violence will be needed to rid America of racism.

The current push for black militancy is being subverted by the Black elite and White liberals. White liberals fund mainstream black liberation organizations such as the NAACP and SCLC. They do not want Blacks to understand their power. White liberals are paying for Black pacifism. They are paying to keep us weak.

The Black Elite go along with the plan to live a luxurious life and garner fame. Most mainstream Civil Rights leaders are sell-outs no different from the blacks that drive Cadillacs with anti-integration slogans painted on the side. They also worry that Blacks would lose their jobs. More precisely, they are worried they will lose their job of corralling Blacks.

If the elitist supported pacifism, they would criticize America’s use of war in foreign policy. They would speak out against the use of the atomic bomb and police brutality. If you only want Blacks to be pacifists, you are only sending them off to slaughter.

Luckily there are many beside Robert Williams working to awaken Blacks. Elijah Muhammad was called out by name as a man encouraging Blacks to fight back. These new leaders build coalitions with working-class Black people. These true grassroots movements are more representative of our struggle. These movements bring in the youth and divert their attention away from gang activities and other immoral behaviors.

Ultimately, the new phase of the Civil Rights Movement will be self-defense. The awakening movement includes blacks from all walks of life. Down with the old and impotent elite. Williams will usher in a new day.

The Stegalls and Robert Williams’s Flight from Monroe

After a night of interracial gunfights, a group of concerned Black people gathered at the home of Robert Williams. Many wanted to storm the jail and free the Freedom Riders who had not received medical attention. Others wanted revenge for years of assault from the White community.

Williams understood how volatile the situation was and wanted to keep everyone busy. He instructed members to erect barricades around the Black section in Newton. He ordered those he felt has the best judgment to act as guards. Williams anticipated Whites would attack his home as they did Dr. Albert Perry a few years earlier.

A machine gun positioned itself outside William’s home. A dog house in William’s backyard served as a marker for a box of dynamite. Williams dug the box up and distributed sticks to various members of the defense force. After all the proper precautions were made in anticipation of an attack, Williams felt it best to remind his followers why they were here. He gave a speech reminding people that they were here only for self-defense. In no way would they take revenge on all White people.

Mabel Williams, Robert’s wife, did everything she could to prevent the coming attack. She called Governor Terry Sanford that he deploy state troopers to keep the peace. Little did she know Sanford had already asked for troops. It was the opinion of Sanford that Williams was trying to provoke an assault. Years later, in an interview, Sanford admitted he wanted to find a way to remove Robert Williams from Monroe without killing him. There was no intention of improving the life of Blacks in Monroe.

State Troopers barricaded the border of Newton, NC. However, a White couple Bruce and Mabel Stegall “accidentally” wander into Newton close to the home of Robert Williams around 6:00 PM on August 27, 1961. A crowd formed around the car and held them at gunpoint. Both Bruce and Mabel were pulled from their car. Many in the group recognized the car as the one that bore a sign that said “Open Season on Coons” a week prior. The mob brought the Stegalls to the home of Robert Williams.

When they brought the couple to Robert Williams house they wanted him to lead in the lynching. Williams refused and reinforced the idea they were fighting for self-defense, not revenge. The Stegalls pleaded with Williams to save them, and he replied that he did believe the Stegalls were there to spy on Newton’s defenses. It is unclear what happens next. In Williams’s autobiography, he said the Stegalls followed him in the house. The police said the Stegalls were drug into the house. Either way, had Stegalls stayed in the front lawn, they would have been lynched on Williams’s property.

At this time, Williams decided to call Police Chief Mauney to see if the Freedom Riders had received medical attention. The Police Chief told Williams that he had caused much racial trouble, and he would be hanging from the courthouse square in thirty minutes. The Chief also warned Williams not to hurt the Stegalls. Never fearful Williams fired back that if protesters did not receive care soon, he would march on the jail and free them himself.

After getting off the phone with the police Williams realized he could be accused of kidnapping the Stegalls. The threat of harm to the Stegalls motivated the police to get medical treatment for James Farmer and the Freedom Riders. William will find this out later. After two hours in Williams’s home, the Stegalls were snuck out and went back home. After the immediate danger had left, Williams realized what a mess he had on his hands.

Williams and his defense force were ready to repel a Ku Klux Klan attack. He was not ready to fight state troopers and national guard. Several unmarked caravans were pulling into the neighboring county of Monroe. Williams senses there would be a bloodbath. To save himself and his family, he decided to flee through the woods. He had an escape plan ready, and Julian Mayfield picked him up at a disclosed location. They drove to Harlem.

The FBI put out a warrant against Williams for kidnapping because he held the Stegalls for two hours. He found a safe house in Harlem but understood he needed to flee the country. He was able to use his “Fair Play for Cuba” and Socialist Workers Party connections to get to Canada. Canada had an extradition treaty with the United States, so the Royal Mounted Police also hunted for him. Once in Canada, he was able to sneak on a plane to Mexico, then to his final destination of Cuba.

The Freedom Riders go to Monroe

Monroe, NC, had been in the national news since “The Kissing Case” of 1958. The most prominent Civil Rights leader in Monroe was a man named Robert Williams. Williams was different than other Civil Rights leaders at the time because he preached self-reliance, not non-violent direct action. Williams believed Black people needed to defend themselves from the white attacks. He had built a defense force in Monroe to repel the Ku Klux Klan attacks. Self-defense, also known as self-reliance, was necessary because the police would not defend Black residents. Not only did the police not protect Black residents, they often fought alongside Ku Klux Klan.

Those that believed in non-violent direct action (NVDA) wanted to prove the method worked in Monroe. Both Dr. King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)and James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) had taken an interest in having a demonstration to show that peaceful methods could convert the most belligerent of opponents. There was a rift beginning to form in the Civil Rights Movement between those who say NVDA as a way of life and saw it only as a tactic. Williams was the champion of those that only saw non-violence as a tactic. NVDA should be discarded once it was proven not to work in a specific situation.
Williams was planning to make a serious push for economic justice in Monroe. He would release a ten-point economic equality plan that included opening up jobs and government aid to Blacks. James Farmer decided to demonstrate in Monroe to test the waters by having his Freedom Riders protest at city hall.

The Freedom Riders arrived in Charlotte on August 17, 1961. The group created the Monroe Non-Violent Direct Action Committee in which members vow to stay non-violent even if Whites attack them. Robert Williams refused to join because he understood how viciousness of the White people of Monroe. If one advertised they would not fight back, the Whites would beat them mercilessly. Williams led a successful sit-in protest in Monroe months earlier. No one was spit on or attacked at the Monroe sit-in because Whites knew the protesters would fight back.

One of the Freedom Riders was Constance Lever from the London School of Economics. She stayed in the home of Robert Williams. The first demonstration happened at Monroe Courthouse Square on August 21, 1961. That day they also protested in front of the fire station run by father of the future Senator Jesse Helms. He threatened to shot the protesters. There was also a plan to protest in front of the mayor’s office. He had his sidewalk replaced to avoid an incident.

The protest at Monroe Courthouse Square continued for the rest of the workweek. On August 26, hundreds of counter-protesters come to intimidate the Freedom Riders. Weekend protests were often dangerous because more people were off of work. Many would come to counter-protests drunk and ready to start a fight. Monroe also made an ordinance that all protesters must keep 15 feet away from one another. This law was arbitrary and only used to arrest protesters. There were a few skirmishes between protesters and counter-protesters, but luckily a black man that lived close by came with a firearm. Once he fired in the air, the counter-protesters scattered. James Farmer got a police escort to follow the protesters home.

The protest continued on Sunday. This time with an even angrier mob out front. James Farmer arranged for a cab to pick the protesters up at 4:30 sharp. Most of the day was relatively peaceful until counter-protesters began to beat up two Freedom Riders, one of which was Constance Lever. Farmer grabs Lever and attempts to put her in the can and drive her to safety. That when a counter-protester pulled a gun on Farmer and said he was not getting in a car with a white woman. Another protester hit Farmer with the but of his shotgun, splattering blood on Farmer and Lever. Whites surrounded the car threatening to kill Farmer. A white police officer pushed both Lever and Farmer in the car and drove them to the police station to be arrested.

Police begin to arrest the rest of the protesters. The police would hold protesters while Whites beat them before the arrest. A black protester named Richard Griswold was jailed with a White man whose father was killed by a Black man. Griswold was beaten mercilessly in prison. Police refused to give medical aid to injured protesters.

That night gun battles ensued between Blacks and Whites. Novelist Julian Mayfield even provided cover fire for Blacks fleeing a white assault. White Supremacist conducted drive-by shootings in Black neighborhoods. A crowd of Black gathered in front of the home of Robert Williams. Many wanted to storm the jail and free the Freedom Riders. Others wanted revenge on Whites. The decisions of Robert Williams in the next 48 hours would change the course of history.

NAACP Stands Against Militancy

Two legal cases would lead Robert Williams to create the first school of Black Militancy in the Civil Rights era. The first case was against Brodus F. Shaw. He was a White man who kicked a Black maid, Georgia Davis White, down a flight of stairs who disturbed his sleep. Once Georgia White pressed charges against Shaw, racist began a smear campaign to discredit Mrs. White. All levels of state government were involved in her smearing. The North Carolina Attorney General provided investigators, free of charge, to find dirt on White. The investigation discovered that Mrs. White did not report $4.00 in earnings two years before she applied for unemployment. Local authorities arrested her.

The second case was the assault of Mary Ruth Reed by Lewis Medlin. Medlin came to Reed’s house drunk and attempted to force his way in to rape her. Reed was there alone with children because her husband was at work. She was also several months pregnant at the time. She ran with her four-year-old out the back door. Medlin gave chase and caught Reed. Her four-year-old son struck Medlin in the back with a stick to allow his mother to escape. They found refuge in the house of a white neighbor.

The Blacks of Monroe did not believe the government would protect these women. A Black lynch mob formed to seek revenge on the perpetrators. Robert Williams stopped the lynch mob from taking the law into their own hands. He told the crowd he could use his connections in the NAACP and the Committee to Confront Racial Injustice (CCRI) to get two convictions. Of the two organizations, only the CCRI sent lawyers.

May 5, 1959, both the Shaw and Medlin case went to court. Shaw, the man who pushed the maid down the flight of stairs, got his charges dropped even though he didn’t show up to court. Medlin’s defense team used the idea that a White man would never leave a White woman for a Black woman to save him. Medlin admitted to going to Reed’s house while intoxicated but never said he intended to rape her. Reed even had the White neighbor corroborate her version of events. In the end, none of it mattered. Medlin was found not guilty of all charges.

The Black women of Monroe were furious. Not only was there no justice dispensed on those that assaulted these women, but the court showed that there would be no consequences for their attacks. It was now open season on Black women. One woman told Williams this was all his fault. If he had let the lynch mob form, at least these women would have received some justice.

Right after Monroe’s Black women chastised Williams, he had to give an interview to United Press International. Monroe had made national headlines due to the Kissing Case a year prior. Williams is asked to share his thought on losing both cases. He explains that there are no laws to protect the Blacks of North Carolina. Due to the complete breakdown of law, Blacks would have to meet violence with violence going forward. They would meet lynching with lynching.

It goes without saying that his statement angered many in the NAACP. The head of the NAACP Roy Wilkins asked Robert Williams if he was quoted correctly. Williams replied in the affirmative and said he still stood by his statements. He clarified he was speaking for himself and not the NAACP. Wilkins explained that it does matter how he meant his words; the public would take it as an NAACP statement. Wilkins then suspended Williams. In defiance, Williams told Wilkins the NAACP hadn’t done anything to help Monroe Blacks anyway.

Thus began the first push for militancy in the Civil Rights Movement. Roy Wilkins distanced himself from Robert Williams in subsequent press conferences. Robert Williams clarifies his position at the same time. Williams makes clear he did not want vengeful violence against Whites. He only supports violence as a means of self-defense. Law and order had broken down in the rural south. Self-defense was the only way to ensure the safety of themselves and their families. Black Militancy is not rooted in hate for White people, but love for self and community. The Blacks of Monroe’s need to defend themselves was no different than the motivation of the colonists to protect themselves from British oppression.

The 1959 NAACP convention held July 13 – 19th held the hearing on Williams’s suspension. The issue was contentious. It caused a divide between the national and local leaders. The national leaders were afraid a militant stance could hurt their ability to get funding. If public opinion falls, not only would they lose funding, they would also have a harder time winning cases. The position of non-violence was the most politically pragmatic.

The local leaders felt the NAACP did not send enough aid to local cases that would not get national headlines. They were left to fend for themselves. Besides, even when they won civil rights cases, it often didn’t mean policy changed locally. There had been little progress on school integration since winning Brown v Board, in 1954. The NAACP was unable to improve their lives, and people questioned if the national office was inept or unconcerned.

Due to the NAACP national not getting tangible results, many were looking for alternative methods. One was Dr. King’s Non-Violent Direct Action. This method required breaking unjust laws. The NAACP opposed this method because they brought on unwinnable cases. The NAACP wanted to argue cases to the Supreme Court to force them to change the law. If the defendant knowingly broke the law, the NAACP could do nothing to win the case.

The second method was Robert William’s Black self-defense. Many that opposed the national office also supported self-defense. Others felt even self-defense could lead to mass slaughter. So the opposition to Roy Wilkins was not solidified. Various opponents had different agendas that reduced the opposition’s ability to build enough delegates to oppose the suspension. Because the opposition unified, they were able to distribute a pamphlet titled “The single issue in Robert Williams case.” The pamphlet framed Robert Williams as a case of mob violence versus legal action. The booklet portrayed Williams as a hot-head, leading Blacks in Monroe to annihilation. Even Martin Luther King spoke against Williams, further dividing opposition to Wilkins.

Robert Williams still had a broad base of support. It was also crucial that Roy Wilkins not only win the vote but win overwhelmingly to show benefactors that the organization was united. The delegates got together and decided on a compromise. Robert Williams’s suspension would be upheld 781 – 0, but the NAACP would also have to create a statement affirming the individual right to self-defense.

Two years later, during the seventh anniversary of Brown v Board of education (May 17, 1961), the NAACP held a rally in Harlem. Due to many of Robert Williams’s fundraising activities and advocacy for “The Kissing Case,” Harlem was home base of support for him. When Roy Wilkins took the stage, many in the crowd booed and jeered, demanding Robert Williams speak. Daisy Bates even took the podium to calm the crowd down. They shouted her down also. Finally, they found Robert Williams, who was in attendance and had him take the stage. From his impromptu speech, this was the most notable line: “Better to live upright for 30 seconds than 1000 years crawling”. The crowd went wild and carried him off on their shoulders. Williams’s integrity and tenacity built a base of support that all the lawyers at the NAACP could only wish.

The 1961 Pool Protest

The first protest to integrate the Monroe pool happened in 1957. That protest ended in the Ku Klux Klan attacking the home of the president of the NAACP and the NAACP fighting them off with rifles. Every year after, there was a summer protest at the pool. But Robert Williams decided to make a determinative stand in 1961. He went to Harlem to raise funds to buy guns to protect the protesters in the event of Kluxer retaliation.

The protest began on June 18, 1961, when Robert Williams brought twelve Black teenagers to the pool to protest. They stayed outside and picketed because the pool personnel denied them entry. The picket continued for a few days. Then on June 22, Whites brought guns and fired into the air to intimidate protesters. Williams doubled down and said that the city council has to integrate the current pool or make plans to create a black pool. If the council did nothing he and his protester would stage a “wade-in” the next day.

Protesters stopped to eat lunch at a neighboring park at 3 pm on June 23. They ate at a picnic table labeled “Whites Only.” They heard shots whiz past their heads. Williams alerted the local policemen that witnessed the scene. They refused to do anything. Then Williams and company decided to head home to call the Justice Department to see if they would intervene.

A much larger De Soto followed the Hillman driven by Williams on his return home. The driver of the De Soto rammed Williams at 70 mph running him off the road. The De Soto speed off. Williams attempted to file a police report on the incident and the police again refused to act. It was not until Williams relayed the story to the press that the police were shamed into acting on the incident.

June 25 the protesters decided to go back to the pool. This time their car was rammed by an old Ford Truck. The truck’s windows had been removed, and it looked like it was ready for the demolition derby. The man in the truck ran Williams off the road again and came out with a baseball bat threatening to attack. But this time, Williams come out of the car with an Italian rifle. His two associates had pistols. A mob of Whites then formed around the car.

Because Williams and his company were armed, they held everyone at bay. The police arrived and tried to disarm Williams. He pushed the policeman to the ground, pointed his rifle at him, and told him there was no way he was surrendering to a mob. The police then dispersed the mob and allowed Williams to go to the pool. That night Williams barricades his house and prepared for a Kluxer attack. It never came.

The next Saturday Williams went out to deliver his newspaper “The Crusader” when he was pulled over by police. They tell him his taillight is damaged and they must arrest him. Of course, a Kluxers ramming his car twice the week prior damaged his taillight. Williams knew if the police arrest him, they will lynch him in jail. He said he will not go to jail in the policeman’s car. He would follow them in his own car to the jail. The police agree. Once near his home, he made a run for his house the police give chase.

Once at home his wife Mabel sees him frantically trying to untie their dog to aid in his defense from the police. She ran outside with a shotgun. She saw the police and held them at gunpoint and asked what was happening. The police say they want to arrest him for a taillight being out. Mabel replies they should have arrested the men that ran him off the road. If they did not have a warrant, they had to leave. The police see the shotgun pointed at them and decide to retreat.

For full series click Robert Williams Series

The Kissing Case

The politics of race and sex was a cantankerous issue in the Jim Crow South. The fear of black men raping White women was used to stir up mobs to attack Black neighborhoods. For many, the main impetus for segregation was preventing inter-racial sex and marriage. The fear of miscegenation took its most extreme form in the 1958 Kissing Case.

In early October of 1958, a group of children played in a culvert in the White section of Monroe, NC. While playing the game, one of the children suggested that they have a kissing game. A White girl named Sissy Sutton sat on the lap of a Black boy named James Thompson (10 yo) and kissed him. The other Black child at the gathering, David Simpson (8 yo), watched. The children dispersed and returned home.

A few days later Sissy Sutton is telling another child about the kiss and her mother overheard. Her mother flew into a rage. The father gathered a mob to kill the boys and their mothers. Police got wind that a mob is forming and preemptively arrest the boys before the mob arrived. The mothers of the boys went into hiding.

The mob arrived at the boys’ homes and realize they are empty except for the family dog. The mob killed the dog and displayed the body on the lawn. The mob also burned a cross to strike fear in the hearts of the Black residents. They proceed to shoot into the empty home and harass Black people in the neighborhood. Random violence perpetrated by Whites continues in the neighborhood for weeks.

Police beat the boys regularly while in custody. The jail in Monroe was known as one of the worst in the state. The boys are both physically and mentally abused. On Halloween, the police dressed up as KKK and tell the boys they will get lynched. They removed their hoods and laughed at the boys’ panic. After an extremely short trial, the boys are transferred to Morrison Training School in Hoffman, NC.

The town looked to the only man that could save the boys was the local head of the NAACP, Robert Williams. Williams had been in charge of the Monroe NAACP for three years at that point. His chapter was much more militant than the average NAACP branch. He also started a Black chapter of the National Rifle Association. He armed Black citizens in Monroe to take back their streets. Before becoming an NAACP President, he was heavily involved in the labor movement and had ties to various socialist networks. All these ties would become useful in the next few months.

After stopping the KKK terrorism by having armed Black guards patrol the Black neighborhood, he began the campaign to free the boys. The NAACP became Williams’s first avenue for resolution. When the state and national office was contacted to intervene, neither wanted to get involved. The NAACP had always had to fight charges of being communist. They also had to repel charges that they advocated race-mixing. They had a strict policy not to get involved in sex cases.

The apathy of the NAACP did not stop John Thompson’s mother. She contacted some family in New York City and got the first national coverage for the case. The November 3rd edition of the New York Post covered the case. Robert Williams also contacted newspapers and television outlets. But his connections with the socialist network of newspapers produced the most significant results.

The Committee to Combat Racial Injustice (CCRI) formed on December 19, 1958. The group’s mission was to fill the void in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) on racial injustice. Most in the socialist movement thought the imbalance of power between workers and capitalists caused racism. The inevitable socialist revolution would solve the problem. Those that formed the CCRI knew race needed special attention. Attacking racial issues will strengthen the black community and bring blacks into the socialist movement. Robert Williams was not a member of SWP or any other party, but his involvement in labor unions and other left-wing activism led to the Party holding him in high esteem.

Through the CCRI, Williams was able to relay the story to the London News Chronicle that circulated 1.5 million copies. From there, press all over Western Europe picked up the story. Demonstrators protest outside the embassies in London first. Later that month, demonstrations happened at US Embassies in Rome, Paris, and Rotterdam. The socialist used the case to show the American democracy was not inclusive of all citizens.

The world publicity shamed the NAACP and the North Carolina Governor to take action. The two enter into a secret agreement to arrange for the boys’ release. The NAACP would agree to relocated and fund the families’ move to Charlotte, NC. The Governor could arrange for their release when families settled in the new location. If the arrangement could stay secret, the boys could hide until the dust settled around the kissing incident.

To keep the NAACP and the Governor pressured, Williams moved to have a habeas corpus hearing on the Kissing Case. If the boys win the habeas corpus case, it will prove their imprisonment was unjust. The opposition would build a case around the fact that the eight and ten-year-old boys had a prior record of petty theft. They also said their single mothers were unfit because she worked all the time to provide for their family. In the end, the boys lost the case and were sent back to reform school.

In addition to the case, Williams embarked on a multi-city speaking tour. Union halls, churches, and NAACP offices held the events. This tour is where Williams made himself into a national figure. His prominence threatened the NAACP. The head of the organization, Roy Wilkins, offered Williams a job with the NAACP in Detroit to keep him off the kissing case. Williams refused.

The continued pressure eventually worked. On February 13, 1959, the boys were quietly released back into the custody of their mothers in Charlotte. No one is exactly sure what caused the release. Some say that Eleanor Roosevelt convinced Eisenhower to pressure the Governor. Others give credit to the NAACP. No matter what happened, the boys ended up safe at home. Williams considered this case a great victory.

For the full series click Robert Williams Series

The Monroe NAACP

Robert Williams returned from the Marine Corp to Monroe, NC, in 1955. He contacted an old friend who found him work as a security guard in a textile factory. Now that he secured a job to feed his family, he needed to find some way to help the larger black community.

The local NAACP was in dire straights. The members were harassed and even fired from their jobs. The conservatives of the time sold most of the Whites that communists ran the NAACP. The Southern states outlawed the organization in many areas. The persecution dropped participation to 6 people in 1953.

In 1947, Robert Williams was part of a defense of a funeral home. The Ku Klux Klan attacked the funeral home to steal a Black man’s body that killed a White man in a fight. Those that helped defend the body were among Williams first recruits.

Dr. Albert Perry was not in the 1947 defense force. However, he would prove to be an integral part of the Monroe NAACP. A former soldier like Williams, Perry became a doctor after serving in the military. He was currently working in a local hospital. Dr. Perry became the President of the chapter and essential to Williams political development.

The local pool hall became a rich environment for new members. Traditionally, NAACP members were the elite of black society. But, most of the Black elite in Monroe were unwilling to lose their job for joining the group. Many of the Blacks in the pool room didn’t even think they would be welcome in the NAACP ranks. Once they found out, they could join, they did. The membership swelled to 121 by 1959.

The need to be armed was more than apparent to Williams. He decided to also start a chapter of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Having an NRA charter would allow them to have a stockpile of weapons and legal rights to target practice. The first year Williams attracted 60 members.

The first major action of the Monroe NAACP was in response to the drowning of two black children in a lake in 1957. Black children had to swim in lakes and creeks because no Monroe pool allowed Blacks to swim. The NAACP first petitioned the government for a separate pool. They were told the town did not have enough money for a second pool. The NAACP then asked for the pool to be set aside one day a week for Blacks to swim. The council refused even one day a week because emptying and filling the pool was too costly. Williams replied that segregation is a luxury Monroe cannot afford.

The first protest consisted of 8 people that stood at the gate. Conservatives responded by circulating a petition to kick Dr. Perry and Robert Williams out of Monroe. KKK held rallies to muster support for the segregated pool. Both Robert Williams and Dr. Perry received anonymous death threats.

On October 5, 1957, the KKK assembled a motorcade to ride to Dr. Perry’s home. This KKK motorcade included two cop cars. They began wildly shooting at his house to intimidate him. Robert Williams was prepared and had the house barricaded. The members of the Monroe NAACP fired back at the Klansmen causing them to flee into the night. The city council banned KKK motorcades the next day.

Because the racists were not able to kill Dr. Perry, they decided to kill his reputation with trumped-up charges. Later that month, Dr. Perry was arrested for performing an abortion on a White woman. Abortions were illegal, no matter the race of a doctor or patient. Still, the headline in the newspaper read “criminal abortion on a white woman.” Dr. Perry admitted the woman had asked him to perform the abortion, but he refused. Also, the Dr. Perry was Catholic, so he did not believe in any form of birth control. Perry was jailed by Monroe police.

To free the President of the NAACP, Robert Williams led a mass demonstration at the courthouse. Many of the protesters came armed with firearms and knives. Dr. Perry was released when a white benefactor paid the $7,000 bond. Again the armed NAACP came to the rescue.

The trial for Dr. Perry came almost a year after his arrest. It was appealed, but on October 21, 1958, Dr. Perry was sentenced to five years in prison. He will be released in a little over a year. However, he would not regain his license to practice medicine. Dr. Perry lost his profession to further the cause of freedom.

For the rest of the series click HERE

The Formation of Williams’s Militancy

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

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