Are Guns the Answer? When Condemning Neo-Nazis Is Not Enough

Are Guns the Answer? When Condemning Neo-Nazis Is Not Enough

Are Guns the Answer? When Condemning Neo-Nazis Is Not Enough


Are Guns the Answer? When Condemning Neo-Nazis Is Not Enough. In the wake of the 2015 Charleston church shooting, efforts were made across the country to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces and rename streets honoring notable figures from the Confederacy. The Unite the Right rally (also known as the Charlottesville rally) was the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, from August 11–12, 2017. Its stated goal was to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park, which itself had been renamed by City Council from ”Lee Park” two months earlier. Protesters included white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, and various militias. Some of the marchers chanted racist and anti-semitic slogans, carried semi-automatic rifles, swastikas, Confederate battle flags, anti-Muslim and anti-semitic banners, and “Trump/Pence” signs. In the wake of the 2015 Charleston church shooting, efforts were made across the country to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces and rename streets honoring notable figures from the Confederacy. Under the Trump administration, the number of neo-nationalist rallies continue to grow and this has black communities on the offensive, seeking out effective solutions to keep their families safe.

Negroes with Guns is a book written by Robert F. Williams in 1962, while he was living in exile in Cuba. The title refers to an armed group called the Black Guard, which was formed to defend the black community of Monroe, North Carolina. The book tells the story of a small black community’s harrowing confrontation with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and a racist Justice Department and law enforcement. It also explores the origins of Williams’ controversial philosophy of black self-defense and subsequent opposition from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and civil rights organizations. Although less than 100 pages in length, Negroes with Guns inspired a host of black leaders, such as Stokely Carmichael, Huey P. Newton, H. Rap Brown, Eldridge Cleaver, and Malcolm X, thus helping to usher in the era of Black Power.

Black self-defense was not a new concept. After President Abraham Lincoln help abolish slavery during the Civil War, anti-black violence ran rampant throughout the South. Free blacks stood up against white supremacy. As a result, racist whites employed violence, as well as discriminatory laws, to maintain their social, economic, and political dominance. Whites freely threatened, harassed, and murdered individuals and rioted in black communities. In response to these attacks, some blacks fought bravely, though they were rarely successful. During the twentieth century, numerous other black communities were destroyed, such as Greenwood, Oklahoma in 19211)(see Greenwood Community) and Rosewood, Florida2)(see Rosewood [Florida] Riot of 1923), article contribution — Gladys L. Knight and only a few individuals in these communities survived despite attempts at collective self-defense.

In Negroes with Guns, Williams explains that he gained his first knowledge of racial violence and black protest through the stories of his grandmother, who had been a slave. Before her death, his grandmother gave him a rifle ‘‘that his grandfather had wielded against white terrorists at the turn of the century’’ (Williams 1998, xvii). After high school, Williams joined the U.S. Marines, where he learned how to handle and use arms.

After being dishonorably discharged from the Marines for challenging its discriminatory practices, Williams returned home to Monroe. Once home, Williams experienced firsthand the violence and threats directed at the small, local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Although many members quit the organization for fear of their lives, Williams stood firm and was elected president of the Monroe chapter of the NAACP in 1956. Over the next few years, Williams transformed the group. In general, the NAACP was comprised of middle-class and professional blacks, and it strictly adhered to the philosophy of nonviolence. In contrast, Williams’ chapter consisted largely of veterans, laborers, farmers, domestic workers, and the unemployed, and they subscribed to the concept of self-defense.

In Negroes with Guns, Williams describes the circumstances that led him to advocate self-defense. In addition to receiving frequent threats, Williams and other activists, while picketing in protest in 1961 for the right of black children to use a public swimming pool, were threatened and harassed by private individuals and police officers. Two black women, one of whom was pregnant, were assaulted by two white men on separate occasions. Both men were acquitted. After the court case involving the beating and attempted rape of the pregnant woman, Williams vowed publicly to meet violence with violence. Consequently, he was suspended from the NAACP for six months. Delegates at an NAACP convention later made a statement in support of self-defense, but Martin Luther King, Jr., was the only one to publicly side with Williams.

Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States, in 1961 and subsequent years, in order to challenge the non-enforcement of the United States Supreme Court decisions Morgan v. Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960),which ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional.


Williams felt that it was only natural and right for a people to protect themselves against brutality, especially in the absence of support from law enforcement and other authorities established to provide that protection. Williams did not disagree with the concept of nonviolence, and his branch of the NAACP engaged in many nonviolent demonstrations. Williams believed that within the movement, both nonviolence and self-defense were acceptable and essential. But he also argued that his philosophy was more effective than those of other civil rights organizations. Because the members of his group were willing to defend themselves, their demonstrations provoked less violence than activities such as the Freedom Rides.

Williams’ self-defense group, formed in the 1960s and called the Black Guard, proved to be effective in subduing and averting Ku Klux Klan violence. Members of the Black Guard were trained by Williams and were charter members of the National Rifle Association. They received donations from various organizations, churches, and individuals—whites included—to purchase guns and rifles. On several occasions, they engaged in shoot-outs with white mobs and the Klan, without fatalities on either side. The Black Guard was even called on when the freedom riders, an interracial group of activists, arrived in Monroe to help the civil rights cause there. With Williams’ support and assistance, the freedom riders found volunteers in Monroe, all of whom took an oath of nonviolence, which meant that they were not allowed to defend themselves if attacked. Williams even ‘‘stated that if they could show [him] any gains won from the racists by nonviolent methods, [he] too would become a pacifist’’ (Williams 1998, 41). However, the freedom riders were attacked, and shortly thereafter, whites drove into the black community and ‘‘fired out of their cars and threw objects at people on the streets’’ (Williams 1998, 47). Blacks armed themselves to defend their community and a riot ensued.

During the riot, Williams helped protect a white couple he believed drove unintentionally into the community. When state troopers arrived to ‘‘restore law and order,’’ Williams fled to New York, where he heard that the white couple he had protected had accused him of kidnapping them. Williams was forced to take refuge in Cuba. He moved to China in 1963. He was allowed to return to the United States in exchange for information President Richard Nixon wanted on China. Until his death in 1995, Williams continued to support the struggle for civil rights.

References   [ + ]

1. (see Greenwood Community)
2. (see Rosewood [Florida] Riot of 1923), article contribution — Gladys L. Knight

About Quianna Canada

Quianna Canada is an anti-police brutality activist, author, and opinion writer living in the United States.
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One Comment

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