Robert Williams: implying force and creating shock

April 27, 2011 in 1940s-1950s, 1960s-1970s

It was President Truman’s signing of the Executive Order 9981 that sparked the Civil Rights movement in the year 1948. Truman’s Executive Order stated, “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” This went against the will of many whites, particularly in the south. The main concern was that blacks could eventually move up the chain of command and be in charge of white men. However, many blacks began to see an opportunity for a movement that would bring about equality.

Throughout the Civil Rights movement there were many black leaders who dedicated their lives to lead their race toward equal rights. Some notable and important leaders were Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fred Shuttlesworth. These three and many other members set a precedent of non-violence through peaceful protests against inequality. While the peaceful protesters were the majority, not everyone was for non-violence. As time went on, it became apparent to some that protesting and getting beaten up by white mobs wasn’t pushing their movement for equality forward as it should. Robert F. Williams was one such leader to step forth during the movement.

Robert F. Williams was born in Monroe, North Carolina, in 1925. Williams is best known for his refusal to neither follow the non-violence views of others nor stand down against white supremacies. According to a summary of Williams’s life, “Williams made his mark on history after he returned to Monroe in 1955, after being discharged from the Marines.” He was known as the president of a NAACP branch. This branch was very different from the others and had the privilege of housing members who were veterans. The veterans could understand William’s forceful approach to gaining civil rights. Williams noticed that the youth of the movement were also willing to consider force.  Williams and his followers were ready to fight for what they believed in by facing the white mobs rather than fleeing. These men and women were described by Robert Williams as militants and more specifically they, “[do] not introduce violence into a racist social system–the violence is already there, and has always been there.” Williams’ use of militants to battle segregation resonated in the Black liberation movement of the 1960s.

Image of video flyer for Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power

Williams was involved in an attempt to integrate a swimming pool in Monroe during the early 60’s. One method used was a picket line at the pool. The picketers were able to force the pool into closing, giving angry whites a motive to corner Williams.  One day while driving to the Monroe pool with his wife and some students, William’s car was rammed into a ditch by an angry white raciest. The white man exited the car with a bat and began to walk toward the car. Williams then pointed one of three guns that were in his car at the man, who then backed off. Police then arrived and ordered for Williams to hand over his weapon. Williams was unwilling to surrender to the growing mob, and his wife along with one of the students was also forced to take up arms. Finding themselves in a standoff, the police found themselves forced to disband the mob and escort Williams and party to safety.

Robert Williams’s involvement in the Monroe pool incident was just one of many events that highlight Williams’ impact toward the progression of the civil rights movement. He was not only active in demonstrations, but was also highly involved in court cases. Williams continued actions inspired many groups such as the black liberation to arm themselves against segregationist.  Robert continued his support for civil rights after moving with his family to Cuba. They stayed for five years, during which time he organized Radio Free Dixie, in order to feather advocate armed self-defense and support black liberation. Even after Williams’s death in 1996, leaders of the civil rights movement continue to strive for further integration and more importantly equality.

1 response to Robert Williams: implying force and creating shock

  1. What really amazes me is that this sort of thing didn’t happen earlier, and wasn’t more immediately widespread. The Civil Rights movement was basically for the Black population to have the same constitutional rights as the White population, and the right to bear arms is written right there in the second amendment. The fact that it took so long for that argument to reach this level of prominence is somewhat baffling, although I can think of a couple reasons why that might be the case.

    I would say the reason that the delay of the Black population making a direct claim to their rights under the second amendment has to do with the fact that the main body of the movement was nonviolent, and the fact that individuals in the Black population had always been met with massive retribution for anything that they did that would be deemed “wrong,” so the retribution as a result of defending themselves with deadly force against White mobs would have been unimaginable.

    This is, at least, the best explanation I can come up with. The fact remains that it took the Black population an entire century after emancipation to start making a major claim for their right to defend themselves under the second amendment.

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