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Negroes with Guns by Robert F. Williams

Posted by CommunitarianKevin , 08 May 2012 · 1,073 views

civil rights robert f. williams the kissing case guns militancy
This semester I had to read a book called Negroes with Guns by Robert F. Williams. I found the book very interesting and something that everyone should read to help understand our, not so distant, past. It is a short book and can be read in a day. I hope people take the time to read it. I was going to do a book review but I thought it might just be easier to post a journal entry of it.

Background-
Robert F. Williams was a civil rights leader and president of the NAACP in Monroe, NC. RFW talks about events that happened in the late 50s and early 60s. He is telling his personal story in this book.





Journal Entry 4

Robert F. Williams thought the United States had changed. With Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Williams thought he was finally a part of America and that America had forever been changed. He would learn that this was not the case. A court decision did little to affect the attitudes of people in America, and specifically in Monroe, North Carolina. Williams would find out that segregation was still the law of the land, and worse, in some places, such as Monroe, segregation was not even the law, rather flat out refusal was. The people of Monroe would not even compromise but rather flat out ignored requests of African Americans for equal treatment. This led to violence and a flat out refusal of law enforcement to help. Williams would learn this problem was much deeper than Monroe, and stretched to the Governor, the FBI, and the United States government.  

A national, even international, incident was started over one of the smallest of requests. In Monroe, North Carolina, the African American community asked for their own pool. When they were denied they asked not for the pool to be integrated but just for use of the pool one day a week. This too was refused but they were told eventually they would have their own pool built. In the mean time a couple of African American boys had drowned swimming in creeks. When Monroe did have surplus funds there was still no intention to build another pool. Because of this the African Americans decided to form a picket line at the pool which eventually closed it (Williams p 6.) This act of non-violence led to the white citizens of Monroe resorting to unlawful violence and finally an attempt on the life of Mr. Williams.

A case dubbed the “Kissing Case” drew international attention. In the kissing case a white girl kissed her former playmate, an African American boy, on the cheek. This led to two African American boys, ages 7 and 9, to be charged with rape. After a “separate but equal” hearing the boys were sentenced to fourteen years at the reformatory. Nothing was done about this. Even the NAACP did not want to take part in this case because of the “sexual” implications. When an international petition, from Holland, was sent to Mrs. Roosevelt, someone finally told President Eisenhower who intern said something to the Governor of North Carolina and only then were the boys released. It took international pressure to resolve this issue that was started by the racist court system here in the United States (Williams p 21-24.)

To add to this, African Americans in Monroe were not even able to have a decent standard of living. The employment situation in Monroe was extremely racist. Out of 3,000 African Americans only 1,000 of them were able to get jobs. Those that were able to get jobs as janitors or maids were paid $15 for a six-day week. This was just another, of many examples, of how deep the racism ran (Williams p 40.)

Because of these incidents, the increasing violence and the attempt on Mr. Williams’s life, Williams decided to take matters into their own hands. After the police chief refused to do anything about the violence, Williams made the decision that they should arm themselves. They armed themselves with legally bought weapons. These weapons were used only for self defense and it seemed to work. Just the fact that they were armed decreased the violence. It was not worth white blood being spilt over. Though it was working, other civil rights leaders did not agree with “violence,” though I would argue that arming one’s self is not violence, and because of this some Freedom Riders came to Monroe to show that non-violence could work, as it was in other parts of the country. This was a huge mistake by the Freedom Riders.

Without the protection of weapons the Freedom Riders were an easy target and violence quickly escalated. Supporting the Freedom Riders cause the African Americans of Monroe took the route of no violence. It took all of four days of peaceful picketing for the violence to start. It started with a white Freedom Rider getting beat up by three white men. This was followed up by a Freedom Rider being shot in the stomach by a high-powered air rifle. The police did nothing. Not only did the police not doing anything but the town actually sprayed the picketers with insecticide, hoping to drive them away. This was just the start of the violence (Williams p 40-43.)

When a Freedom Rider went missing the city police and the county police refused to help. This led to Rev. Brooks calling the Governor’s office. The Governor was out but Rev. Brooks talked to his chief aide, Hugh B. Cannon. Rev. Brooks was asking for police protection and told him that they were non-violent pacifists. Cannon replied “If you’re a real pacifist you had better get the hell out of Monroe, man, because there’s going to be plenty of violence there.” (Williams p 44.) The problem now stretched to the top of the state.

Since the state would not help, the Freedom Riders would call the FBI for protection before they went out to riot. The FBI kept telling them that they were on their way but never showed up. The violence kept getting worse and it got to the point that the African Americans decided to arm themselves again. Tension was at the breaking point and the white racists were getting ready to kill. The chief of police called Williams and told him “Robert, you’ve caused a lot of race trouble in this town, but state troopers are coming. In thirty minutes you’ll be hanging in the court house square.” (Williams p 50.) This caused Williams to flee Monroe. Now that Williams was out of racist Monroe, he should be fine right?

The U.S. Department of Justice now got involved and listed Williams as a wanted man. They described him extremely dangerous and a schizophrenic. The U.S. Justice Department had joined forces with the Ku Klux Klan. The United States government was justifying a legal lynching. Once again, Williams fled, this time to Canada. But even in Canada he was not safe. The U.S. Justice department asked the Canadian police to help them apprehend him (Williams p 54-55.) This had now become an international affair led by the U.S. government.

Robert F. Williams thought American had taken a turn in the right direction but the events above show that he was mistaken. These events show that even though there were court cases that should have reversed the discrimination in this country, the cases did not change attitudes of people in this country. The point to take away is that Monroe was not just a special case. These issues ran all the way up into the United States government. These incidents made him realize that America was not a “new America” but that racism in America was as much of a world problem as Nazism. This racism and discrimination ran throughout America. It stretched from individual citizens, to the courts, and all the way up to the U.S. Justice Department. After these events Williams realized America had a long ways to go.




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