Negroes With Guns

By Martin Luther King Jr.

631 ratings - 4.42* vote

Edited By Marc Schleifer.

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Book details

Hardcover, 128 pages
July 21st 2012 by Literary Licensing, LLC

(first published 1962)

Original Title
Negroes With Guns
ISBN
1258437082 (ISBN13: 9781258437084)

Community Reviews

Sheehan

I believe this quote best summarizes why this book is the bomb...and why Robert Williams was ahead of his time in identifying flexible armed defensive AND non-violent demonstration as case-specific and dynamic based on the circumstances you find yourself dissenting.


"The existence of violence is at the very heart of a racist system. The Afro-American militant is a 'militant' because he defends himself, his family, his home and his dignity. He does not introduce violence into a racist social system--the violence is already there and has always been there. It is precisely the unchallenged violence that allows a racist social system to perpetuate itself. When people say they are opposed to Negroes "resorting to violence" what they really mean is that they are opposed to Negroes defending themselves and challenging the exclusive monopoly of violence practiced by white racists."

How more honestly can you speak truth to power than by speaking that truth with the force to back it up. Look at the difference between protesting nowadays and demonstrating in the 1960's civil rights movement. Protests now yell into the void all of the problems, but provide no tangible "cost" to those who wield power, thusly the government and business simply turn a blind eye, and do nothing. Whereas demonstrations which impinge upon a governing power's ability to profit, war make, silence dissent, etc. are immediately heard and often greeted with violence (see Civil Rights South, WTO, etc.) Then you must switch from passive non-violent protest" to assertive "non-violence" with the understood power to defend yourselves, and the inplied understanding that force will be used if necessary.

This is not a call to incite violence, nay it is a caveat that no non-violent demonstration is respected by immoral oppressors without the threat of retaliatory violence to raise the cost of trying to quell dissent with violence.

read this book...

Kusaimamekirai

Robert Williams was the head of the Monroe, North Carolina NAACP, and an important voice in the early Civil Rights movement. This book in particular served as an inspiration to a generation of influential groups, including Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party.
What makes this book interesting is that it is not a handbook for action but rather a chronicle of some of the horrific violence and abuse the Black community of Monroe suffered at the hands of Whites. It’s a chronicle of a complete breakdown of law and order where the sheriff can be standing next to a Black man protesting some locals shooting bullets over his head only to have the sheriff repeatedly say “I didn’t hear anything. Did you?”. It’s a chronicle of a town where Williams asks for the assistance of the Governor’s office to protect his community from an imminent attack only to hear this:

" When I called back the Governor's office he replied, 'You mean to tell me that you're not dead yet?' And I told him, 'No, I'm not dead, not yet, but when I die a lot of people may die with me.' So he said, 'Well, you may not be dead, but you're going to get killed.'
I kept telling him that we wanted protection, trying to avoid bloodshed. He said, 'If you're trying to avoid bloodshed you shouldn't be agitating.' "

Events such as these that Williams relates throughout the book are shocking, and when he makes his argument that violence in the name of self defense is justified, it becomes difficult to argue with him. As he so eloquently writes:

" Always the powers in command are ruthless and unmerciful in defending their position and their privileges. This is not an abstract rule to be meditated upon by Americans. This is a truth that was revealed at the birth of America and has continued to be revealed many times in our history. "

He goes on to write:

“Why do the white liberals ask us to be non-violent? We are not the aggressors; we have been victimized for over 300 years! Yet nobody spends money to go into the South and ask the racists to be martyrs or pacifists. But they always come to the downtrodden Negroes, who are already oppressed and too submissive as a group, and ask them not to fight back.”

What I admire most about Williams however, is his recognition that different situations call for different tactics. Refusing to move from a lunch counter or a bus seat was extremely effective in achieving limited goals. However if a man is storming your house with a gun, sitting quietly while he shoots you and your family is an ineffective means of resistance. It’s this flexibility that Williams writes about when he says:

" The tactics of non-violence will continue and should continue. We too believed in non-violent tactics in Monroe. We have used these tactics, we've used all tactics. But we also believe that any struggle for liberation should be a flexible struggle. We should not take the attitude that one method alone is the way to liberation. This is to become dogmatic. This is to fall into the same sort of dogmatism practiced by some of the religious fanatics. We can't afford to develop this type of attitude. We must use non-violence as a means as long as this is feasible, but the day will come when conditions become so pronounced that non-violence will be suicidal in itself. "

In short, the powerful and entrenched interests rarely give up their power simply by being asked to. Williams is not advocating violence here, but he is arguing that until a man understands that his violence has the potential to be answered with equal or greater violence, his brutality is unlikely to end.

Maggie

Profoundly necessary, especially as a corrective to dogmatic pacifism - a pacifism that does not only disallow but passionately berates and ridicules any other strategies to liberation that do not centre "nonviolence".

Also important with regards to challenging the deeply held idea (*cough* myth) that the civil rights movement was entirely based on/fuelled by a 'let's-hold-hands-and-sing-as-our-bodies-are-torn-to-shreds' motto.

Ward Churchill's 'Pacifism as pathology' also does a phenomenal job in adding nuance and a deeply needed universal perspective to understanding the pivotal roles armed self-defence/violence have played in revolutions (as well as why ignoring/belittling is central to American exceptionalism).

"...we came to have an active understanding of the racist system and we grasped the relationship between violence and racism. The existence of violence is at the very heart of a racist system. The Afro-American militant is a 'militant' because he defends himself, his family, his home, and his dignity. He does not introduce violence into a racist social system - the violence is already there, and has always been there. It is precisely this unchallenged violence that allows a racist social system to perpetuate itself. When people say that they are opposed to Negroes 'resorting to violence', what they really mean is that they are opposed to Negroes defending themselves and challenging the exclusive monopoly of violence practised by white racists".

Andrew Hains

“God damn, God damn, what is this God damn country coming to that the niggers have got guns, the niggers are armed and the police can’t even arrest them!” This was spoken by an old white man upset that Rob Williams was defending himself against a mob. It is also the quote used by Rob Williams for the title of his book, “Negroes with Guns” (1962).

Rob Williams is one of the many unsung heros of the Civil Rights Movement. If it was not for his short manifesto, “Negroes with Guns,” Williams would have faded into the past. His argument is simple and few people would disagree with Rob Williams. “But where there is a breakdown of the law, the individual citizen has a right to protect his person, his family, his home and his property” (4). The racist, according to Williams, is not willing to risk loosing their life for dehumanizing someone they view to be inferior. Racists will continue to abuse and violently attack the non-violent protester until the protester defends themselves against attacks by racists.

Williams sets out to do a number of things in his book. First, he wants to argue for the importance of non-violent protest as one of many tactics in the struggle for equality. Second, he believes that there are circumstances that a person must defend themselves against injustice and mob rule (which happens to include the police and government officials at the national, state, and local level). Third, he sets out to simply tell his story to set the record straight against the FBI’s false accusations, injustice of local law enforcement, and the “Uncle Tom” leaders of the NAACP, along with Dr. Martin Luther King who feared a race war. Lastly, he includes the African-American struggle for equality within a larger international context of oppressed peoples around the world fighting for liberation.

Rob Williams is representative of the American character. Yet, he showed far more discipline and restraint then many of the celebrated white heros of America’s past. Sadly, he was demonized for articulating a deeply held American belief of self-defense because of the color of his skin. “Negroes with Guns” is an important text for any student of American Civil Rights. It is a shocking text and it is hard to believe that the events he lived through happened in the United States.

Steph

Negroes with Guns is an account of how Robert F. Williams arrived at this belief in armed self-defense. To be clear, Robert never called for violent provocation by black individuals, “I do not mean that Negroes should go out and attempt to get revenge for mistreatments or injustices,” he advocated for black individuals to defend themselves and the lives of their loved ones.

This account of life in Monroe reveals a time that is not to foreign to today. Williams recalls the atrocities he and black citizens of the south, particularly Monroe, faced as they tried to push for integration—specifically a white’s only pool that refused to permit black children, forcing them to swim in creeks resulting in several drownings. Williams talks of how he leaned on the law for protection and for enforcement of the 14th amendment and all inalienable rights supposedly due to American citizens. When the law repeatedly failed to do either, Williams reveals how self-defense thwarted many situations that could have resulted in the death’s of innocent black citizens of Monroe.

Read more: https://depthofields.wordpress.com/

Malik Newton

If interested in tracing the genealogy of the Black Radical Tradition, one cannot overlook this book. Williams has influenced generations of Black freedom fighters by laying it plain and speaking from a position consistent with the realities of American terror.

The book is short and more documentary than theoretical; it does not seek to elucidate a moral argument for self-defense. It tells the story of a small North Carolina town under siege by white racists and their legal, institutional apparatus. Through speaking his own truth, his lived experience, Williams dismisses the insidious myth: we must turn the other cheek. Williams is precise and never dogmatic and, surely, I will continue to learn from what his legacy has produced.

Chris

A lucidly and passionately reasoned call to conscience and call to arms in this classic text of the Civil Rights era. With novelistic flair Williams describes how the Union County, NC NAACP fought off attacks by the local KKK and corrupt police by employing an organized system neighborhood self-defense. Williams writes as a forsaken prophet, villainized by the media and political officials, but nevertheless resolute in the conviction that the principled embrace of self-defense is central to the American creed, and that doctrinaire invocations of the principles of non-violent protest fail to grasp the urgency and scale of Jim Crow terror, and nonviolence's own perverse incentives to anti-black violence.

Keka

I can see how this book inspired the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Quick and easy read. It gets heavy quite a bit so although I thought I was going to finish it in one day, I ended up stretching it out over 4 days. I couldn't take in all those accounts of racial hatred and injustice at once. It was too much.

Well-written, frequent breaks in the writing (which is kind of my thing), blunt, straightforward, and a very quick read. Loved it. Another favorite. All of these social media activists and hashtag warriors could learn a thing or two about making headway in a cause for social justice and liberation of the oppressed by reading this. It should be required reading in all movements of racial equality and social justice...

Ying

hm.. a different kind of American revolution. incredibly nuanced arguments. could it be that fighting back might be a kind of civic duty? curious about definitions of "civilization" and legitimate forms of "civil" disobedience. wondering how we can begin to redefine fear. wondering about the spectacle of lynchings and the murder of all black heroes. thinking about erasure and liberating knowledge and militant youth. thinking about how to make youth know their humanity, instead of knowing their oppression.

Kyle VanEtten

Woah - So helpful to learn from the past, and to get into primary sources like this book. I appreciated this synopsis of William's worldview at the end of the book: "Robert Williams sources are not European. His ideas are pure expressions of his social existence as a Southern Negro." Williams writes eloquently about the struggles he experienced first hand and the natural response of self-defense to unrelenting and unchallenged violence against the black community. The following quote is really a great summary of the core idea of the text and problem with calling for a pacifist response to violence without first condemning/acting to disarm the violent initiators, and working to defend the victims of their violence from future attack:

"The existence of violence is at the very heart of a racist system. The Afro-American militant is a 'militant' because he defends himself, his family, his home and his dignity. He does not introduce violence into a racist social system--the violence is already there and has always been there. It is precisely the unchallenged violence that allows a racist social system to perpetuate itself. When people say they are opposed to Negroes "resorting to violence" what they really mean is that they are opposed to Negroes defending themselves and challenging the exclusive monopoly of violence practiced by white racists."

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