The first African American civil rights leader to advocate armed resistance to racial oppression and violence, Robert F. Williams was born on February 26, 1925 in Monroe, North Carolina. The fourth of five children born to Emma Carter Williams and John Williams, Williams quickly learned to navigate the dangers of being black in the Deep South. The Ku Klux Klan was a powerful and feared force in Monroe, and the community where Williams grew up experienced regular brutalization at the hands of whites.
In 1956, Williams took over leadership of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was close to disbanding due to a relentless backlash by the Ku Klux Klan. Williams canvassed for new members and eventually expanded the branch from only six to more than 200 members.
Williams also filed for a charter from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and formed the Black Guard, an armed group committed to the protection of Monroe’s black population. Members received weapons and physical training from Williams to prepare them to keep the peace and come to the aid of black citizens, whose calls to law enforcement often went unanswered.
With his fellow NAACP members, Williams waged local civil rights campaigns and brought the conditions of the Jim Crow South to the attention of the national and international media. Williams led an ongoing fight to integrate the local public swimming pool and opposed the condemnation of two young African American boys for the “crime” of kissing a white girl during a harmless child’s game—a cause that had been deemed too controversial for the national NAACP.
In 1959, after a jury in Monroe acquitted a white man for the attempted rape of a black woman, Williams made a historic statement on the courthouse steps.
He said of his courthouse proclamation at a later press conference: “I made a statement that if the law, if the United States Constitution cannot be enforced in this social jungle called Dixie, it is time that Negroes must defend themselves even if it is necessary to resort to violence.
“That there is no law here, there is no need to take the white attackers to the courts because they will go free and that the federal government is not coming to the aid of people who are oppressed, and it is time for Negro men to stand up and be men and if it is necessary for us to die we must be willing to die. If it is necessary for us to kill we must be willing to kill.”
(Source: disciplesofmalcolm, via specialnights)