Thursday, August 8, 2013

Robert F. Williams: Negroes with Guns

Robert F. Williams was the forefather of the Black Power movement First president of the Republic of New Afrika and broke dramatic new ground by internationalizing the African American struggle. Negroes with Guns is not only an electrifying look at an historically erased leader, but also provides a thought-provoking examination of Black radicalism and resistance and serves as a launching pad for the study of Black liberation philosophies. Insightful interviews with historian Clayborne Carson, biographer Timothy Tyson, Julian Bond, and a first person account by Mabel Williams, Robert's wife, bring the story to life.

Robert Franklin Williams was born in Monroe, North Carolina in 1925. As a young man he worked for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit until he was drafted into the United States Army in 1944 where he learned to take up arms.

Back in Monroe, Williams married Mabel Robinson, a young woman who shared his commitment to social justice and African American freedom. After the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, Klan activity in Monroe skyrocketed, successfully intimidating African Americans and nearly shutting down the local chapter of the NAACP. Williams revived it to nearly 200 strong by reaching out to everyday laborers and to fellow Black veterans men who were not easily intimidated. When repeated assaults on Black women in the county were ignored by the law, Williams filed for a charter from the NRA; the Black Armed Guard was born. During a 1957 integration campaign that faced violent white resistance, Williams armed defense guard successfully drove off legions of the Klan and electrified the Black community.

In 1961, Freedom Riders came to Monroe, planning to demonstrate the superior effectiveness of passive resistance over armed self-defense. They were bloodied, beaten and jailed, and finally called on Williams for protection from thousands of rioting Klansmen. Despite the threatening mobs, Williams sheltered a white family from violence, only to be later accused of kidnapping them. Fleeing death threats, Rob and Mabel gathered their children, left everything behind and fled for their lives pursued by FBI agents on trumped-up kidnapping charges.

Williams and his family spent five years in Cuba where he wrote his electrifying book, Negroes With Guns and produced Radio Free Dixie for the international airwaves. They later moved on to China, where they were well received but always longed for their forbidden home. In 1969, Williams exchanged his knowledge of the Chinese government for safe passage to the States. Rob and Mabel lived their remaining days together in Michigan where he died in 1995. His body was returned at long last to his hometown of Monroe, N.C.

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