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Date: Fri, 8 Nov 96 17:13:44 CST
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Robert F. Williams Memorial Honors Life Of Struggle
Organization: InfoMatch Internet - Vancouver BC

Robert F. Williams Memorial Honors Life Of Struggle

Militant, Vol.60 no.41, 18 November 1996

DETROIT - At a November 1 meeting here to celebrate the life of civil rights fighter Robert F. Williams, the event's organizers announced plans to reprint his 1962 book, Negroes with Guns. Williams died October 15 of Hodgkins disease in Grand Rapids, Michigan. More than 200 people attended the commemoration held at Wayne State University in Detroit. Family, friends, and collaborators of Williams from around the United States came to give greetings. Written messages were sent from as far away as China, where Williams spent several years in exile. Williams's wife, Mabel, was warmly welcomed, as were his sons.

The effort to reprint Negroes with Guns is being organized by the Robert F. Williams Tribute Committee, made up of long- time Detroit Black rights activists such as General Baker, Grace Lee Boggs, Gloria House, as well as Williams's son, John.

The book tells the story of the Black community's fight against segregation and racist terror in Monroe, North Carolina, from 1957 to 1961.

Tim Tyson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, gave a biographical sketch of Williams's life. Williams was born in Monroe in 1925, but as a young man moved to Detroit, where he worked at a Ford auto plant. Williams found himself in the middle of the Detroit race riot in 1943 and had to defend himself and others from racist white mobs. Later he joined the U.S. Marines. Upon his discharge, he worked in New Jersey and then decided to return to his southern hometown to take up the fight against Jim Crow segregation and the Ku Klux Klan. Williams organized a large chapter of the NAACP made up of working-class Blacks from Monroe. He also organized a chapter of the National Rifle Association that defended the Black community against racist assault.

Negroes with Guns tells the story of the "Kissing Case." Two Black boys, aged seven and nine, were charged with "assaulting and molesting a white female" after the older one had been kissed by a seven-year-old white girl. They were arrested, thrown into the county jail, and then sentenced by a judge to the State Reformatory for Negro Boys until they were 21. The judge explained when the seven-year-old boy witnessed the kiss it had caused "his morals to become seriously impaired and he needed a term for indefinite rehabilitation." Williams and others organized the Committee to Combat Racial Injustice, which publicized this outrage internationally. The boys were finally freed after four months.

Tyson explained how one member of the Monroe NAACP chapter, Dr. Albert Perry, was especially hated by the Ku Klux Klan because he owned a brick house on the highway. One night when the Klansmen had whipped themselves into a fury at their local headquarters, they got in their cars and headed for Perry's house. They were met there by a large group of armed Blacks from Williams' Rifle Club, behind sandbag fortifications. When they heard a hail of gunfire, the racists threw their cars into reverse and quickly retreated. Shortly afterwards, the city passed an ordinance against KKK motorcades, which previously had been escorted by the local police.

Other speakers noted how Williams's actions won him notoriety. The Monroe chapter was disbanded by the National NAACP, under the leadership of Roy Wilkins. But there was not unanimous agreement.

Charles Simmons, now a professor of journalism at Eastern Michigan University, recalled that a debate over whether Williams's tactics were "the Christian thing to do" broke out at the first NAACP chapter meeting he attended in Detroit in the late 1950s. When Simmons finally met Williams in Cuba in 1964, he asked him about this. The fighter's reply was, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!"

Dr. Reginald Wilson, a friend of Williams who now lives in Washington, D.C., described how he smuggled guns to Monroe from Detroit in the trunk of his car. "I also took along a tape recorder to record the story of the struggle in Monroe for the folk back home," he said. But when he returned to Michigan neither the Black press, nor the Black radio station would run the story.

In 1961, Williams and his family were forced to flee the country after a phony charge of kidnapping was leveled against him and an FBI dragnet was set up. Williams went to Cuba where he broadcast a radio show called "Radio Free Dixie," back into the United States. General Baker described how he and other activists eagerly waited each week to listen to the broadcasts.

The reprint of Negroes with Guns will be an important contribution to the historical record of the civil rights movement and one that today's fighters for justice and freedom will want to read. It was included in the Militant's recommended reading list when it was originally published.

By Holly Harkness, a member of United Auto Workers Local 235.

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