Hundreds of people packed an Oakland church May 20 to celebrate the
release of a new audio documentary about civil-rights leader Robert
F. Williams. The documentary is titled
F. Williams—Self-Defense, Self-Respect & Self-Determination (as
told by Mabel Williams).
Organized and funded by several foundations, including the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media and the Freedom Archives, the event brought together at least three generations of progressive activists and artists, primarily from the Black communities in the San Francisco Bay area.
In the late 1950s, Williams became president of the Monroe, N.C., chapter of the NAACP. At that time, the African American neighborhood of Monroe was sometimes attacked by groups of Ku Klux Klan. When North Carolina Gov. Luther Hodges did nothing to stop the attacks, Williams and the local NAACP chapter formed a National Rifle Association chapter and trained their members in using firearms.
In the summer of 1957, when a Klan motorcade attacked the home of NAACP member Dr. Albert E. Perry, an armed defense squad drove them off. Klan night riding came to a sudden stop in Monroe.
This famous incident electrified many Black people and identified Williams with armed self-defense for Black people.
Mabel Williams, who had been together with Robert Williams for almost 50 years when he died in 1996, spoke eloquently of the historic struggle in Monroe in the late 1950s and through the 1960s. The government's phony charges for an alleged kidnapping, but really for their militancy, forced the couple into exile in Cuba. There they became de-facto representatives of the oppressed and working class people in the United States.
She said that everywhere they went—Cuba, China, Vietnam and
African countries—Williams told her that he did not want to
ugly America but be a good ambassador
people and for the whole human race.
The Williams' son, John C. Williams, told the audience what it was like to be raised by his activist parents. Forced into exile in Cuba, the Williams family saw firsthand what a socialist government can do for its citizens and guests.
John Williams also recalled the struggle to integrate a public swimming pool back in Monroe. Black people were forbidden in the pool because the white racists spread the lie that Blacks would leave an untidy discolored ring on the sides of the pool. By contrast, Williams said, the public schools and recreation areas were integrated in Cuba.
Other speakers included world-renown ed activists and artists Amiri
Baraka and Amina Baraka, and Yuri Kochiyama. Kochiyama spoke about
Black freedom fighter Assata Shakur, herself now living in exile in
Cuba, and the $1 million bounty the FBI recently place on her
life. Quoting Cuban president Fidel Castro, Kochiyama said,
will happen to her—she will be protected.
Amiri Baraka recalled his many years of friendship with Robert Williams, whom he first met in Cuba in the early 1960s. He pointed out that Robert F. Williams was an advocate for armed self-defense before Malcolm X became known and before the emergence of the Black Panther Party.
Baraka also talked about the Mont gomery, Ala., bus boycott, reminding
the crowd how truly correct Williams was in promoting the idea of
treat people as they treat you. Racist White Citizens Councils
and KKK members—also known as the state police—burned and
bombed homes and shot dead or beat to death Black people. Baraka
compared these acts of terror to the present international activities
involving the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles' attacks on socialist
All the participants shared the sentiment of Robert F. Williams'
words on the banner hung in the front of the church:
We are going
to have justice or set the torch to Racist Amerika. Let our battle cry
be heard around the world—Freedom, freedom, freedom now or