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Forgotten heroes. Rob Williams. Armed resistance in the civil rights movement

Documentary on his life, College of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida.

Rob Williams lived in North Carolina in the 50’s, and headed a local chapter of the NAACP. The Klan would often drive into the black part of town, opening fire on homes. The police did nothing to stop it. Williams trained other Blacks in firearms usage. The next time the Klan rode in and opened fire, they received a disciplined volley of gunfire in return. No one was hurt, and the Klan never returned. However, this signaled a major break with the pacifist mainstream wing of the civil rights movement of the time as he advocated armed resistance.

He played a major role in making an international cause of the 1958 “Kissing Case.” Two black boys, 7 & 9-years old, were accused of rape for the “crime” of kissing a 9-year-old white girl. (Yes, that’s how insane things were then.) US embassies in Europe were stoned in protest over this. It was a big deal. Williams was in the middle of it.

In 1962, Williams wrote Negroes With Guns (African American Life Series) which was a major influence on Huey Newton & the Black Panthers.

In the early 60’s he learned that the FBI and a multitude of other police were looking for him, so he moved to Cuba. From Cuba, he broadcast a radio show “Radio Free Dixie” which reached into the southern US. The US CP forced him out on ideological grounds. But, judging from what I’ve read, he was probably too independent for Cuba to handle anyway. He then moved to China, where he was a honored guest of the government for years.

He came back to the US in 1969, and worked as a China scholar. After some initial legal skirmishes, he returned to North Carolina where all charges against him were dropped. In that rarest of occurrences for a revolutionary and freedom fighter, he died peacefully and in his retirement years – in 1996 at age 71 holding hands with his wife of forty nine years.

He was buried in a suit given to him by Mao Zedong. Rosa Parks spoke at the funeral, saying she and those who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama may have disagreed with his tactics but “always admired Robert Williams for his courage and his commitment to freedom. The work he did should go down in history and never be forgotten.” She added how wonderful it was for a freedom fighter to die peacefully in his sleep decades after his battles rather than being murdered.

Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power by Timothy B. Tyson is a biography of his extraordinary life.

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