Armed self-defense by blacks during the civil rights movement


This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible

Standing behind Martin Luther King in the South were considerable numbers of heavily armed blacks who weren’t about to let the Klan terrorize them. This history of armed self-defense stretches back to the days of slavery. Voter registration drives in the South signed up far more voters when they were protected by armed blacks. Even MLK had guns. His house was described as an “arsenal.” He was a huge moral force. However, implicit in his nonviolence was “if you don’t deal with me, then you’ll have to deal with the crazies standing behind me” like Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.

According to Charles E. Cobb’s revelatory new history of armed self-defense and the civil rights movement, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed, Canton and the rest of the South could not have been desegregated without people like C.O. Chinn, who were willing to take the lives of white people and were thus known as “crazy Negroes” or, less delicately, “bad niggers.”

Cobb does not discount the importance of nonviolent protest, but he demonstrates with considerable evidence that desegregation and voting rights “could not have been achieved without the complementary and still underappreciated practice of armed self-defense.”

Cobb concludes from these and many other examples of black armed self-defense that the current tendency among liberals to think of gun rights as a cause championed by racists is wrong-headed. Though “largely associated with the conservative white Right…there was a time when people on both sides of America’s racial divide embraced their right to self-protection, and when rights were won because of it.”

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