Stand Your Ground by Caroline Light

Stand Your Ground by Caroline Light

Author:Caroline Light [Light, Caroline E.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 978-0-8070-6468-9
Publisher: Beacon Press
Published: 2016-12-15T16:00:00+00:00

“THAT HAD BEEN OUR HISTORY”: THE POWER IN THE STORY

The Williamses argued that the mainstream embrace of nonviolence had resulted from the fact that “the majority of white people in the United States have literally no idea of the violence with which Negroes in the South are treated daily—nay, hourly.” They wrote, “This violence is deliberate, conscious, condoned by the authorities. It has gone on for centuries and is going on today, every day, unceasing and unremitting.” History itself justified the actions of the Black Armed Guard: “One hundred years after the Civil War began, we Negroes in Monroe armed ourselves in self-defense and used our weapons. We showed that our policy worked.”28

The turn to weaponry represented a last resort for a community beset by racist violence. Mabel Williams explained in 2005, “We didn’t know when we started fighting that the FBI [and] the federal government [were] supporting the power structure. We were asking for what we thought were simple things, like the right to have a job . . . but they wouldn’t give us that.” Activists’ efforts to pursue nonviolent channels to justice had failed. Even though many Black citizens owned guns, explained Mabel Williams, they would not use them for self-defense: “When the Klan would come out, people would be afraid. That had been our history.”29 The rhetoric of armed self-defense encouraged those targeted by racist violence to unite under the banner of their shared history of exclusion from equal protection of the law.

Contrary to popular contemporary understandings that have framed Black militancy as criminal and violent, gun safety and adherence to the law were of critical importance to the Black Armed Guard and other paramilitary organizations. Mabel Williams explained, “The only reason you would ever pick up a gun is for self-defense and not for anything aggressive or not to scare off anybody.”30 When Black activists took up arms, they did so in close observance of legal codes governing gun ownership and how and where one could legally carry them. In a 1999 interview with historian David Cecelski, Mabel Williams stated that the activists who carried weapons “knew how to use [them].”31 When Robert organized an armed resistance, according to Mabel, “He was very much one for obeying the law. So he would go around with a luger on one side,” and they always kept a gun in their car. “What he knew but did not accept is that the law wasn’t meant for us,” explained Mabel. She meant that the laws allowing for the ownership and open carry of firearms were not intended for Black citizens. However, she added, Robert “was going to make it be for us.” The Williamses’ efforts rested on a call for equal justice, where Black citizens could carry weapons in collective self-defense in the absence of the state’s protection. In Robert’s mind, the risk of backlash was worth it because “he would rather die just five minutes standing up like a man than crawling at the feet of his oppressors.”32

In



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