US civil rights leaders: Robert F Williams

The author of Negroes with Guns, which inspired the strategy of the Black Panther Party.

10,000 League

Red Youth activist The 10,000 League presents another in his series of short educational videos.

In this series on black US revolutionaries, he takes a look at the way the history of the civil-rights movement in America is taught – emphasising the moderate, and leaving out the revolutionary, so that its true lessons are rarely appreciated by students or exploited workers.

This episode focuses on Robert F Williams, who wrote the classic account of civil-rights action in Monroe, Alabama, Negroes with Guns. In this short book, summing up his own experience as leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in Monroe, Williams laid out the principle of militant self defence for African-American communities, pointing out that “when people say they are opposed to negroes ‘resorting to violence’, what they really mean is that they are opposed to negroes defending themselves and challenging the exclusive monopoly of violence practiced by white racists”. This book inspired the strategy and orientation of the Black Panther Party for Self Defence, among others.

A true internationalist, who defied narrow categorisation and who connected the struggle for equal rights of black Americans to the struggle of the oppressed all over the world and built solidarity links with socialist Cuba, China and Vietnam, Williams paid for his revolutionary leadership by being first vilified and then hounded into exile. He lived first in Cuba and then in China during the years 1961-69. In 1975, the state of North Carolina finally dropped the spurious charge of ‘kidnapping white activists’ it had cooked up against him 14 years earlier.