Negroes with Guns: A Review

robert williams

“…the Negro in the South cannot expect justice in the courts. He must convict his attackers on the spot. He must meet violence with violence, lynching with lynching” 

This was the statement made by Mr. Robert F. Williams that launched him into mainstream notoriety, resulted in his suspension as the president of his Monroe, N.C. NAACP chapter, and forced him to, eventually, flee the country in political exile. It was this ideology of self-defense that also inspired Huey P. Newton who, with Bobby Seale, created The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense—a community activist group that introduced over 60 instrumental initiatives to better serve, govern, and defend their communities. 

This statement was delivered after a white man was acquitted after being accused of attempting to rape a pregnant black woman. When Mr. Williams was approached by the woman’s brothers, and other men in the community. to defend this woman’s honor Mr. Williams told them to put the faith in the law. After the case was dropped the black women looked upon Mr. Williams and declared that he had now left them vulnerable to any white man who should ever choose to take them women by force. When asked what he was going to do about it, Mr. Williams delivered the aforementioned statement. 

Negroes with Guns is an account of how Robert F. Williams arrived at this belief in armed self-defense. To be clear, Robert never called for violent provocation by black individuals, “I do not mean that Negroes should go out and attempt to get revenge for mistreatments or injustices,” he advocated for black individuals to defend themselves and the lives of their loved ones. 

This account of life in Monroe reveals a time that is not to foreign to today. Williams recalls the atrocities he and black citizens of the south, particularly Monroe, faced as they tried to push for integration—specifically a white’s only pool that refused to permit black children, forcing them to swim in creeks resulting in several drownings. Williams talks of how he leaned on the law for protection and for enforcement of the 14th amendment and all inalienable rights supposedly due to American citizens. When the law repeatedly failed to do either, Williams reveals how self-defense thwarted many situations that could have resulted in the death’s of innocent black citizens of Monroe. 

Without giving too much of the book away, this read is one that counters the largely popular myth that all black people of the 50s and 60s adopted this idea of non-violent resistance. Though Williams never denounces the beliefs of Martin Luther King Jr., and even welcomes the arrival of Freedom Riders in his community, he stood firm in his anti-pacifist beliefs. Negroes with Guns helps provide plurality to the ideologies of black individuals fighting for freedom. It is a tale of resistance, a manifesto of empowerment that encourages oppressed people to know the law–and when the enforcers of the law fail to do their job–to defend one’s self and the lives of whom one loves.

The book was published at the same time that racist citizens of Monroe were asking for Mr. Williams to be released from Michigan and returned to Monroe. Williams’ courage inspired the pleas of thousands of people across the world for the Federal Government to spare his life and not release him to Monroe where a lynch mob was sure to make assassination attempts. The introduction of this book concludes with a sentiment that rings true some thirty-odd years later; Negroes with Guns is a must-read because “this book and this case effects an entire people.”