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‘This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed:’ Guns and the Civil Rights Movement

A new book explains how pivotal black gun ownership was to defeating the Klan.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

Bio

April 11, 2014 - 11:00 pm
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I was recently given the opportunity to read an advance copy of Professor Charles E. Cobb, Jr.’s This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible, coming from Basic Books in June. This book will have readers who might have nothing else in common politically reaching for a copy.

Professor Cobb currently teaches Africana Studies at Brown University in Rhode Island. Every once in a while, this book will remind you that Cobb’s politics are very markedly to the left, except on the issue of gun control. I suspect that more than a few of Cobb’s associates will be either scratching their heads or filled with fury.

Cobb’s book is both a history of the civil rights movement and a memoir of his involvement. Cobb was a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the front-line civil rights organizations in the 1960s South. As the name suggests, SNCC — like many of the civil rights organizations — eventually adopted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s belief in peaceful non-resistance. But as Cobb’s book explains, even Dr. King was not initially prepared to turn the other cheek.

Sympathizers described Dr. King’s house in the 1950s as an arsenal. Dr. King was not unique: as Cobb’s book explains, idealistic young men and women like himself with college educations and often from Northern cities could adopt the idea of non-violence at least in part because the Southern blacks that they had come to help were under no illusions of how well this idea of non-violence would work.

Many of these realistic Southern blacks were not young. Cobb recounts the story of an 80-year-old woman who had finally, because of the voter registration drives, been allowed to vote. She walked up to Stokely Carmichael, one of the civil rights organizers, outside a polling place, “and produced this enormous, rusty Civil War-looking old pistol. ‘Best you hol’ this for me, son. I’ma go cast my vote now” (p. 3).

Many of the Southern blacks prepared to use guns in self-defense against the Klan were veterans of World War II and the Korean War, where they had learned self-confidence in combat and that being armed was part of what made you a citizen.

In other cases, the willingness to fight back involved less abstract concepts than voting. Cobb describes Lou Ella Townsend, a Mississippi cotton farmer who regularly carried a Luger pistol with him in the fields. One day, a white man on horseback saw Townsend’s teenaged niece in the field, and told her “that he intended the take the girl back home, and also that he was going to beat her niece so she would know her place.” Townsend made it clear that doing so would be his last action on Earth. “Of twenty-two brothers and sisters in [Townsend’s] family, she and two others were the only children who were not the product of rape by white men” (p. 94).

Cobb describes how the increasing use of federal law against lynchings in the 1950s played a part in restraining the most outrageous forms of anti-black violence, but the relatively relaxed gun control laws of the South and the widespread culture of gun ownership played a part as well. “Nighttime marauders had learned to keep a more respectful distance from their targets because the targets were increasingly prone to shoot back.” The return of so many combat-experienced black soldiers from the two wars meant that terrorizing blacks was no longer a risk-free activity (pp. 123-4). Indeed, it could and sometimes did get Klansmen killed.

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Top Rated Comments   
" The KKK were domestic terrorists, and only force meeting force would restrain them, especially when they were also the local law enforcement agency."

And what of the Bundy's situation?

http://lasvegas.cbslocal.com/2014/04/11/tea-party-lawmaker-nev-cattle-roundup-reminded-me-of-tiananmen-square/

How is that territory a "Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings".

Who are the domestic terrorists here?
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Back in the 1990's Kweisi Mfume, then head of the NAACP, floated a trial balloon about suing gun manufacturers for the "disparate impact" of gun violence on the Black community.

This prompted me to write a letter to Mr. Mfume asking him if it would be okay with him and his organization if gun manufacturers embargoed their products against the Black community...and if so, how this policy would have been any different than that of the Invisible Empire's?

He never replied.

"Gun Control" is ALWAYS about OTHER people.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am a child of the Cold War and the Civil rights era. What this article fails to mention is that there were no Rebulicans in the KKK. It was strictly a Democrat operation.

In this day, the means have changed, but the intent is the same. Servitude comes in many forms.

I used to go to UT-Austin where the LBJ archives are held. There is one quote from LBJ that stands above all others concerning the sheer sickness that is the democrat party.

The great society program was the anti-thesis to the civil rights bill. A Texas two step so to speak.

The quote LBJ used to twist arms and corrupt the legislative process:

"Vote for this legislation and I will guarantee the nig*** vote for generations."

I really have nothing to add. After LBJ our entire family went republican. On moral grounds. And we are all Texans.

The welfare state is just another form of servitude. Same construct, same masters.

And let me say this, I am annoyed at the asterics. A direct quote in quotations from a POTUS should be fair game in this forumn.

It is what it is. You cannot candy coat the truth guys. Even if it is hard to take.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (18)
All Comments   (18)
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Mr. Cramer, a question for you.
10 US Code puts pretty much every American male in the militia, either the organized or unorganized. Wasn't that also true at the time of our founding? And the musket was the standard long gun for both the military and civilian markets. I do believe in lieu of back pay Revolutionary soldiers were given their standard issue weapon to take home. I know that English law at times required yeoman longbow men to practice regularly. Didn't they own their own bows? Now to be historically accurate, wouldn't it be more in line to require practically all adults (dropping sex discrimination) to own an M-16 -- the standard issue weapon of today? I'll even drop the select fire option and go with the AR-15.

That's right, read the Second Amendment to require us to own the standard issue weapon of the army.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Militia Act of 1792 and the 1803 revisions did impose requirements that all able bodied white male citizens 18 to 45 own a military weapon. While not much enforced from the War of 1812 onward, this requirement was repealed in 1903. The federal government could certainly impose such a requirement today: they can force you to buy health insurance, they can certainly require you to own a battle rifle in a standard caliber. (And proponents of the Unaffordable Care Act actually used the Militia Act of 1792 to justify this imposition. There are some problems with the analogy.)

This is why local laws requiring gun ownership are unquestionably constitutional. I actually live outside a small town in Idaho that is one of these "you will own a gun" places.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mr. Cramer, it's a book I plan to own.

What interests me most, since I know the gist of the history, is will Cobb be "othered" for his views?
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
The KKK was run by big government, anti-business Democrats who supported Planned Parenthood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Fj-E-Yk78M
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Shhhhhh you can't say that out loud. We all know Jim Crow Southerners were ebil Conservatives who never heard of FDR or the New Deal.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is a bit more complicated than that. There were Jim Crow Southerners who really did not approve of the New Deal and FDR, but they were all in the same political party. That's why parties are coalitions.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Maybe, but remember by definition Jim Crow was restriction and regulation of business and baldly violated the principles of the free market.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
" The KKK were domestic terrorists, and only force meeting force would restrain them, especially when they were also the local law enforcement agency."

And what of the Bundy's situation?

http://lasvegas.cbslocal.com/2014/04/11/tea-party-lawmaker-nev-cattle-roundup-reminded-me-of-tiananmen-square/

How is that territory a "Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings".

Who are the domestic terrorists here?
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wonder if having armed militias show up might have caused the federal government to look for a less aggressive solution -- rather like the envelopment of the FBI at the Freeman of Montana siege might have restrained some of the macho men.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you for the reply.

I may not respect every argument to which you turn it, but I respect your intellect and expenditure of your time.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
It looks like he won a round. I bet the feds will still try to get the money.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Back in the 1990's Kweisi Mfume, then head of the NAACP, floated a trial balloon about suing gun manufacturers for the "disparate impact" of gun violence on the Black community.

This prompted me to write a letter to Mr. Mfume asking him if it would be okay with him and his organization if gun manufacturers embargoed their products against the Black community...and if so, how this policy would have been any different than that of the Invisible Empire's?

He never replied.

"Gun Control" is ALWAYS about OTHER people.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am a child of the Cold War and the Civil rights era. What this article fails to mention is that there were no Rebulicans in the KKK. It was strictly a Democrat operation.

In this day, the means have changed, but the intent is the same. Servitude comes in many forms.

I used to go to UT-Austin where the LBJ archives are held. There is one quote from LBJ that stands above all others concerning the sheer sickness that is the democrat party.

The great society program was the anti-thesis to the civil rights bill. A Texas two step so to speak.

The quote LBJ used to twist arms and corrupt the legislative process:

"Vote for this legislation and I will guarantee the nig*** vote for generations."

I really have nothing to add. After LBJ our entire family went republican. On moral grounds. And we are all Texans.

The welfare state is just another form of servitude. Same construct, same masters.

And let me say this, I am annoyed at the asterics. A direct quote in quotations from a POTUS should be fair game in this forumn.

It is what it is. You cannot candy coat the truth guys. Even if it is hard to take.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is a must read book. It gives credence to pro gun advocates that many of the gun laws enacted in the 1960s were racially motivated.

This book will be used in many a debate on internet forums with the appropriate links and footnotes.

No need to get snippy or sarcastic. Just state your position, support it with the facts, and footnote it. At that point the most obstinate people will be the trolls and the religious left.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wish you were right. But there seem to be a lot of people out there who will not alter their opinions even in the face of incontrovertible facts.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Like he said, the trolls and the obstinate left.

It IS possible to convert rabid anti-gunners. I have done it. It ain't easy, but it can be done.

Books like this are a big help.

15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
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