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Robert F. Williams: A Flawed African-American Leader

In 1965, Williams and his wife decided Cuba was not radical enough, and he moved to China, which was more to his liking under the austere totalitarianism of Chairman Mao. In 1969, fed up with the Western left, Williams returned to the United States. He was sent to North Carolina to face jail for the charges that had been levied against him before he fled, but the state eventually dropped the charges against him. He was represented in court by the well-known leftist counsel William Kunstler.

Williams is a tragic case of how a courageous African-American leader was driven by the climate of hatred and violence in the old segregationist South to turn his hatred not only towards racism, but towards the United States and the very ideals that that its founders stood for. Like Paul Robeson, Williams too adopted the idea of communist revolution as that which he thought American blacks should espouse, and he used the reputation and respect he had gained in Monroe, North Carolina, from African-Americans to try and turn them against the country in which they lived.

Robert F. Williams was a civil rights hero. He fought off the Klan, with the support of the NRA to which he belonged. But if we are to single him out for praise, we should not ignore the whole story. We should note that his own heroism led to the thuggery  of Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, and to those in today’s New Black Panther Party who carry on in their tradition. And that legacy, which also came out of the doctrine of “armed self-defense,” is not one that should be admired by anyone.