Brothers In Arms

How civil rights flowed from a rifle barrel

(Page 4 of 4)

Also speaking in favor of the suspension resolution had been Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. King predicted that mass non-violent actions—boycotts, marches, sit-ins, and the like—would liberate blacks, and "retaliatory violence" would not. At the same time, King distinguished Williams' call for lynchings from violence "exercised in self-defense." King described the latter type of violence "as moral and legal" in all societies, and noted that not even Gandhi condemned it.

The civil rights movement of the twentieth century is rightly celebrated as one of the greatest victories of non-violent protest in history. But avoiding aggressive violence does not mean submitting passively to thugs and murderers. As even the most committed civil rights advocates understood, self-defense is an essential human right; the effect, and often the intent, of gun laws was to take that right away from people who had no other protection. Civil rights triumphed thanks to people who were willing to put themselves in harm's way—and defend themselves while doing so.

Some citations for items in this article
Detroit riot: Walter White & Thurgood Marshall, What Caused the Detroit Riot? (N.Y.: NAACP, 1943). 1947 report: To Secure These Rights (N.Y: Simon & Schuster, 1947).
DuBois: "Cowardice," Crisis, Oct. 1916.
Randolph: "How to Stop Lynching," Messenger, Aug. 1919.
Lyons: "Negroes' Public Protest," N.Y. Times, Sept. 13, 1900.
Harrison: "New Yorkers Urged to Arm Themselves," Baltimore Afro-American, June 10, 1921.
Wilkins: "Two Against 5,000," Crisis, June 1936.
NAACP 1959 Convention: Gloster B. Current, "Fiftieth Annual Convention," Crisis, Aug.-Sept. 1959;
Herbert Shapiro, White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery, p. 461.

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