At the Volokh Conspiracy, David Kopel has an extraordinary post featuring a long quote from civil rights activist John R. Salter, one of the organizers of the famous Jackson, Mississippi sit-ins, describing the crucial role that firearms played in keeping him and other civil rights activists safe from Ku Klux Klan "night-riders" and other white terrorists. Here's a brief excerpt from Salter's comments:
I was beaten and arrested many times and hospitalized twice. This happened to many, many people in the movement. No one knows what kind of massive racist retaliation would have been directed against grassroots black people had the black community not had a healthy measure of firearms within it….
Later, I worked for years in the Deep South as a full-time civil rights organizer. Like a martyred friend of mine, NAACP staffer Medgar W. Evers, I, too, was on many Klan death lists and I, too, traveled armed: a .38 special Smith and Wesson revolver and a 44/40 Winchester carbine.
The knowledge that I had these weapons and was willing to use them kept enemies at bay. Years later, in a changed Mississippi, this was confirmed by a former prominent leader of the White Knights of the KKK when we had an interesting dinner together at Jackson.