Political Nonviolence, Private Self-Defense

Armed self-defense and the black freedom movement.


Nicholas Johnson, a professor at Fordham Law School and the author of the new book Negroes and the Gun, has written a series of guest posts for The Volokh Conspiracy this week. His topic is the relationship between the black freedom movement and armed self-defense, and his first post draws a distinction that many people miss:

Gandhi's packing heat.

The black tradition of arms has been submerged because it seems hard to reconcile with the dominant narrative of nonviolence in the modern civil-rights movement. But that superficial tension is resolved by the long-standing distinction that was vividly evoked by movement stalwart Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer's approach to segregationists who dominated Mississippi politics was, "Baby you just got to love 'em. Hating just makes you sick and weak." But, asked how she survived the threats from midnight terrorists, Hamer responded, "I'll tell you why. I keep a shotgun in every corner of my bedroom and the first cracker even look like he wants to throw some dynamite on my porch won't write his mama again."

Like Hartman Turnbow, Fannie Lou Hamer embraced private self-defense and political nonviolence without any sense of contradiction. In this she channeled a more-than-century-old practice and philosophy that evolved through every generation, sharpened by icons like Ida B. Wells, W. E. B. Du Bois and Daisy Bates, pressed by the burgeoning NAACP, and crystalized by Martin Luther King Jr.

You can read the rest of that post here, and you can read the other installments in the series here, here, here, and here.