A heavily armed white trooper menacing a protest march through Bogalusa, Louisiana, in 1965.

A heavily armed white trooper menacing a protest march through Bogalusa, Louisiana, in 1965.

The dominant images of the civil rights movement’s sit-ins, bus boycotts and marches reflect the “nonviolent” ethos of the era. But for those on the front lines of segregation in the deep South, bearing arms was not only a right, but a necessity. Journalist and former civil rights activist Charles E. Cobb Jr. joins us to talk about his book “This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible,” and explore the role that armed self-defense played in the civil rights movement.


  • Charlie Cobb Journalist; Author, "This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible"

A History Of Armed Self-Defense

Faced with the prospect of overwhelming violence from state and federal authorities, Afro-Americans had to carefully weigh the prerogative of armed self-defense against the brutality that their resistance might elicit. In his book, Charles E. Cobb Jr. features images–some of them featured below–that illustrate the quiet ways in which civil rights activists protected themselves.

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted with permission from This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible by Charles E. Cobb Jr. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2014

This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed


  • 13:24:43

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFifty years ago this June, students from around the country descended on Mississippi for Freedom Summer, a massive effort to register black voters. It was a pivotal time in the Civil Rights Movement. And in this area, leaders like Stokely Carmichael and newly-minted Howard University grads were coming out to sit-ins and freedom rides to espouse nonviolent resistance in the heart of the country's most oppressive segregation.

  • 13:25:06

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut what Carmichael and many other nonviolent activists learned was that those who embraced peaceful protests, including Dr. Martin Luther King himself, did so while exercising their constitutional right to self-protection, guns were a way of life. And for blacks, living and protesting in the Deep South, they weren't just a right. They were often a necessity. Today, images of sit-ins, bus boycotts and marches dominate the nonviolent ethos of the era. But what was the reality? And what role did guns play in securing civil rights?

  • 13:25:35

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me in studio is Charles Cobb, Jr. He's a journalist and author of "This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible." Charlie Cobb is a former field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, also known as SNCC. He's also an old friend. Charlie, good to see you.

  • 13:25:54

    MR. CHARLIE COBBGood to see you, Kojo.

  • 13:25:55

    NNAMDIWhen I met you in 1969, your years as a field secretary for SNCC were long over. But you lived through an incredibly pivotal, incredibly dangerous era in this country's history. And you're now writing about it from an important angle, how arms shaped the Civil Rights Movement. For a lot of listeners, this idea of guns aiding a largely nonviolent movement seems like a huge inconsistency. Why was it important to you to challenge the orthodoxy of this nonviolent movement?

  • 13:26:25

    COBBPartly because, as a writer, I've, in general over the last several years, been challenging the orthodox narrative of the Civil Rights Movement. I think there's lots of shortcomings in that narrative. Julian Bond, an old friend and colleague in SNCC, sort of succinctly quipped about how the Civil Rights Movement is portrayed. He says Rosa sat down. Martin stood up. Then the white folks saw the light and saved the day.

  • 13:26:54

    COBBSo the guns -- the two things to understand, that at least I'm trying to get across in this particular book, one, in one sense, it should be easy to understand that guns were an important part of the Civil Rights Movement. All you have to do is think of black people as human beings. And their response to violence and terrorism is going to be the same as any other person's response.

  • 13:27:18

    COBBAs Hartman Turnbow put it -- he was a legendary figure in Mississippi's movement, a farmer. He said, I had a wife, and I had a daughter. And I loved my wife just like the white man loves his. And I'll protect the white man -- I'll protect my wife just like a white man will protect his. And that's pretty easy to understand. This is a human thing, not even a black thing.

  • 13:27:45

    NNAMDIWell, about -- go ahead.

  • 13:27:45

    COBBAnd the other point I just want to very quickly make is, when we do talk about guns, I think there's one important distinction to make. I'm really largely talking about the rural South...

  • 13:27:57

    NNAMDIMm hmm.

  • 13:27:57

    COBB...and not cities like Atlanta or Nashville, Tenn. or Greensboro, N.C., which were really the sites of nonviolent activism. In the rural South, there really wasn't any place to sit-in besides a gas station restroom. So it wasn't a big part of the movement in the first place.

  • 13:28:19

    NNAMDIAnd a lot of people did not really understand how this debate had been taking place from the very beginnings of the movement. Here's one of SNCC's founders, Charles McDew recalling the argument he made against nonviolence at a meeting that he had with Martin Luther King back in 1960.

  • 13:28:38

    MR. CHARLES MCDEWWell, Gandhi used in India the tactic of having people lay down on railroad tracks to protest. I said -- and it worked. Except but if a group of black people laid down on railroad tracks here in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, any of these southern states, a train would run you over and back up to make certain you are dead.

  • 13:29:10

    MR. CHARLES MCDEWYou cannot make a moral appeal in the midst of an amoral society. And I said -- thought it was not immoral. We lived in a society that was amoral. And as such, nonviolence was not going to work, so said I couldn't and the people with me could not join Dr. King. And thank you, but no thanks.

  • 13:29:43

    NNAMDICharles McDew talking about nonviolence. That sound is from a 2011 interview conducted by the American Folk Life Center. Charles McDew's interview is one of the more than 100 compiled for the Civil Rights History Project archive at the Library of Congress. That archive is now available online. The launch is today. You can find a link to that archive at our website, kojoshow.org. Charlie, what was it like to be a part of that project and have your story recorded for the nation's archives?

  • 13:30:10

    COBBWell, you know, it's all a part of my -- I saw it as all a part of my campaign to try and get -- for lack of a better phrase -- the right story out there. You know, I'm extremely dissatisfied with the narrative as it plays out. You know, Martin Luther King has sort of been reduced to an I-have-a-dream speech on the Washington Mall. Stokely Carmichael has been simplified into a moment in which he shouts out black power, thus destroying the good nonviolent movement of love and redemption.

  • 13:30:48

    MR. RICHARD BEJTLICHAgain, going back to my point, the black people are human beings. You've got to acknowledge minimally that there's a greater complexity. There's a richness to the story. And as someone who's intimate with the movement, deeply involved with it, I feel that much of its complexity, much of its richness has not been portrayed in the canon so to speak.

  • 13:31:12

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number here if you'd like to join the conversation. We're talking with Charles Cobb, Jr. He's a journalist and author of the book "This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible." 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. You can shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow. How did you end up going from Howard University to Ruleville, Miss. in 1961?

  • 13:31:38

    COBBI'm tempted to say accidentally. I more often say I was kidnapped by the Mississippians. I was involved as a Howard University student in the sit-ins in this area. Remember Washington, D.C. had only recently begun to desegregate, and everything around the city was racially segregated. Thus there was a pretty strong protest movement, sit-in movement if you will, on the Howard University campus, the Nonviolent Action Group. That's where Stokely comes on.

  • 13:32:06


  • 13:32:06

    COBBNAG, and a whole lot of other people that would become active in SNCC and CORE. Because I was involved in the sit-in, CORE, in fact, the Congress of Racial Equality, invited me to a civil rights workshop in Houston, Texas. And I took a -- they gave me money for a bus ticket because, in those days, you didn't fly.

  • 13:32:25

    NNAMDIWell, you know, when I first met Charlie Cobb, we were riding in the car someplace, and we got ready to fly someplace. And Charlie said, you know, airplanes weren't invented until 1967 because in the Civil Rights Movement, you didn't fly anyplace.

  • 13:32:38

    COBBNo, you didn't. You took the bus. I had this long trip through the South, and I got off the bus in Jackson, Miss. to introduce myself to students there sitting in because, you know, I'm part of also the Emmett Till generation. Emmett Till totally defined Mississippi for my age group, you know, as a murderous, racist, white supremacist state, probably the worst place in the universe for any black person.

  • 13:33:04

    COBBSo I felt it was one thing for me to be sitting-in in Maryland and Virginia, quite another thing for students to be sitting-in in Mississippi. So I wanted to get a close-up look at them to see if they had some kind of gene that gave them some kind of courage...

  • 13:33:21

    NNAMDICourageous gene.

  • 13:33:22

    COBB...or something like -- and I made my way to their headquarters, and I was explaining to them, well, I just wanted to introduce myself. I'm on the way to Texas for this workshop. And one of the students then just finishing up at Tougaloo College, Lawrence Guyot...

  • 13:33:34

    NNAMDIWell-known in these parts.

  • 13:33:35

    COBB...known here in D.C., lived here for many, many years, but a Mississippian and a big guy, as you know...

  • 13:33:41

    NNAMDIYes. And a big mouth, too.

  • 13:33:43

    COBBYes. And he rose from his seat when I said I was on my way to Texas for this Civil Rights workshop. And he kind of hovered over me in that way, as you know that Guyot could do.

  • 13:33:55


  • 13:33:59

    COBBAnd he kind of sneered and, you know, sort of half-contentiously and half-bullying said, you're going to Texas for a Civil Rights workshop? What's the point of doing that when you're standing right here in Mississippi?

  • 13:34:18

    COBBSo -- and then another one of the students, Jesse Harris -- was also an important figure in Mississippi -- then chimes in, and he says, yeah, you're in the warzone here. And I sort of got the message, yeah, you could go off to Texas, chatter about civil rights if you want to. But if you're serious, you know, you'll stay here with us. And they were just beginning to develop a voter registration project campaign in the Mississippi Delta, the cotton country, right.

  • 13:34:46

    NNAMDIAnd you never got on that bus.

  • 13:34:48

    COBBI never wound -- I went up -- what happened was one of these kids, students, up in Greenwood wound up getting chased by the Ku Klux Klan. They broke down the door, and he called down -- and I was in the room when he called down. And he says, the Klan has broken down the door. We called the FBI. They said they couldn't do anything. If anything happens, call us back. And then the phone went dead. So I didn't know. And I'm saying to myself, I was just talking to these students. I can't just get on a bus now and go to Texas without knowing what had happened. So I got in the car with Bob Moses...

  • 13:35:23

    NNAMDIMm hmm.

  • 13:35:23

    COBB...and Charles McLaurin and went up there. It turned out they had jumped out a window, scrambled across a roof, slid down a television antenna, and had gotten away. And I wound up staying there for the next four years.

  • 13:35:35

    NNAMDIStaying in Mississippi. And where guns comes in, the home that you were staying in in Ruleville, Miss. was the home of the McDonalds.

  • 13:35:43


  • 13:35:43

    NNAMDIAnd I wanted you to tell the story that you can find in this book, "This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible." Charlie started getting arrested, threatened by the mayor, et cetera, et cetera.

  • 13:35:57


  • 13:35:57

    NNAMDIAnd on one occasion, however, they took away Mr. McDonald's gun.

  • 13:36:02

    COBBYeah. They took it away because -- there's a whole sequence of events. There's a whole group of people, including Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer that tried to register to vote.

  • 13:36:08


  • 13:36:09

    COBBShe's kicked off the plantation, and the night riders drive through town shooting up homes. And they wound two girls. Now, I was -- and they shot up the house -- I have the phone -- the old man I was staying with, Joe McDonald...

  • 13:36:22

    NNAMDIYou were downtown at the -- you were in town at the time.

  • 13:36:23

    COBBI was in town, but Ruleville only had 1,100 people then. So any shots in the middle of a Delta night you could hear in any part of town. And I heard the shots, heard what direction they were from, and knew they were from what was then called the sanctified quarters, the neighborhood I was living in. So I raced back across town and found out these two girls had been shot, went to the hospital to see about them, was asking about them.

  • 13:36:48

    COBBThe mayor was there, Charles Dorrough, and he ordered me arrested. He said for asking a lot of silly questions and interfering with their investigation. And he hands me over to the brother of one of the men who had murdered Emmett Till. I'm hauled off to Ruleville's little tiny jail, which is still there. And it's all about intimidation.

  • 13:37:07

    COBBI'm let go the next morning. But by this time the mayor is saying the shootings were a conspiracy plotted by Bob Moses, Charlie Cobb, Charles McLaurin, Landy McNair, those of us who were working the county, Sunflower County. And within the context of this charge, he confiscated the shotgun of the man I was staying with. And, you know, every house in the rural South has a gun -- shotgun over the wall or in the corner or something like that. So he takes the shotgun. Now this old man, who's 76 years old, is worried 'cause he used the gun to put food on the table. And he's got two young guys staying with him. You know, we're 20. We eat a lot.

  • 13:37:51

    NNAMDIAnd so now the gun is gone, and he's worrying out loud about what to do. So we tell him, well, he has a right to his gun. And he asks us, are we certain? Well, we had a history book.

  • 13:38:03

    NNAMDICharlie's always got a book.

  • 13:38:05

    COBBYes, with a copy of the U.S. Constitution in it. So I went and got the book, and I read the Second Amendment out loud to him. And Charles McLaurin who was with me then chimes in and says something like, you see, Mr. Joe -- that's what we called him -- that's where it says you have a right to your gun, right in the United States Constitution. And Mr. Joe, who could not read or write, tells me to fold over the page. I just read the Second Amendment for him. He takes the book from me, and we forget about it.

  • 13:38:38

    COBBAnd a little while later, hour or so later, we notice that Mr. Joe is not around. We ask his wife Rebecca, well, where is Mr. Joe? And she says, well, he went to get his gun. You said it was all right. Well, one of the big wars we had in the South constantly was that people would get hurt or killed because they were doing something that you would encourage them to do. The murder of Herbert Lee comes immediately to mind down in Amid County, Miss.

  • 13:39:08

    COBBSo now we're worried that Mr. Joe is going to get himself hurt or killed going to get his gun, which is in the possession of the mayor. And we're about to run out after him when we hear the rattle of his old truck. He's coming back, and we run out and say, what happened? And Mr. Joe says, well, I went down to City Hall, and I told the mayor I come to get my gun. And he says it several times. He says, yeah, that's what I said. I told him I come to get my gun. Well, we say, of course, well, what happened? He says, the mayor said I didn't have a right to my gun.

  • 13:39:43

    COBBAnd then Mr. Joe says he held up the book we'd given him and opened it to the page that he had told me to fold over, and told the mayor, this book says I do. Now, this is -- Mr. Joe had never challenged a white man in his entire life. So this is at least as important as going to the County Courthouse to register to vote, even though we didn't organize it or plan it. And, furthermore, the mayor gave Mr. Joe his gun back because after he finished telling us this is what happened, he steps out of the truck and is holding the shotgun above him. I actually have a photo. It's not in the book -- well, it's in the (word?), but it's not in the published book because I couldn't track down the rights...

  • 13:40:29

    NNAMDIOh, boy.

  • 13:40:29

    COBB...to use. There was a photographer there. And he has a photograph that appeared -- it looked like Jet Magazine, but I never got a response from Jet on this. And he's standing on the porch with his wife, Rebecca, holding the shotgun on the same day he had gotten it back.

  • 13:40:45

    NNAMDIWhen you and the thousands of young activists came to the South promoting nonviolent change at the grassroots level, you encountered a black culture that was armed and willing to take risks for some security.

  • 13:40:56

    COBBYeah, but we did -- and we didn't go there promoting nonviolence. That's the first one.

  • 13:41:02


  • 13:41:02

    COBBNot in the rural South.

  • 13:41:04


  • 13:41:04

    COBBWe adopted nonviolence as an effective tactic for sit-ins and freedom ride.

  • 13:41:09

    NNAMDIOh, right.

  • 13:41:10

    COBBEssentially, they're happening in urban areas.

  • 13:41:12

    NNAMDIGlad you corrected on that.

  • 13:41:13

    COBBYou know, Chuck's story, Chuck McDew, Charles McDew who was known to Chuck to most of us, he's -- the story he -- that your listeners just heard, he's describing something that took place at SNCC's founding conference, when Martin Luther King spoke to the gathered students and said he wanted us to be a part of his organization, SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. But in order to be a part of SCLC, you know, you had to commit, he said, to nonviolence as a way of life. And students weren't prepared to go that far.

  • 13:41:48

    COBBThey were prepared to use it as a tactic because it seemed to work. And even if they had -- a vague notion of nonviolence in going to these rural areas, A, we didn't have much grounding in the philosophy, B, we didn't have much training in the practice of nonviolence. And we were really in these communities to organize what Stokely would later articulate as black power. Voter registration -- and all those people in these communities, that's what they would talk to us about.

  • 13:42:19

    COBBIf we can get rid of these sheriffs, if we can get rid of these county boards of supervisors and all that, we could have some power ourselves and make this a better place. So nonviolence was really kind of moot. It didn't come up. It -- not that we opposed nonviolence. It just didn't come up. If you're talking to farmers, if you're talking to sharecroppers, if you're talking to maids and cooks, you know, they would say things.

  • 13:42:50

    COBBThey want to be in the movement. Or they would say they're a part of the freedom movement. I never heard anybody say or -- about that they were in the nonviolent -- they called us the nonviolents just because we were identified with the sit-ins and freedom rights...

  • 13:43:05

    NNAMDIIn the North.

  • 13:43:06

    COBB...in the -- and because we were identified with sit-ins and freedom rights...

  • 13:43:09


  • 13:43:09

    COBB...which were sort of defined as nonviolent protests.

  • 13:43:14

    NNAMDIHere is Johnny in Beltsville, Md. Johnny, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:43:19

    JOHNNYThanks, Kojo. Hi, Mr. Cobb. How are you doing?

  • 13:43:21

    COBBI'm doing fine. How are you?

  • 13:43:22

    JOHNNYPretty good.

  • 13:43:23


  • 13:43:23

    JOHNNYI was just listening as I was driving here, and you brought to mind a story that my uncle, who is kind of the family historian, shared with me over the years. And have you ever heard of Yanceyville, N.C.?

  • 13:43:36

    COBBYanceyville? No, I can't say.

  • 13:43:39

    NNAMDINor have I.

  • 13:43:40

    JOHNNYWell, we're from the Cobb family in Yanceyville, N.C.

  • 13:43:45

    COBBWell, my father's people are from North Carolina.

  • 13:43:48

    JOHNNYOh, so hey, cuz.

  • 13:43:49

    COBBHey, cuz.

  • 13:43:51

    JOHNNYSo I'm, like, my Uncle Herman tells tons of stories, and he just keeps me, you know, riveted sometimes. He tells me there was one story relating to your subject where there was a black guy in Yanceyville -- he may have been a relative, I'm not sure -- and everyone knew, you know, that the white folks were out to get him. When, in this one instance, he was downtown and went into a store where another black guy worked. And he was, you know, making a purchase at the store. And the black guy looked out the window behind him and saw that the white guys who had been after him noticed that he was in the store.

  • 13:44:31

    JOHNNYAnd they started congregating. And so the store clerk wrapped up a pistol that he had underneath the counter and gave it to him, you know, along with his purchases -- along with his goods. And so as he headed out of town, they noticed that the white guys piled into a couple of cars and started following him.

  • 13:44:53

    JOHNNYAnd so what happened down the road somewhere, where they got out of sight of "downtown" Yanceyville, is that they ran him off the road, and they didn't realize he was armed though. And as they approached the car, he shot a couple of them and wounded them and escaped through a creek. And that kind of set off, you know, this bigger -- I don't want to call it a feud because that was -- that was just...

  • 13:45:16

    NNAMDINo, but I'm glad -- I'm glad you brought up that incident because that allows me to ask Charlie about black self-defense because that began percolating decades before the Civil Rights Movement...

  • 13:45:27

    COBBOh, yeah.

  • 13:45:28

    NNAMDI...even began in earnest.

  • 13:45:29

    COBBReally, black self-defense begins during the Reconstruction Era. You could say earlier then that if you want to define slave revolts as self-defense. But they're -- slave results are more -- were more aggressive, although they were armed attempts to escape from the bondage of slavery. But clearly what historian Vincent Harding calls the great tradition of black protests, which begins emerging in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil Rights -- following the Civil War. You see that all throughout Reconstruction.

  • 13:46:09

    COBBYou see it with the soldiers coming back from World War I. And you especially see it in, with the soldiers coming back from World War II. Virtually all of the grown-up male leadership that supported us and protected us in Mississippi in the 1960s were former soldiers from World War II. This is Amzie Moore...

  • 13:46:35

    NNAMDIMm hmm.

  • 13:46:35

    COBB...you know, this is, you know, Aaron Henry, the state president of NAACP. This is Medgar Evers, and a number of other people who are not so prominent. Furthermore, it should be mentioned within the context of a great tradition of black protest and self-defense, that women were a part -- are a part of this tradition. There are any number of stories of women, and I put some of them in the book...

  • 13:47:02

    NNAMDIMm hmm.

  • 13:47:04

    COBB...who also, you know, kept us alive to boil it down to the basics, sitting in the windows and wrapping their skirts tightly with a shotgun. I have a photograph of one of these women in the book from Lowndes County, Ala. Mrs. Hamer's mother went to the cotton fields with a pistol, you know. Daisy Bates carried a .38 pistol in her handbag. There -- so you have to -- this is not just a male thing. And it's old.

  • 13:47:36

    NNAMDIWe got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Charles Cobb, Jr. He's a journalist and author of "This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible." Thank you for your call, Rodney -- Johnny. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. If you've called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. You can also send us an email to kojo@wamu.org. Can guns deter violence? Should those who espouse nonviolence ever resort to violence? When should you draw the line? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:49:48

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Charles Cobb, Jr. He's a journalist whose latest book is called, "This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible." You can call us at 800-433-8850. Let's go to Absalom in Washington, D.C. Absalom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Oh, I didn't press the right button for you, Absalom. Now, you're there. Absalom -- is this Ab?

  • 13:50:14


  • 13:50:15

    NNAMDIAb Jordan?

  • 13:50:16


  • 13:50:17

    NNAMDIOh, good to hear from you.

  • 13:50:19

    ABSALOMWell, thank you. Look, I want to thank you for inviting Charlie.

  • 13:50:21

    COBBHow are you, by the way?

  • 13:50:23

    ABSALOMI'm doing just fine, brother. I'm so happy to hear you. And, first, I want to know where I can get a copy of the book for me and Doug Moore so that, you know, we can read it. This is important.

  • 13:50:33

    COBBIt will be avail -- go ahead -- it will be available at the Library of Congress. It is just off the presses. I'm speaking on the book at the Library of Congress tomorrow at 12:00 noon at the Jefferson Building, I think, on First Street.

  • 13:50:48


  • 13:50:48

    COBBAnd they will also have books there.

  • 13:50:51

    ABSALOMWell, the thing is I have a doctors appoint tomorrow, but...

  • 13:50:53

    COBBYou can get it on Amazon as well.

  • 13:50:56

    ABSALOMOK. Thank you. The next thing, though, Kojo, you mentioned the fact about the -- I mean about Orthodoxian, (sic) and I have to say you've been an advocate for Orthodoxy. And my concern is that when we raise the question here in the District of Columbia, folks like Doug Moore and myself have been vilified.

  • 13:51:13

    ABSALOMAnd so I -- it's important that Charlie has raised this question about the way guns were used in the rural areas. But we also used them here in Washington D.C. to protect our settlements and ourselves, and one day maybe, Kojo, you'll give us an opportunity to come and talk about this. But, Charlie, in your book, I don't know if you deal with the Deacons for Defense, but...

  • 13:51:32

    COBBOh, yeah, I have a substantial discussion of the Deacons for Defense and Justice...

  • 13:51:36

    ABSALOMThank you.

  • 13:51:37

    COBB...and an unnamed group in Tuscaloosa, Ala., that protected Martin Luther King's organization, and then some of the legendary sort of gun-toting -- oh, of course, I deal extensively with Robert Williams in Monroe, N.C.

  • 13:51:50

    NNAMDIYes. And Ab Jordan and Doug Moore have long been advocates of the rights of African-American to bear arms. And when he says he was vilified by a lot of people in Washington, D.C. because of that, I can bear witness. I might even have been a vilifier at one point.

  • 13:52:04

    NNAMDIBut Ab Jordan still remains a friend. Ab, thank you very much for your call. Charlie, you cover a lot of history in your book. But I want to skip to the post-war period. Can you talk about how World War II and the 1957 Civil Rights Act changed attitudes about the place of blacks in a democratic society?

  • 13:52:20

    COBBYeah. Well, if you -- there are really two questions here.

  • 13:52:24


  • 13:52:25

    COBBI mean, if you're talking about the change in attitude about blacks in the Democratic Party, that, in some respects, is separate...

  • 13:52:31


  • 13:52:32

    COBB...from World War II. Although Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms speech had a -- a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor -- had a major influence. But there's one political process, which is the movement of black people from the Republican Party into the Democratic Party and the New Deal has a lot to do with that. The other part is the effect of World War II on blacks. Something like 1.3 million...

  • 13:53:07


  • 13:53:07

    COBB...black men served in World War II. And a lot of them discovered a world that they were unaware of in Alabama or Mississippi or Georgia. Amzie Moore, who was extremely important to SNCC in Mississippi and president of the NAACP Chapter, said before he went into World War II, he thought that whites were supposed to be superior because they had everything. And if they had everything, it's because God wanted them to have everything.

  • 13:53:36

    COBBThen he said he was -- went into the Army, and what he essentially saw, he says, is black civilization. And he describes going through the Red Sea and seeing -- he says, all of a sudden, I lost my inferiority complex. So that's part of the process. And also, remember, the one major thing that World War II allowed black men to do was shoot white men.

  • 13:54:00

    NNAMDIMm hmm.

  • 13:54:01

    COBBAnd when you go through that experience of combat, that exposure to a world that's not limited by white supremacy and the rules of white supremacy, when you get back to Mississippi or Georgia or Alabama, you're not inclined to take a lot of crap off these racists. And what you see is a noticeable shift. You see, when these guys come back, many of them with their guns, begin to shoot back at marauders. The Klan learns that they could get killed attacking. That's the story of Robert Williams and the Monroe group.

  • 13:54:42

    NNAMDIYes, sir. And...

  • 13:54:43

    COBBAnd that's a story in a less visible way in many communities that -- and it changes the dynamic. You see a noticeable shift in the nature of violence. Before World War II, you had what a scholar I know calls spectacle lynchings. They'd put an ad in the newspaper, say we going to' lynch Kojo...

  • 13:55:06

    NNAMDIMm hmm.

  • 13:55:06

    COBB...this weekend. Y'all come. Bring picnic baskets, bring the kids. And they -- I'm always amazed that what I'm, you know, I can't get my head around somebody bringing their children to watch some man be mutilated and burned to death and hanged and shot. But they did that. After World War II, you don't see very much of that.

  • 13:55:27

    NNAMDIBecause people are defending themselves.

  • 13:55:29

    COBBThese people are defending. You see the violence is covert then.

  • 13:55:32

    NNAMDII want to move to the phones again because here, now, is Ivy in Washington, D.C. Ivy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:55:40

    IVYThank you. Hi, Kojo. Hi, Charlie.

  • 13:55:42

    COBBHi, Ivy.

  • 13:55:42

    NNAMDIThat's our Ivy. Ivy Young. (sp?)

  • 13:55:44

    COBBThat's the first thing I thought of. Is this Ivy Young?

  • 13:55:47

    NNAMDIThis is one of the people you schooled, Charlie, like you schooled me. Go ahead, Ivy.

  • 13:55:50

    IVYRight. I know you -- there is the idea that SNCC, particularly, was a Southern -- an organization operated in the South. Could you speak briefly about the international alliances that you all made? That's one. And, two, could you -- aside from your work -- could you recommend maybe three or four texts that are -- that accurately portray the Civil Rights Movement? And will any of these books ever reflect who Ralph Featherstone was and what he actually did? And that's my questions. I'll listen off the air.

  • 13:56:27

    NNAMDIThank you so much, Ivy.

  • 13:56:27


  • 13:56:27

    NNAMDIYou sound like you're suffering from allergies like I am, Ivy. But here's Charlie.

  • 13:56:30

    COBBWell, unless somebody like me writes to answer your...

  • 13:56:33

    NNAMDICharlie, you've got about a minute and a half.

  • 13:56:34

    COBBTo answer your last question, unless somebody like me writes it. Ralph, you know, Ralph has been taken out of the history just -- though he was really important. He pops up every now and then. But his...

  • 13:56:47

    NNAMDIRalph Featherstone is a native Washingtonian.

  • 13:56:49

    COBBNative Washingtonian. His story needs to be told. I would stop short of saying that SNCC had international alliances. But certainly SNCC, first with Africans who were attending historically black colleges and universities, many of them involved with Southern African liberation movements...

  • 13:57:08

    NNAMDIMm hmm.

  • 13:57:09

    COBB...were involved with SNCC. More formally, as in the latter part of the '60s, SNCC began to reach out to liberation movements in various parts of the world. But I don't -- I would not say it went as far as formal alliances coming into existence, more an exchange of ideas, more an exchange of experiences. As for books, I recommend, you know, for really good histories -- and I know Mississippi the best, so John Dittmer's "Local People," Charles Payne's "I've Got the Light of Freedom," Akinyele Umoja's book on Mississippi, "We Will Shoot Back," are valuable texts. So is Hasan Kwame Jeffries book on Lowndes County, Ala., "Bloody Lowndes."

  • 13:58:01

    NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Ivy, thank you so much for your call. Feel better. Charles Cobb, Jr. is a journalist and author of "This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible." He's a former field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, former journalistic colleague of mine. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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