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In 1964 a small group of African American men in Jonesboro, Louisiana, defied the nonviolence policy of the mainstream civil rights movement and formed an armed self-defense organization--the Deacons for Defense and Justice--to protect movement workers from vigilante and police violence. With their largest and most famous chapter at the center of a bloody campaign in the Ku Klux Klan stronghold of Bogalusa, Louisiana, the Deacons became a popular symbol of the growing frustration with Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent strategy and a rallying point for a militant working-class movement in the South."  —  Lance Hill, Deacons for Defense

"The Deacons for Defense and Justice was formed by African-American men in Jonesboro and Bogalusa, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi. They were factory workers, farmers, common laborers, fathers, husbands, and church-goers who organized to protect themselves and their communities from the terrorism and oppression of the Ku Klux Klan organizations, White Citizens Councils, and police agencies."Lester Sloan



On non-violence and self-defense, African Americans and the right to bear arms

Right after Barack Obama was elected there was a reported run on gun and ammo supply shops. News articles, and gun forums  were reporting  an alleged ammo shortage across the nation.  Open carry demos have just taken place, and there is talk from the white right about the need for more armed militias.  There has been quite a bit of discussion about this on Daily Kos.  

Editor's Note: Sis Dee's diary teaches us some history of the civil rights movement that many of us never learned in high school or college. She synthesizes that history with her current perspective in the unique way that she does so well on the Daily Kos front page every Sunday. This diary was an instant classic when first published on Black Kos, as a follow-up diary, and then again by the RKBA group. All that was before my time at Daily Kos and I was delighted to discover it when I was researching the history of armed self defense. I hope you find it as interesting as I did. ~ LilithGardener
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Background - Ironic Support for Gun Control

I have always found it ironic that organizations like the NRA have consistently been supported by white right wingers, yet historically some of the same people have worked long and hard to stop black people from bearing arms.

I remember the media frenzy that took place, in the late 60’s when members of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense showed up in Sacramento with weapons


and had similar demonstrations in Seattle(shown above), and other parts of the nation. As a result,  on June 28, 1967  The California State legislature passed the Mulford Act, prohibiting the carrying of firearms in any public place, which was signed into law by then Governor Ronald Reagan and  which effectively outlawed  Black Panther safety patrols in Oakland.

We all know the history of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Movement and non-violence.  However the black liberation struggle in the United States has never been monolithic, and there has always been a difference of opinion in the community  around issues about guns, gun control and the 2nd amendment, including where many of us stand on self-defense.  Though the BPP was the focus of attention and symbolized one perspective on this issue, much less has been written about a group that pre-dated the Panthers by two years.

That was The Deacons for Defense and Justice.

Deacons for Defense and Justice

Not much was written about them, and though many of us in the movement knew about the Deacons it wasn't until 2004, when the University of North Carolina Press published The Deacons for Defense Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement, by Lance Hill, that a comprehensive history was available for the greater reading public.


In 1964 a small group of African American men in Jonesboro, Louisiana, defied the nonviolence policy of the mainstream civil rights movement and formed an armed self-defense organization--the Deacons for Defense and Justice--to protect movement workers from vigilante and police violence. With their largest and most famous chapter at the center of a bloody campaign in the Ku Klux Klan stronghold of Bogalusa, Louisiana, the Deacons became a popular symbol of the growing frustration with Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent strategy and a rallying point for a militant working-class movement in the South.

Lance Hill offers the first detailed history of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, who grew to several hundred members and twenty-one chapters in the Deep South and led some of the most successful local campaigns in the civil rights movement. In his analysis of this important yet long-overlooked organization, Hill challenges what he calls "the myth of nonviolence"--the idea that a united civil rights movement achieved its goals through nonviolent direct action led by middle-class and religious leaders. In contrast, Hill constructs a compelling historical narrative of a working-class armed self-defense movement that defied the entrenched nonviolent leadership and played a crucial role in compelling the federal government to neutralize the Klan and uphold civil rights and liberties.

A year before the publication of the book, the Deacons were the subject of a 2003 made for television movie, Deacons for Defense.


The film, produced by Showtime stars academy-award winner Forest Whitaker, Ossie Davis and Jonathan Silverman. The film is based on the actual Deacons for Defense and their struggle to fight against the Jim Crow South in a powerful area of Louisiana that is controlled by the Ku Klux Klan. The film bases the story around a white-owned factory that controls the economy of the local society and the effects of racism and intimidation on the lives of the African-American community. The film follows the psychological transition of a family and community members from ones that believe in a strict non-violent stance to ones that believe in self-defense


Some of us learned about the Deacons during the time that Rap Brown, also from Louisiana, was working with Howard University students.  Their stance did not surprise us, since many of us had the example of members of our own families who had always had guns, both for hunting and for protection.

The Deacons had a relationship with other civil rights groups that advocated and practiced non-violence: the willingness of the Deacons to provide low-key armed guards facilitated the ability of groups such as the NAACP and CORE to stay, at least formally, within their own parameters of non-violence.[8] Although many local chapters felt it was necessary to maintain a level of security by either practicing self-defense as some CORE, SNCC, and NAACP local chapters did, the national level of all these organizations still maintained the idea of non-violence to achieve civil rights. Nonetheless,in some cases,their willingness to respond to violence with violence, led to tension between the Deacons and the nonviolent civil rights workers whom they sought to protect.

Organizations like SNCC, CORE, and SCLC all had major roles in exposing the brutal tactics that were being used against Black people in America, particularly to Southern Blacks. This was seen as crucial to getting legislation passed that would protect African-Americans from this oppression and help develop their status of equality in America. However, according to Lance Hill, author of, The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement, "the hard truth is that these organizations produced few victories in their local projects in the Deep South—if success is measured by the ability to force changes in local government policy and create self-governing and sustainable local organizations that could survive when the national organizations departed...The Deacons’ campaigns frequently resulted in substantial and unprecedented victories at the local level, producing real power and self-sustaining organizations."[9] According to Hill, this is the true resistance that enforced civil rights in areas of the Deep South. Many times it was local (armed) communities that laid the foundation of equal opportunities for African-Americans. National organizations played their role of exposing the problems but it was local organizations and individuals who implemented these rights and were not fearful of reactionary Whites who wanted to keep segregation alive. Without these local organizations pushing for their rights, and many times, using self-defense tactics not much would have changed according to scholars like Hill.

An example of this type of force needed that made substantial change in the Deep South took place in early 1965. Black students picketing the local high school were confronted by hostile police and fire trucks with hoses. A car of four Deacons emerged and in view of the police calmly loaded their shotguns. The police ordered the fire truck to withdraw. This was the first time in the twentieth century, as Lance Hill observes, "an armed black organization had successfully used weapons go defend a lawful protest against an attack by law enforcement."[2] Another example as Hill writes is, "In Jonesboro, the Deacons made history when they compelled Louisiana governor John McKeithen to intervene in the city’s civil rights crisis and require a compromise with city leaders—the first capitulation to the civil rights movement by a Deep South governor."[10]

Non-violence as a Strategy - Self-defense as a Stance

There are many black folks who are watching the governments response to groups like The Huttaree terrorists.  Hutaree militia arrests point to tripling of militias since 2008.

The Hutaree is one of 127 armed militias in the US, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit organization in Montgomery, Ala., that tracks hate groups nationwide. That number has increased 200 percent since 2008, when there were 42, SPLC says.

There is "no question" the catalyst was President Obama’s election, says Heidi Beirich, the center’s director of research. A similar upswing took place after President Clinton’s election in 1993. Militias and the antigovernment groups that spawn them often become more active when the federal government turns more liberal. "A major shift to the left certainly helped" in both cases, Ms. Beirich says. The economic meltdown and the growth of minorities such as Latinos are also a factor, she adds.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a listing of  Active 'Patriot' Groups in the United States in 2009.  My county is on the list.

I support non-violence as a strategy.  I support self-defense as a stance.
I live in a county in New York full of hunters.  Many of them are members of local white militia groups.  Quite a few support the Tea Party.  

Does this worry me – yes.

They state:

The Intelligence Project identified 512 "Patriot" groups that were active in 2009. Of these groups, 127 were militias, marked with an asterisk, and the remainder includes "common-law" courts, publishers, ministries and citizens' groups. Generally, Patriot groups define themselves as opposed to the "New World Order," engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocate or adhere to extreme antigovernment doctrines. Listing here does not imply that the groups themselves advocate or engage in violence or other criminal activities, or are racist. The list was compiled from field reports, Patriot publications, the Internet, law enforcement sources and news reports. Groups are identified by the city, county or region where they are located.

I heard some of  the teapartier’s in my area talking about that same "New World Order".  Not particularly reassuring.

News stories like this one: Oklahoma conservatives, lawmakers plot anti-federal militia, increase my unease.

I will continue to counter protest peacefully in my community and speak out and organize against Republicans and racists who are hell bent on taking us back to 1860.  But I sleep with one eye open, troubled by the rising tide of hate.

And I think often of the 1960's and the Deacons.

RIP, Robert Hicks

After writing about the Deacons, I read of the death of Robert Hicks:

The New York Times published this obituary.

Robert Hicks, Leader in Armed Rights Group, Dies at 81

Someone had called to say the Ku Klux Klan was coming to bomb Robert Hicks’s house. The police said there was nothing they could do. It was the night of Feb. 1, 1965, in Bogalusa, La. The Klan was furious that Mr. Hicks, a black paper mill worker, was putting up two white civil rights workers in his home. It was just six months after three young civil rights workers had been murdered in Philadelphia, Miss.

Mr. Hicks and his wife, Valeria, made some phone calls. They found neighbors to take in their children, and they reached out to friends for protection. Soon, armed black men materialized. Nothing happened.


The NOLA Times Picayune had this:

Robert Hicks, Bogalusa civil rights activist, dies at age 81

Robert Hicks, a lion in the Louisiana civil rights movement whose legal victories helped topple segregation in Bogalusa and change discriminatory employment practices throughout the South, died Tuesday in his home. He was 81.

Mr. Hicks, who was born in Mississippi and moved to Bogalusa at a young age, was a member of the local NAACP and the Bogalusa Voter and Civic League. His lawsuits resulted in the desegregation of Bogalusa's public schools and the prohibition of unfair hiring tests and seniority systems at the local paper mill, owned by Crown Zellerbach Corp.

The latter case, which led to Mr. Hicks becoming the company's first black supervisor and which opened doors for black women, served as a model for similar discrimination cases in Louisiana and throughout the South.

The NOLA paper lists his achievements in the struggle over the many years of his life as an activist and freedom fighter:

Mr. Hicks began his civil rights work as a member of the local chapter of the NAACP before working with the Voter and Civic League. He helped conduct daily marches to protest racial discrimination by merchants and city government in a crusade that thrust Bogalusa into the national spotlight.

The Hicks family opened their home to white civil rights workers and national figures such as entertainer Dick Gregory and Congress of Racial Equality head James Farmer. Because of that, the family was targeted by the Ku Klux Klan, which in turn motivated the formation of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, an armed band of African-American men who stood guard at the Hicks' home and protected civil rights workers in the city. The 2003 Showtime movie "Deacons for Defense" was loosely based on the group. Mr. Hicks filed a landmark lawsuit against the city and police department of Bogalusa, obtaining a federal court order requiring the police to protect protest marchers, and a lawsuit that overturned officials' refusals to allow protest marches.

In 1967, Mr. Hicks filed a suit against the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing, which resulted in the prohibition of the construction of public housing in segregated neighborhoods in Bogalusa.

The NY Times piece ends with this:

By 1968, the Deacons had pretty much vanished. In time they were “hardly a footnote in most books on the civil rights movement,” Mr. Hill said. He attributed this to a “mythology” that the rights movement was always nonviolent.

Mrs. Hicks said she was glad it was not.

“I became very proud of black men,” she said. “They didn’t bow down and scratch their heads. They stood up like men.”

He will be remembered by many.  

Condolences to his wife, family and all of those who benefited from his long life of struggle towards freedom from injustice.

Additional Thoughts

The increasingly violent rhetoric (and actions) from right-wingers in this country - whether it is elected officials who suggest shooting immigrants from helicopters, or those public figures like Palin who put liberals in cross-hairs or homegrown hate group domestic terrorists who put bombs at parade sites does not make me feel "safe" or comfortable in my own country.  

The fact that there is really no organized left-wing push-back against the rising tide of hate against anyone who is "othered" (people of color, GLBTQs, Muslims, women) makes me even more steadfast in my own belief in my right to self-defense and need to remain on guard.

I am neither paranoid nor an alarmist.  I realize that extreme right wing views are not in the majority in this country, but even if they are condoned by 25% of the population that is 25% too many.  None of this hate is isolated in any one region of the US.  SPLC's hate map makes that patently clear.  

So I remain steadfast in my position.  

The Daily Kos Firearms Law and Policy group studies actions for reducing firearm deaths and injuries in a manner that is consistent with the current Supreme Court interpretation of the Second Amendment. If you would like to write about firearms law please send us a Kosmail.

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We have adopted Wee Mama's and akadjian's guidance on communicating.  But most important, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Firearms Law and Policy on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 09:32 AM PST.

Also republished by Black Kos community, Right to Keep and Bear Arms, History for Kossacks, Hellraisers Journal, Barriers and Bridges, Shut Down the NRA, and Support the Dream Defenders.

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