African-American Self-Defense
Guns and the Freedom Struggle

Miah, Malik
Date Written:  2015-01-01
Publisher:  Against the Current, USA
Year Published:  2015
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX17945

A Review of "This Noviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Cvil Rights Movement Possible" by Carles E. Cobb. Jr.



As with most issues, there is a white view and a Black view of guns. Many whites see guns as a defense of their Second Amendment right to “fight” a tyrannical central government or to protect their families from criminals (generally meaning Blacks or Latinos, or foreign “illegal aliens”). Colonial and U.S. history shows that whites’ dehumanization of slaves and freed Blacks were connected to an extreme fear they felt for the future if African Americans won their freedom.

Yet for African Americans, guns had little to do with a Constitution that excluded them. Guns were a practical necessity — for protection from white supremacists, racial profiling police forces and vigilante terrorists. Without guns, in rural areas especially, African Americans were defenseless.

It was never about guns, or armed communities, as the means to win freedom. As a minority in a predominantly white country, to initiate armed rebellion was seen by most as a losing strategy, unless as part of a broader revolution as occurred in 1861-65. Even those who advocated an independent Black Belt Nation in the 1930s recognized that self determination must be linked to a much bigger popular rebellion.

Cobb explains that the 1955-56 bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama, the student-led sit-ins that began in 1960, and the Freedom Rides in 1961 showed the power of nonviolent resistance to white supremacist leaders in the South. At the same time that this tactic was key to winning, he explains, most households had guns and armed supporters protected field organizers.

Martin Luther King’s home in Atlanta was protected. It was common knowledge, Cobb says, that King kept “an arsenal” in his house. After his home in Alabama was firebombed in 1956, King applied for a concealed weapon permit. He was turned down because local police loathed granting such permits to African-Americans, who were deemed “unsuitable.”

King never wavered on his belief that mass nonviolence would win — but he also believed in the right of self protection.


Many activists for voting rights and desegregation of transportation soon learned to appreciate why guns in the hands of southern Blacks were essential for the nonviolent movement to survive and grow. This reality impacted internal discussions in the civil rights organizations.


In general the armed community groups were informally organized. When Freedom Riders and voting rights activists showed up, they initially didn’t like to see men with guns. But as they lived and worked in these communities, they soon came to see their necessity.

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