Negroes With Guns: The Untold History of Black NRA Gun Clubs and the Civil Rights Movement

Black NRA Gun Clubs

With the violent crime rate increasing disproportionately in urban communities, it’s no surprise that a recent phone survey of black voters found that 80 percent felt gun violence was an “extremely serious” problem. However, it seems this surge in violence actually has many in the black community changing their views on gun ownership.

In 1993, 74 percent of African-Americans favored gun control. Fast forward to 2018, and a Crime Prevention Research Center report found that concealed carry permits are on the rise – especially among minorities. In Texas alone, the number of blacks with permits has grown by almost 140 percent since 2012. Overall, this growth in the number of permits for blacks is happening 20 percent faster than for whites.

This increasingly positive attitude toward firearms might not be a new paradigm, but rather a return to form.

In this three-part series on militias in America, Early American Militias: The Forgotten History of Freedmen Militias from 1776 until the Civil War and American Militias after the Civil War: From Black Codes to the Black Panthers and Beyond provide detailed looks at the history of militias in early and post-Civil-War America. This guide takes a final look at how militias played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement, an important piece of America that’s missing from our history books.

Robert F. Williams and Armed Black Self-Defense

Few are aware that weapons played a pivotal part in the American Civil Rights Movement, specifically through Robert F. Williams. A curious figure in American history, Libertarians are quick to lionize him and his radical approach to black self-defense, but they’ll quickly cool when they learn of his longstanding association with leftist totalitarian politics and governments. Conservatives likewise might initially find themselves infatuated with a man who did not wait for “big government” to deliver his people, but rather leveraged the Second Amendment. Liberals, for their part, might find something to admire in Williams’ notion of liberation, but will recoil in horror when learning that his preferred vehicles for change were the NAACP (great!) and the NRA (terrible!).

Williams was many things, but chief among them was a harbinger of things that would come long after he had fled the United States for what he considered greener pastures in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. He stands across the divide, separating the non-violent, electoral, protest-oriented phase of the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s from the later, more militant and direct-action-oriented phase that would arise in the mid-to-late 1960s as the movement became more frustrated (particularly after the assassination of Martin Luther King).

Born in North Carolina in 1925, Williams’ experience mirrors that of many African-Americans of his generation. He moved to Detroit as part of the Second Great Migration, where he was privy to race rioting over jobs. He served in the then-segregated United States Marine Corps for a year and a half after being drafted in 1944. Upon returning to his North Carolina hometown, Williams found a moribund chapter of the NAACP. With only six members and little opposition, he used his USMC training to commandeer the local branch and turn it in a decidedly more military direction. The local chapter soon had over 200 members under Williams’ leadership. If nothing else, his leadership was effective at building the movement from the ground up.

Black NRA Gun Clubs KKKAn early incident is particularly instructive in how effective these new tactics were. The KKK was very active in Monroe, with an estimated 7,500 members in a town of 12,000. After hearing rumors that the Klan intended to attack NAACP chapter Vice President Dr. Albert Perry’s house, Williams and members of the Black Armed Guard surrounded the doctor’s house with sandbags and showed up with rifles. Klansman fired on the house from a moving vehicle and the Guard returned fire. Soon after, the Klan required a special permit from the city’s police chief to meet. One incident of self-defense did more to move the goalposts than all previous legislative pressure had.

Monroe’s Black Armed Guard wasn’t a subsidiary of the Communist Party, nor an independent organization like the Black Panther Party that would use similar tactics of arming their members later. In fact, “Black Armed Guard” was nothing more than a fancy name for an officially chartered National Rifle Association chapter.

His 1962 book, Negroes With Guns, was prophetic for the Black Power movement to come later on in the decade. But Williams is noteworthy for his lack of revolutionary fervor, at least early on. Williams was cautious to always maintain that the Black Armed Guard was not an insurrectionary organization, but one dedicated to providing defense to a group of people who were under attack and lacking in normal legal remedies:

To us there was no Constitution, no such thing as ‘moral persuasion’ – the only thing left was the bullet…I advocated violent self-defense because I don’t really think you can have a defense against violent racists and against terrorists unless you are prepared to meet violence with violence, and my policy was to meet violence with violence.

Robert Williams

Williams himself is an odd figure, not easily boxed into conventional political labels. While often lauded, for example in a PBS Independent Lens hagiography, it’s worth noting that Williams spent a number of years operating Radio Free Dixie, a radio station broadcast from Communist Cuba that regularly denounced the American government. He urged black soldiers to revolt during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Williams personally praised the Watts riots in 1966, simultaneously invoking “the spirit of ‘76.” Radio Free Dixie ceased operations in 1965, when Williams relocated to Red China at the personal request of Chairman Mao Zedong (hardly a proponent of freedom). Williams happily accepted, and this is where he remained for the rest of his exile from the United States – avoiding dubious charges of kidnapping white activists, Williams claimed he was defending from Klan attacks.

However, it’s not entirely fair to brand Williams a pliant, party-line Communist, either. Even while hobnobbing with the elite of the Chinese Communist Party, Williams regularly denounced the U.S. Communist Party as “Gus Hall’s idiots.” To some degree, this reflects internal divisions in the international Communist movement at the time, with national parties and internal factions lining up between Moscow and Beijing. But he also refused to rule out any sort of deal between himself and the federal government – or the far right, for that matter – on the grounds that he would do anything to avoid prison. He gave speeches in China denouncing the United States, including one where he associated Robert Kennedy with an alleged system of international white supremacy.

Upon returning to the United States, Williams was put on trial for the alleged kidnapping and was extradited to North Carolina from Michigan. By the time his case went to trial in 1975, it was a cause celebre among the American far left and the charges were soon dropped. His later years were marked by a lack of political activity. He received a grant from the Ford Foundation to work in the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan. He seemed to have little interest in leading the more militant, Black Power incarnation of the Civil Rights Movement that had emerged in his exile. The title of his New York Times obituary is rather telling: “Outspoken and Feared but Largely Forgotten.”

Williams is a confusing figure, one that’s hard to figure out and even harder for people of any political persuasion to take a hard line in favor of. An iconoclast and a malcontent, he was simultaneously capable of self-sacrifice, exiling himself from his homeland, as well as blatant (and almost certainly appropriate) self-interest, ready to cut any kind of a deal to keep himself out of jail. No matter what your opinion is of Robert F. Williams and his role in bringing together blacks and guns, one thing’s for sure – we won’t be seeing him on the front of dollar bills any time soon.

Continue reading Negroes With Guns: The Untold History of the Black NRA Gun Clubs and the Civil Rights Movement at Ammo.com.

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The Down Side of Impeachment

Unless there’s some dramatic change in the political landscape over the next month or so, I believe that the US House of Representatives will impeach President Donald Trump.

Unless there’s some dramatic change in the political landscape between now and Trump’s trial in the US Senate, I don’t believe the Senate will vote, by the necessary 2/3 majority, to convict him.

Taken together, those two outcomes constitute a bad thing. Here’s why:

If I’m correct on the first count, Donald Trump will become the third US president to be impeached by the House (the first two were Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998).

If I’m correct on the second count, Donald Trump will become the third US president to be acquitted by the Senate.

When Johnson and Clinton were impeached, no reasonable doubt remained that they were guilty of at least some of the charges laid in their articles of impeachment. Johnson had indeed dismissed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton from office after the Senate had voted not to concur with his dismissal. Clinton had indeed lied under oath concerning his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

If Donald Trump is impeached, he will likewise be charged with one or more things which he, beyond a reasonable doubt, actually did.

In theory, the House’s job is to decide whether or not an act is worthy of impeachment, and the Senate’s job is only to determine whether or not the president actually committed that act.

In real life, this will make three times out of three that the Senate engages in a form of jury nullification. At least 34 Senators will vote, in the face of facts plainly demonstrating guilt, to acquit.

Blame partisan bias if you like.

Or, if you prefer, accept some Senators’ claims that they disagree that the acts in question, though proven, rise to the level of treason, bribery, or “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Either way, a three for three record of acquittals sends a message to every future president:

So long as your party can whip 34 Senators into line to vote against conviction, anything goes.

Fans of the separation of powers envisioned in the Constitution have bemoaned “the imperial presidency” since the 1960s.

Trump has openly and routinely hacked away at that fraying separation. Impeachment and acquittal would be an injection of steroids in his sword arm.

Absent conviction, impeachment isn’t just useless, it’s catastrophic.

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Build, Barbara, Build: Reflections on Nickel and Dimed

I finally read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, and was pleasantly surprised.  Her runaway best-seller is what researchers call “radical ethnography”; to study low-skilled workers in America, Ehrenreich became a low-skilled worker in America.  Ehrenreich mostly just walks us through her experiment: how she found work, where she lived, what the jobs were like, how she made ends meet.  While there’s ideological commentary throughout, she’s less preachy than most of her competition.  My favorite part, though, comes in the final chapter.  Instead of simply complaining about low wages, Ehrenreich talks about the painful pairing of low pay with high housing costs:

Something is wrong, very wrong, when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow. You don’t need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents too high.

The problem of rents is easy for a non-economist, even a sparsely educated low-wage worker, to grasp: it’s the market, stupid.

Confession:

For a second, I was filled with hope that Ehrenreich was going to go full Yglesias and start denouncing our insanely strict housing regulation.  And as I read the next paragraph, the same hope returned:

If there seems to be general complacency about the low-income housing crisis, this is partly because it is in no way reflected in the official poverty rate, which has remained for the past several years at a soothingly low 13 percent or so. The reason for the disconnect between the actual housing nightmare of the poor and “poverty,” as officially defined, is simple: the official poverty level is still calculated by the archaic method of taking the bare-bones cost of food for a family of a given size and multiplying this number by three. Yet food is relatively inflation-proof, at least compared with rent. In the early 1960s, when this method of calculating poverty was devised, food accounted for 24 percent of the average family budget (not 33 percent even then, it should be noted) and housing 29 percent. In 1999, food took up only 16 percent of the family budget, while housing had soared to 37 percent.

Wise observations.  Housing costs have exploded – especially in high-wage areas of the country.  It is very hard for low-skilled workers to afford nice housing.  And superficially, the problem is “the market.”  Prices are high because developers produce so little housing.

Why, though, do developers produce so little housing?  Regardless of their political views, almost any economist these days will blame government regulation.  The physical cost of erecting buildings hasn’t changed much, but the political cost of erecting buildings has skyrocketed.  Serious deregulation would dramatically increase the supply of housing, and sharply reduce its price.  And don’t say, “Only for the rich.”  Much of the regulation on the books – such as minimum lot sizes, height restrictions, and bans on multi-family construction – is consciously designed to zone out the poor.

So when Ehrenreich was decrying housing costs, she could have segued to, “Despite decades of free-market rhetoric, hardly anyone wants to see a real free market in housing.  Yet almost nothing else would do more for the working poor.”  Furthermore, she could have so segued without breaking character.  There is no good reason why Ehrenreich couldn’t think everything else she thinks and advocate the abolition of a bunch of laws that deprive the poor of affordable housing.

Alas, she said this instead:

When the rich and the poor compete for housing on the open market, the poor don’t stand a chance. The rich can always outbid them, buy up their tenements or trailer parks, and replace them with condos, McMansions, golf courses, or whatever they like. Since the rich have become more numerous, thanks largely to rising stock prices and executive salaries, the poor have necessarily been forced into housing that is more expensive, more dilapidated, or more distant from their places of work.

This is plainly false.  In a free market, the poor totally “stand a chance.”  Given current prices and twenty acres of land, developers would much rather erect a massive apartment complex than twenty single-family homes.  In desirable areas, however, getting such permission is almost impossible.  And while developers will build in remote locations if they must, most would far prefer to build up in urban centers.  Why don’t they?  Because getting permission to make your building taller is like pulling teeth.  For every skyscraper under construction in NYC, just picture all the landlords who would build a skyscraper of their own if the zoning authorities handed them permission.

What then is Ehrenreich’s solution?  More government spending:

When the market fails to distribute some vital commodity, such as housing, to all who require it, the usual liberal-to-moderate expectation is that the government will step in and help. We accept this principle-at least in a halfhearted and faltering way-in the case of health care, where government offers Medicare to the elderly, Medicaid to the desperately poor, and various state programs to the children of the merely very poor. But in the case of housing, the extreme upward skewing of the market has been accompanied by a cowardly public sector retreat from responsibility. Expenditures on public housing have fallen since the 1980s, and the expansion of public rental subsidies came to a halt in the mid-1990s.

I can understand someone saying, “Deregulation isn’t enough.”  But you could double the supply of public housing without making a noticeable dent in the housing shortage.  Rent subsidies are much easier to scale up, but subsidizing demand without increasing supply is almost the definition of crazy policy.  Furthermore, if you want to create high-paid job opportunities for non-college workers, a rapidly growing construction sector is a dream come true.

You could interpret all this as a “gotcha,” but I strive to be positive.  Yes, Nickel and Dimed overlooked the fact that government grossly deprives the working poor of affordable housing.  As far as Google knows, Ehrenreich’s continued to overlook this fact.  What’s important now, though, is that she could and should join the long list of left-leaning thinkers who champion deregulation of housing.

So how about it, Barbara?

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“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution

On October 9, Pacific Gas & Electric began shutting down power to about 750,000 customers (affecting as many as 2 million people) in California. The company claims the shutdowns are necessary to reduce the risk that its power lines and other infrastructure will cause wildfires like last year’s Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and and caused $16.5 billion in damage.

The Camp Fire was an extreme , and the blackouts are an extreme response,  but they’re far from the only indicators that Americans should no longer trust aging “grid” distribution systems to reliably  and safely supply electricity to their homes and businesses.

Fortunately, just as the problems seem to be getting really bad, the solutions are coming online fast.

Unfortunately, states’ response to the problem are a strange mix of unneeded mandates and subsidies and unjustifiable barriers, driven by cronyism and hostility to free markets.

Solar panels, wind turbines, large batteries for power storage, and gasoline generators for short-term backup are getting cheaper and cheaper.  Unfettered, markets would proliferate these solutions to most Americans in a fairly short time.

But government can’t resist putting its finger on the scales.

The California Energy Commission has ordered the inclusion of solar panels on all new homes beginning in 2020, citing climate change rather than independence from the grid as justification. A nice subsidy to the solar industry, at the expense of homeowners for whom wind or other solutions might work better.

Nationwide, many localities require homeowners to attach their houses to the grid whether they want to or not — then require those homeowners’ solar systems to shut down during grid outages for utility worker safety, leaving them powerless too.

Extreme weather often results in power loss to large numbers of people. I’ve experienced multi-day outages from thunderstorms,  blizzards, and ice storms in the midwest and hurricanes in the southeast. Most Americans probably recall similar outages. That’s what happens when you string wires and transformers all over the place then pray nothing knocks them down or stresses them out.

The increasing sprawl and automation of grids, initially touted as a feature, turned out to be a bug. In 2003, a software failure in Ohio turned what should have been a local blackout into a two-day  outage in two Canadian provinces and eight US  states, shutting down more than 100 power plants and leaving 55 million without electricity. Lately the fear (thus far apparently unrealized) is that grids are vulnerable to hackers of both state and freelance varieties.

“The grid” needs to go. We’ve got the means to replace it. If politicians and bureaucrats just got out of the way, the market would do the rest. Instead, they’ll probably drag it out for decades, at a cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.

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When the Quest for Education Equity Stifles Innovation

In March, efforts to open an innovative public high school in a diverse, urban district just outside of Boston received a devastating blow. Powderhouse Studios was in the works for seven years, with grand hopes of changing public education from a top-down system defined by coercion to a learner-driven model focused on student autonomy and self-determination. The vision for this school was so compelling that it won a $10 million XQ Super School innovation grant and was positioned to lead efforts to inject freedom into a conventional schooling system characterized by force.

The school was set to open this fall in Somerville, Massachusetts, clearing high hurdles along the way, including gaining the crucial support of the teachers’ union. Everything looked ready to go. Then, in a startling turn of events, the local school committee voted unanimously in March not to approve the school’s launch.

Boston’s local NPR station ran a story about the Powderhouse debacle. While the school committee members said they appreciated the high school’s novel approach, which would focus primarily on project-based learning tied to student interests, they decided they couldn’t approve a school that would only serve 160 high school-age students when there are 5,000 students in the district who wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the program. According to the NPR reporter:

The biggest concerns for committee members center around equity and resources.

It wouldn’t be fair, school committee members concluded, to allow some young people to attend Powderhouse if not everyone could attend. As the school committee chairperson told NPR:

I can’t look at Powderhouse in isolation… I have a responsibility to the 5,000 students currently in our system. If we approve the school, some of them will go there, but what does it mean for everybody?

In the all-out quest for educational equity, innovation is systematically stifled. If not everyone can have something, then no one can.

An All or Nothing Approach

Just imagine if Motorola had the same perspective regarding its invention of the first cell phone. Imagine if company leaders (or politicians!) said: “We can’t manufacture these mobile phones because not everyone will have access to them and therefore no one should.” Fortunately, manufacturers didn’t pay attention to equity, and as a result, over five billion people around the world now have a cell phone. Five. billion. people.

At first, cell phones were incredibly expensive and only a few people could own them, but thanks to the power of innovation and the timeless laws of supply and demand, the costs of cell phones dropped dramatically—even as their features became more state-of-the-art. This is how innovation works in the marketplace—when it is not halted by government central planners who think they know what is best and most “equitable.”

I wrote about Powderhouse in Unschooled, before the March vote, and even then I was pessimistically hopeful. The school sounded like an ideal incubator of educational innovation, where teenagers would be responsible for designing, managing, and executing in-depth, multiyear projects leading to mastery in various subjects in a more authentic, hands-on way. There would be no assigned classes, no grades, no age-segregation, and no testing. Teachers would act as mentors and guides. The space would look more like a research lab than a school, and project mastery would ultimately be mapped back to district-wide core competency expectations.

Self-Directed Education

Dreamed up by Alec Resnick, an MIT graduate inspired by social reformers like John Holt (a teacher who coined the term “unschooling” in 1977) and Ivan Illich, who wrote Deschooling Society in 1970, Powderhouse had a bold vision to move self-directed education into the public sector. Resnick was also very concerned about equity and access, ensuring that students would be selected into the school by lottery and that the population would be reflective of the demographic diversity of the larger district. The new school could be a beacon for change. But then the March vote came.

This outcome shouldn’t surprise us. The historical track record for innovative public schools like this one is dismal. They will sometimes succeed in launching with much fanfare and excitement and then eventually get reabsorbed into the larger district, ultimately becoming virtually indistinguishable from other conventional schools. True educational innovation must occur outside of the public schooling system.Since its 19th-century inception, the compulsory mass schooling system has shown itself to be remarkably resistant to change. The future of Powderhouse is unclear, but the past is often prologue.

The Powderhouse story is just the latest example of why I believe that true educational innovation must occur outside of the public schooling system. Like they did with cell phones, entrepreneurs will be the ones to create meaningful and lasting change with the potential to reach more people—with lower costs and better results. Entrepreneurs can catalyze far greater educational equity than well-intentioned central planners ever could. That is, if they are not halted by elected officials and government bureaucrats who think they are the guardians of us all.

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Anarchist Colonization of Mars

I was on a recent episode of the Anarchy Bang podcast with the topic being Anarchist Colonization of Mars. Here are the pieces that I wrote for the intro and the editorial for this episode.


In 1974 Ursula K. Le Guin published the science fiction novel “The Dispossessed”, which told the story of a movement of anarchists who collectively left an Earth-like planet to go colonize a Mars-like planet, establishing there a new society organized around their anarchist beliefs. In 1992 Kim Stanley Robinson published the science fiction novel “Red Mars”, the first book of his “Mars Trilogy”, which told the story of people colonizing the planet Mars, including a number of explicitly anarchist groups, who then go on to become independent from the various authorities on Earth.

Then last Saturday, September 28th, Elon Musk held a press conference where he introduced the world to the “Starship” vehicle that he intends to use to send humans to Mars to begin the process of colonizing that planet. Musk’s company, SpaceX, has already shown the world that reusable rockets which are capable of going out into space can be made, and that a private company can make them. Prior to this only single-use rockets were made for space travel, and government agencies were seen as the only organizations capable of going out into space.

Taking inspiration from all of this, the question here becomes: How about we build some real-life anarchist colonies on Mars? Our current planet is fucked, in all kinds of different ways, so how about those of us who yearn for a completely different world go set up shop on a completely different world? How about we turn “the Red Planet” into “the Red & Black Planet”? Let’s become Martians!
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Editorial for Episode 39 – Anarchist Colonization of Mars

For a long time I advocated for a Global Anarchist Social Revolution. I said that everybody in the world can and should change the way that they relate to get rid of all hierarchy and domination, and instead have voluntary cooperation and sharing be the basis for all of social life. This would involve the elimination of all governments, capitalism and patriarchy worldwide, and the dawn of a beautiful new age of freedom and equality for all of humanity. I saw my role in all of that as being to help inspire people to move to unlock this latent potential to make this happen.

Over time, after a series of different heartbreaks and disappointments, I came to hold a belief that a Global Anarchist Social Revolution (or “GASR” for short) was most likely not going to happen and that it would be best to not be putting my time and energy into things assuming that it would. At around the same time as this, other anarchists were coming to these same conclusions, most notably with the widely circulated text called “Desert”. That piece took things a step further by saying that not only would an anarchist revolution not happen, but the sibling project of “saving the Earth” from ecological catastrophe was not going to happen either, and that we should adjust our plans and expectations to accommodate that. My anarchist goals became much more diminished and narrow in scope, shrinking from a global scale down to a more individualist scale, looking at just me and my own little life.

Then in more recent years a new and completely unrelated development has taken place. Elon Musk and his company SpaceX has publicly announced their intention and plans to send humans to the planet Mars, and they have developed some reusable rockets to help make this happen. SpaceX also has the advantage of also being a private company, not a government agency, thereby showing that these kinds of endeavors can take place outside of the purview of a government. If SpaceX can do this, what can other non-governmental agencies accomplish?

An idea then hit me, perhaps a new big grand world-changing mission can be adopted by anarchists to fill the void left by what was previously occupied by the “GASR” (Global Anarchist Social Revolution). Perhaps instead of focusing on changing this world, anarchists can focus on getting off of this world and settling on Mars instead? Both tasks are enormous, involving lots of work, resources, and would most likely take generations to accomplish. But if we are indeed writing off all hope for this planet, as far fetched as it may sound, there may be some hope in the planet Mars instead.

I would like to have a conversation that I have never had before, and that is to talk about the possibility of anarchists colonizing Mars. How can we conceptualize this project in a way that is in some sense realistic and tangible? How can we even begin to break down this massive undertaking in a way that we can make some progress with it? How would we need to re-organize our tiny little anarchist scene or subculture to be able to tackle such a big endeavor? Or perhaps this all is still a project that is ahead of it’s time, and is best left for a future “wave” of anarchism to take up?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. Plus, there are a million other questions and variables to consider when considering something like a project on this scale. But I would like to talk about this, and in particular I would like to talk about all of this while using an anarchist lens. So let’s get going.

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