Charles E Cobb is a long time African American journalist who participated in the southern freedom movement etween 1962 and 1966. His purpose in writing This Nonviolent Stuff Will Get You Killed is to correct the revisionist “white” view of the 1960s civil rights movement.
The version of the civil rights movement taught in schools and universities is written by white historians who, for the most part, lay out historical events and omit the thinking that led to them. Or even worse, instead of asking movement veterans what they were thinking, offer a retrospective analysis of what they must have been thinking.
It was a problem Frederick Douglass frequently faced in his dealings with white abolitionists. Afraid he would appear “too learned” to be convincing, they told him, “Just give us the facts – we’ll take care of the philosophy.”
One important fact often “whitewashed” out of history is the use of guns in the southern civil rights movement. Guns have always been fundamental to rural life, in both black and white communities. In the 1960s, they were essential for the survival of black farming families – for hunting food, killing varmints in the garden and protecting themselves against terrorist raids by Night Riders and the Ku Klux Klan.
White southerners made it pretty obvious that they were prepared to kill African Americans – and their families – if they registered to vote. Despite his highly publicized use of nonviolence as a tactic, Martin Luther King had bodyguards who carried pistols to protect him. and Fanny Lou Hamer used a shotgun to protect her house against white “crackers.” Armed African American World War II and Korean War veterans – in some areas formally organized as The Deacons for Defense and Justice – carried weapons to protect workers from CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Council).
No white people were ever killed by these guards: it was sufficient to convey the message that blacks were willing to defend themselves.
As Cobb points us, no white person is willing to die for white supremacy.
Cobb is a great story teller and sheds important insights about the curious relationship between outside organizers and rural African American farmers as they set about building their trust.
It was my intention to embed Cobb’s 90 minute C-SPAN presentation about his book, but YouTube has censored the video by taking it down. So you have to click on the following link: