Black Liberation leader Robert Williams remembered
Published May 28, 2005 8:53 AM
Hundreds of people
packed an Oakland church May 20 to celebrate the release of a new audio
documentary about civil-rights leader Robert F. Williams. The documentary is
titled “Robert F. Williams—Self-Defense, Self-Respect &
Self-Deter mination (as told by Mabel Williams).”
funded by several foundations, including the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent
Media and the Freedom Archives, the event brought together at least three
generations of progressive activists and artists, primarily from the Black
communities in the San Francisco Bay area.
In the late 1950s, Williams
became pre sident of the Monroe, N.C., chapter of the NAACP. At that time, the
African Amer ican neighborhood of Monroe was sometimes attacked by groups of Ku
Klux Klan. When North Carolina Gov. Luther Hodges did nothing to stop the
attacks, Williams and the local NAACP chapter formed a National Rifle
Association chapter and trained their members in using firearms.
summer of 1957, when a Klan motorcade attacked the home of NAACP member Dr.
Albert E. Perry, an armed defense squad drove them off. Klan night riding came
to a sudden stop in Monroe.
This famous incident electrified many Black
people and identified Williams with armed self-defense for Black
Mabel Williams, who had been together with Robert Williams for
almost 50 years when he died in 1996, spoke eloquently of the historic struggle
in Monroe in the late 1950s and through the 1960s. The government’s phony
charges for an alleged kidnapping, but really for their militancy, forced the
couple into exile in Cuba. There they became de-facto representatives of the
oppressed and working class people in the United States.
She said that
everywhere they went—Cuba, China, Vietnam and African
countries—Williams told her that he did not want to represent the
“ugly America” but be a good ambassador “for our people and
for the whole human race.”
The Williams’ son, John C.
Williams, told the audience what it was like to be raised by his activist
parents. Forced into exile in Cuba, the Williams family saw firsthand what a
socialist government can do for its citizens and guests.
also recalled the struggle to integrate a public swimming pool back in Monroe.
Black people were forbidden in the pool because the white racists spread the lie
that Blacks would leave an untidy discolored ring on the sides of the pool. By
contrast, Williams said, the public schools and recreation areas were integrated
Other speakers included world-renown ed activists and artists
Amiri Baraka and Amina Baraka, and Yuri Kochiyama. Kochiyama spoke about Black
freedom fighter Assata Shakur, herself now living in exile in Cuba, and the $1
million bounty the FBI recently place on her life. Quoting Cuban president
Fidel Castro, Kochiyama said, “Nothing will happen to her—she will
Amiri Baraka recalled his many years of friendship
with Robert Williams, whom he first met in Cuba in the early 1960s. He pointed
out that Robert F. Williams was an advocate for armed self-defense before
Malcolm X became known and before the emergence of the Black Panther
Baraka also talked about the Mont gomery, Ala., bus boycott,
reminding the crowd how truly correct Williams was in promoting the idea of
“treat people as they treat you.” Racist White Citizens Councils and
KKK members—also known as the state police—burned and bombed homes
and shot dead or beat to death Black people. Baraka compared these acts of
terror to the present international activities involving the terrorist Luis
Posada Carriles’ attacks on socialist Cuba.
All the participants
shared the sentiment of Robert F. Williams’ words on the banner hung in
the front of the church: “We are going to have justice or set the torch to
Racist Amerika. Let our battle cry be heard around the world—Freedom,
freedom, freedom now or death.”
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