Black Power: Selections from the Gerth Archives at CSU Dominguez Hills

Robert F. Williams and the Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants

The Civil Rights Movement and the Monroe, North Carolina NAACP Chapter

Robert F. Williams (1925-1966) was a prominent figure in the Civil Rights movement who was the president of the Monroe, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP from the 1950s to 1961. In 1958 he defended two young black boys, ages 7 and 9, who were charged with rape after a white girl kissed one of them, which is known as the Kissing Case. He promoted the armed self-defense of black people against the Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups, advocated for the integration of the Monroe public library, and led picket line protests for the integration the Monroe public swimming pool and public library, the latter which was met with armed opponents. Williams established a chapter of the National Rifle Association (NRA), which he called the Black Armed Guard, to encourage the armed self-defense of black people against the Ku Klux Klan, which had a large presence in Monroe at the time. In 1959, as stated by the Harvard Crimson, he determined that “Since the federal government will not bring a halt to lynching, and since the so-called courts lynch our people legally, if it’s necessary to stop lynching with lynching, then we must be willing to resort to that method. We must meet violence with violence,” which led to his suspension from the NAACP since his controversial statement was contrary to the generally nonviolent approach the Civil Rights Movement took, as demonstrated by various peaceful marches and demonstrations.

The Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants

In 1961, the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) organized a Freedom Riders demonstration, along with the Monroe Non-Violent Action Committee to promote the integration of interstate bus travel and used the Monroe NAACP headquarters as their center of operation. Their demonstrations were faced with violent racist attacks, and the confrontation came to a head when thousands of Ku Klux Klan members and affiliates intimidated the Freedom Riders’ demonstration in front of the Union County Courthouse. At this time, Williams was accused of kidnapping a white couple who sought refuge in his house because the area seemed unsafe for them due to the protests, which led to him fleeing Monroe and a subsequent warrant from the FBI for his arrest, which demonstrated the connection between the police and the KKK to many. The Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants was established and led by Dr. A.E. Perry, which advocated for the raising of legal and bail funds to aid in the “defense of the Monroe victims of racist terror,” which included other civil rights activists such as Harold Reape, Richard Crowder, John Lowry, and Mae Mallory, who were also charged with kidnapping during this period. The Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants’ New York City chapter was staffed by Socialist Workers Party (SWP) members including Berta Green Langston, who in her role as secretary of the Committee corresponded regularly with Robert F. Williams concerning the Monroe legal cases as well as his exile in Cuba. 

Political Exile in Cuba and Asia

Williams sought asylum in Cuba in 1961, where he operated “Radio Free Dixie,” a radio show for Southern black people, from 1962 to 1965. He also published The Crusader while in exile in Cuba, and published Negroes with Guns, a book that was influential with the founders of the Black Panther Party, while in Cuba as well. Williams traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam in 1965, and lived in China with his wife Mabel Williams from 1965-1968. He and Mabel returned to the United States in 1969, at which point Williams was arrested for the kidnapping charge, for which he was tried in 1975 but was not convicted.

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