Our enemies are the U.S. government and the multi-national corporations that dominate the world economy today. The one thing those entities fear more than anything else is mass, organized revolutionary struggle directed against their hegemony over the planet. If you understand that, then it shouldn't be difficult for anyone to recognize why those interests would want to advance the notion that no one has ever felt the need to fight uncompromisingly against them. No one has ever dared think they could defeat them. No one has ever really been oppressed enough to justify going beyond conventional wisdom in how they fight back. In fact, these people desire you to believe until your death that fighting back can only ever be defined as mounting nonthreatening protests against them that do absolutely nothing to challenge or even inconvenience normal business practices. This is how they wish you to view the U.S. civil rights movement which is the greatest example of justified internal dissent in this country's history.
No one can deny that the civil rights movement certainly had a commitment to non-violent direct action. The debate is over whether this commitment was one of principle or tactics. For the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization of Dr. King, the commitment to non-violence was more so one of principle meaning to work on SCLC campaigns, you were expected to commit to non-violence 100%, despite what happened to you. This was not the case for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), despite their name. Or, even other organizations such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), or even the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP was certainly devoted to the principle of non-violence on a national level. The constant non-confrontational and even right wing pronouncements and actions of NAACP President Roy Wilkins during the 60s confirms this. The actions of local NAACP offices tell a different story. The Monroe, North Carolina, U.S. chapter of the NAACP practiced armed self defense among its members and their willingness to defend themselves led to local president Robert Williams having to flee the U.S. IN 1957 after his efforts to protect a lost European couple who were aimlessly driving through the African community during an uprising were used to target Williams with criminal charges of kidnapping white folks. Despite efforts by Wilkins and the national NAACP to disparage and even support efforts to locate and arrest Williams, the defiant Williams and his wife traveled first to Cuba, and then to China, using the media platforms provided to them by those governments to denounce racial oppression in the U.S. and to call for armed resistance against our suffering.
SNCC organizers like Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Ruby Doris Robinson, Cleve Sellers, Mukassa Dada (Willie Ricks), Jamil Abdullah al-Amin (H. Rap Brown), etc., clearly articulated that for SNCC, non-violence was a tactic, not a principle. That they would commit to non-violence as long as it was an effective and logical tool to suit their organizational objectives, but that once that was not the case, they would instinctively fight back using any means necessary to do so. This position was certainly made clear by SNCC's work in Loundes County Alabama in 1965 where they helped lead local residents to launch the independent Loundes County Freedom Organization which due to the fact 80% of the local Africans couldn't read or write, was more popularly known by its symbol - the Black Panther. The new Loundes County Black Panther Party openly armed its members in the face of brutal violence against their efforts by racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Klan violence against Africans was so regular that the county was known as "bloody Loundes."
According to Ture and others, SNCC organizers in Loundes County always had guns on them and they were trained and prepared to use them. Their example was so inspiring that many of the youth who traveled to Loundes County to help with the effort returned to their local areas with stories about the armed Africans in Alabama. One of those youth was Mark Comfort, an organizer from Oakland, California, U.S., who knew Huey P. Newton. Comfort went back to Oakland from Loundes County telling Newton about "Black folks in Alabama who formed a Black Panther Party with guns!" The idea resonated with Newton and he wrote in his autobiography - "Revolutionary Suicide" that he wrote Ture to ask for permission to use the Black Panther name for his new party which started in Oakland in October of 1966.
SNCC, was having discussions in the early 60s about the question of non-violence as a tactic. SNCC staffers were determined to find a way to maintain their dignity in the face of undeterred violence against them by racists. These discussions led many of the staffers to turn towards the message of Malcolm X who was one of the most vocal voices at the time calling for African people in the South to fight back against "two legged dogs that sic four legged dogs on women and children!" As Malcolm's contradictions with the Nation of Islam proliferated in 1964, he began to advance many of the political ideas he had harbored and alluded to for years. One of those political ideas was Africans organizing around self defense e.g. "if the government cannot or refuses to protect us then we have the God given right to organize and protect ourselves!" These ideas resonated strongly with SNCC staff members and they wanted to bring these concepts more squarely within the vision of SNCC's organizational vision and direction. When Dr. King was jailed in early February 1965, SNCC invited Malcolm to speak at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Their relationship with Malcolm had already been nurtured from previous efforts like Malcolm hosting SNCC member Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer in a rally in Harlem, New York, in 1964 where Ms. Hamer talked about "praying to God for straight aim when those crackers come through my door!" In that Tuskegee speech, Malcolm unleashed his now famous "house slave/field slave" narrative which further contributed mightily to the desire among the SNCC youth to fight back for our dignity.
SNCC's movement to the left and towards more militancy changed its character from that of being dominated by Southern Gospel themes of turn the other cheek to that of militant resistance to oppression. Their developing consciousness led to Kwame Ture defeating John Lewis (now a Congressperson) as SNCC Chair in a contentious election in 1966. Ture's election signaled the focus for SNCC. One of the clear indicators of this direction was SNCC's welcoming of the newly formed Deacons for Defense to work to protect SNCC and other civil rights workers. The Deacons were a group of African, primarily war veterans, who formed an organization in Louisiana in 1964 with the motto that "you shoot at us, we shoot back!" The Deacons were trained and armed. Dedicated to meeting Klan violence with intense armed resistance. Deacons were local Southern Africans. Many of them were ex-convicts who didn't adhere to King's non-violence principles at any levels of their lives. Deacons had a number of armed standoffs with the Klan and other racist whites in which shots were fired. In one instance in Alabama in 1965, a Deacon shot a klansmen point blank in the face. Other national civil rights leaders like Wilkins from the NAACP and Whitney Young from the National Urban League, were aghast against the presence of a group like the Deacons at civil rights actions, but SNCC was adamant that the Deacons would be present. There were many hotly contentious debates about the presence of the Deacons during this period, but its important to note that these discussions were about much more than the Deacons being present. The discussion was about our right to stand up to violence by meting out our own violence in return. Clearly, the majority of people thought we did indeed have that right and among them was certainly Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Despite very public and aggressive tactics by Wilkins and Young to influence Dr. King to turn against SNCC and the presence of the Deacons, Dr. King may have bent, but he never broke. He never came out and said he didn't want the Deacons around. In fact, SNCC organizers loved to joke with King about how when he had to move through the South, he first wanted to know if Charles Sims, his personal guard from the Deacons, would be coming with him with the 45 semi automatic pistol that it was well known Sims carried with him wherever he went.
SNCC won out against the established civil rights leaders, bolstered by Dr. King's support, in having the Deacons present during the June 1966 March against fear through rural Mississippi. And the Deacons served in engaging in multiple tense standoffs against racist whites along the way.
People don't speak of it this way today, but there's no question that those activists were anti-fascist fighters long before the term developed the popularity it currently enjoys. There's also no question that their emphasis on self determination and armed resistance wasn't new. The Land and Freedom Movement, or what's more popularly known as the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 50s and early 60s. The "Spear of the Nation" and the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania, waging armed resistance against the apartheid regime in Azania (South Africa) starting in the late 50s. The African Blood Brotherhood in the 1920s, the Maroon Slave uprisings such those led by Sister Carlota in Cuba in the 1700s. The thousands of slave revolts we carried out from Central Africa to the Caribbean and throughout the Western Hemisphere. The statement people make today about "We are not our ancestors" is an extremely ignorant statement if the inference is that our ancestors never fought back. We have always fought back. The Maroon uprisings influenced the Mau Mau which influenced the Deacons which influenced the Black Panther Party which influences our movements, consciousness, and struggles of today. This is a continuum because people will always struggle for their dignity and when we fight back, as Franz Fanon taught us, that's exactly what we are doing. The challenge we have is to develop and organize those efforts. We also need to recognize that we cannot ever permit our enemies to articulate our history. Its in their interest, not ours, to display our movement as a pacifist movement were we were willingly brutalized. That's not serious and its not true. Never has been and never will be.