Robert F. Williams was the forefather of the Black Power movement and broke dramatic new ground by internationalizing the African American struggle. Negroes with Guns is not only an electrifying look at an historically erased leader, but also provides a thought-provoking examination of Black radicalism and resistance and serves as a launching pad for the study of Black liberation philosophies. Insightful interviews with historian Clayborne Carson, biographer Timothy Tyson, Julian Bond, and a first person account by Mabel Williams, Robert's wife, bring the story to life.
Robert Franklin Williams was born in Monroe, North Carolina in 1925. As a young man he worked for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit until he was drafted into the United States Army in 1944 where he learned to take up arms.
Back in Monroe, Williams married Mabel Robinson, a young woman who shared his commitment to social justice and African American freedom. After the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, Klan activity in Monroe skyrocketed, successfully intimidating African Americans and nearly shutting down the local chapter of the NAACP. Williams revived it to nearly 200 strong by reaching out to everyday laborers and to fellow Black veterans men who were not easily intimidated. When repeated assaults on Black women in the county were ignored by the law, Williams filed for a charter from the NRA; the Black Armed Guard was born. During a 1957 integration campaign that faced violent white resistance, Williams armed defense guard successfully drove off legions of the Klan and electrified the Black community.
In 1961, Freedom Riders came to Monroe, planning to demonstrate the superior effectiveness of passive resistance over armed self-defense. They were bloodied, beaten and jailed, and finally called on Williams for protection from thousands of rioting Klansmen. Despite the threatening mobs, Williams sheltered a white family from violence, only to be later accused of kidnapping them. Fleeing death threats, Rob and Mabel gathered their children, left everything behind and fled for their lives pursued by FBI agents on trumped-up kidnapping charges.
Williams and his family spent five years in Cuba where he wrote his electrifying book, Negroes With Guns and produced Radio Free Dixie for the international airwaves. They later moved on to China, where they were well received but always longed for their forbidden home. In 1969, Williams exchanged his knowledge of the Chinese government for safe passage to the States. Rob and Mabel lived their remaining days together in Michigan where he died in 1995. His body was returned at long last to his hometown of Monroe, N.C.
"The American South was changed forever by the work and words of Robert Williams, and by his unfettered passion for equal access for all. Today, it is the job of the body electorate to pick up the work of creating an equitable society. We have much to learn from this important film, notably how far we've come--and how far we have yet to go." - Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney "Robert Williams' insistence on armed self-defense in response to racist terrorism inspired hundreds of followers, yet his story has been marginalized or erased from Civil Rights history. Negroes with Guns revives the powerful words and actions of this legendary Black leader and restores him to his central place in the Black struggle for dignity and human rights."- Kathleen Cleaver, former Black Panther, Professor of law, Yale University "Rob Williams was a legendary spokesperson for the Black struggle during the 1950s and 1960s. With militancy paralleling Malcolm X, Williams boldly linked the African American freedom struggle with Third World liberation. This extraordinary film helps a new generation of students and activists appreciate the advances he made in the ongoing movement against racism." - Manning Marable, Columbia University "Robert F. Williams was bold, electrifying, brilliant and iconoclastic, one of the most significant and revealing race rebels of the generation that toppled Jim Crow, created a new Black sense of self, and changed the arc of our nation's history. This film, like Williams himself, is an American original and a classic." - Timothy Tyson, University of Wisconsin-Madison "Robert Williams was the voice of Afro-America calling for Self-defense, pre Malcolm X. Rob and Mabel Williams were among the most militant and inspirational figures of the 60s. This video will bring people a little further up to speed about two authentic Black revolutionaries." - Amiri Baraka
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