Prominent and indispensable among our rights is the "right of the people to keep and bear arms." Second Amendment rights, never to be infringed, were posited by our nation’s founders as among the most essential tenets of the free and just republic they sought to establish.
The empowering freedom of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms is particularly timely during Black History Month, for its role in the victory of civil rights for all is sorely overlooked.
As the nation reflects on the struggles and achievements of our African-American citizens, we must celebrate the actions of heroic civil rights activists known as the Deacons for Defense. In the fight for equality, these brave men utilized their right to bear arms to protect their families, possessions and liberties.
Unfortunately, these freedom fighters are seldom mentioned as an important part of African-American history.
Even prominent civil rights movement chronicler Taylor Branch gives the Deacons only passing mention in his three-volume work on the movement during the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. years.
In his 2004 book, The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement, Tulane University history professor Lance Hill tells their story. Hill writes of how a group of southern working class black men advanced civil rights through direct action to protect members of local communities against harassment at schools and polling places, and to thwart the terror inflicted by the Ku Klux Klan. He argues that without the Deacon’s activities the civil rights movement may have come to a crashing halt.
The spring and summer of 1964 were landmark periods for civil rights. In growing numbers, Southerners marched against segregation. The battle over race lit Louisiana aflame. In response to civil rights activism, the Klan wreaked havoc on black neighborhoods, but soon found itself face-to-face with the Deacons.
Following a KKK night ride in Jonesboro, the Deacons approached the police chief who had led the parade and informed him that they were armed and unafraid of self-defense. The Klan never rode through Jonesboro again. Local cross burnings ceased when warning shots were fired as a Klansmen’s torch met a cross planted in front of a black minister’s home. The initial desegregation of Jonesboro High School was threatened by firemen who aimed hoses at black students attempting to enter the building. When four Deacons arrived and loaded their shotguns, the firemen left and the students entered unscathed. It was this series of efforts by the Deacons that caused the Klan to leave Jonesboro for good.