Russell Kirk, author of the landmark book The Conservative Mind, frequently described conservatism as the conservation of a particular people living in a particular place at a particular time. For one black man living in Monroe, N.C., in the mid-20th century, conservatism came through the barrel of a gun.
In 1925, Robert F. Williams was born into the nasty era of Jim Crow, a time when a man's skin color determined his place in the world; often he was barely even considered a man. The white establishment bullied and oppressed blacks as a matter of custom, and justice was anything but blind.
Despite this tragic existence, Williams said of Monroe, "My family roots were buried deep in the soil of the South. I couldn't extract them and bury them somewhere else." So Williams decided to do what past generations of patriotic Southerners had done — defend his soil against foreign aggressors, namely the Ku Klux Klan.
As head of the local chapter of the NAACP, Williams (who was also a World War II veteran) organized a militia unit he called the Black Armed Guard, trained black men and women to use rifles, and fortified his entire neighborhood by stacking sandbags and stockpiling weapons. It worked.
But not everyone approved. Wrote biographer Timothy B. Tyson, "Williams' advocacy of violence made him into an example at the 1959 NAACP convention. He had been removed from his post as Monroe NAACP president, and he listened at the convention as 40 speakers denounced him. He responded that he had called for self-defense, not acts of war: 'We as men should stand up as men and protect our women and children. I am a man, and I will walk upright as a man should. I will not crawl."
Damn straight. When faced with an imminent threat, Williams not only spat in the face of the political correctness of his day, but stood squarely in the tradition of the Founding Fathers. "Tom Paine, Washington, Jefferson, and Patrick Henry were all honorable men who are supposed to represent the true spirit of America. These noble men advocated violence as a vehicle of liberation," Williams said.
It's a safe bet that Williams understood the true meaning and importance of the Second Amendment more intimately than most contemporary conservatives, as the Founding Fathers believed that only an armed populace might be able to effectively resist tyranny.
Today, Ivy League politicians routinely talk about their love of sportsmen and hunting, and that is considered enough to satisfy the rednecks. But the cigar-chomping, gun-toting Williams — a black redneck if there ever was one — wasn't hunting quail. He was hunting Klansmen.
The KKK in the 1950s and '60s were encouraged and even supported by local governments; the "Invisible Empire" often claimed respected leaders as members. As far as the black community of Monroe was concerned, the hoods and robes of white terrorists were often indistinguishable from the uniforms and badges of the local constable.
Williams' example serves as an eternal reminder that the right to self-defense is indispensable to liberty, as sometimes men need to defend themselves from their government. Just ask Thomas Jefferson.
In his book Negroes with Guns, Williams explains, "I just wasn't going to let white men have that much authority over me." Indeed. Like my white ancestors in 1776 and 1861, Williams took the patriot's position. He stood for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness against those whose explicit intent was to deny those cherished rights to their fellow Americans.
Eventually hounded out of the United States by the FBI, Williams spent time in exile in both Cuba and China and made common cause back home with many of the leftists and black nationalists that littered the political landscape of the 1960s. These were relationships born of Williams' desire for black independence and liberty — particularly that of his own southern people. According to Tyson, "The NAACP leader from Monroe reached out to potential allies in all these camps while remaining committed to equal rights for all under the U.S. Constitution," adding that Williams "was neither a nationalist, a Marxist, nor a liberal."
Williams was a conservative. Better yet, a southern conservative whose unique roots gave him the courage and inspiration to stand tall and be heard when white men insisted that he sit down and shut up.
Tyson noticed that Williams had an "unmistakably conservative disposition." So did the Klan. And so did Williams' neighbors, as Monroe was done proud by a favorite son, who never asked for any favors but gave them aplenty, from the heart — and the holster.
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