[News] Williams' Legacy Lives On
News at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 22 08:18:49 EDT 2005
Subject: Robert Williams
From: norman at ckln.fm
Date: Thu, August 18, 2005 10:30 pm
To: norman at ckln.fm
Williams' Legacy Lives On
By NORMAN (OTIS) RICHMOND
Black activist Robert F. Williams is all but forgotten by the hip-hop
generation and North Americans in general but his contributions were as
profound as Martin Luther King Jr.'s or Malcolm X's. So much so, that when
the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) neglected to mention Williams in
their 13-part special Eyes on the Prize (1987 - 1990), General Baker, a
legendary Detroit trade unionist, lamented.
Baker was introduced to Williams by listening to Radio Free Dixie before
he met in the flesh in Cuba.
"I'll never forget because I was sort of influenced by Radio Free Dixie. I
remember they (Williams and his wife Mabel) used to have a theme song.
They took Smokey Robinson and The Miracles' song way over there and turned
it into a love song of a people. The poetic Robinson lyrics are: 'A river
ain't deep enough. A mountain ain't steep enough to keep me from your
side'. Listeners understood that it was more than a silly little love
It is significant that the mother of the civil rights movement, Rosa
Parks, spoke at Williams' funeral in October 1996, and said that she, and
those who had marched with King in Alabama, had always admired Williams
"for his courage and his commitment to freedom. The work that he did
should go down in history and never be forgotten.
"Like Patrice Lumumba, Franz Fanon, Medger Evers and Malcolm X, Williams
was a member of the class of 1925."
He would have celebrated his 80th birthday on February 26, 2005.
If the Freedom Archives has its way, Williams' legacy will be passed on to
the youth of the day and generations to come. A new CD and study guide,
Robert F. Williams: Self Respect, Self Defence & Self Determination, as
told by Mabel Williams and produced with the complete support of the
Williams clan, will help spread the story of the Williams family. And
Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power by
Timothy B. Tyson will help put Williams in his proper place in African
American and world history.
Williams, a small-town Southerner, became an international figure in 1961
when he was forced to flee Monroe, N.C., first traveling to Cuba and later
to China. In the late 1950s, he had become president of the Monroe branch
of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP)
and his followers used machine guns, dynamite and Molotov cocktails to
confront Ku Klux Klan terrorists. He was forced out of the United States
to avoid prosecution for allegedly kidnapping a White couple, whom he'd
actually saved from getting killed during an NAACP confrontation with the
When Williams was run out of the U.S., he used the modern Underground
Railroad and was helped by Canadians such as Vernal Olsen and his wife
Anne of Toronto.
Tyson quotes Williams as writing: "One day the Toronto Globe and Mail
published a huge picture of me on its front page with an article stating
that the U.S. government had (hired) Canada to arrest and extradite me."
According to Tyson, Canadians then moved Williams to Nova Scotia where
there was a "refuelling stop for planes bound for Cuba."
After Williams was granted political asylum in Cuba, he was allowed to set
up Radio Free Dixie, a program of Black politics and music that he
broadcasted back to the United States. It was an important show because it
helped Williams to win thousands of new converts to the civil rights
"Originally, I was broadcasting 50,000 watts, which could be heard all the
way up to Saskatchewan, Canada," said Williams.
Williams lived in Cuba and China from 1961 until 1969. He fell out with
the Cubans over the race question, but never was hostile to Fidel Castro
or Che Guevara. Williams' first book, Negroes with Guns, was dictated in
Cuba in 1962. Wayne State University Press recently republished this
After moving to China, Williams convinced Mao Zedong to issue two
statements in support of the African American liberation struggle. While
on the international scene, he found time to travel to North Vietnam,
North Korea and Tanzania, where he met with Ho Chi Minh and other leaders
from Asia and Africa, but Tyson's book does not discuss these issues in
In 1969, he decided to return to the United States despite the charges
against him. North Carolina officials promptly attempted to extradite him
from Michigan, where he had settled, on the old kidnapping charges. A
court battle lasted several years, though finally, the charges were
Another biography by Robert Carl Cohen, The Black Crusader, deals with
Williams' travels in Asia and Africa. Cohen's account of Williams riding a
motorcycle across Tanzania is fascinating and one hopes that Williams'
forthcoming autobiography, While God Lay Sleeping, will shed more light on
his international work.
The strength of Tyson's biography of Williams is that it ably documents
the life and times of a man who should never be forgotten. While Williams
was influenced by earlier organizations, such as the African Blood
Brotherhood (a U.S.-based group that rivalled Marcus Garvey's Universal
Negro Improvement Association), and African Caribbeans and African
Americans such as Cyril Briggs of St. Kitts and Nevis and Harry Haywood,
Williams' own militancy is in his DNA. Tyson points out that Williams'
grandfather, Sikes Williams, had been a race man before him. His
grandmother, Ellen Isabel Williams, actually gave him an ancient rifle
that once belonged to her husband.
This book is a must read for Black History Month, or any other month. In
fact, Tyson sums up Williams legacy beautifully. "This is a story of one
of the most influential African American radicals of a generation that
toppled Jim Crow, created a new Black sense of self, and forever altered
the arc of American history."
The CD and resource guide are available for $22 ($24 internationally) from
Freedom Archives, 522 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 (415)
863-9977 email: info at freedomarchives.org.
Toronto-based journalist and radio producer Norman (Otis) Richmond can be
heard on Diasporic Music, Thursdays, 8 p.m.-10 p.m., Saturday Morning
Live, Saturdays, 10 a.m.-1 p. m. and From a Different Perspective,
Sundays, 6-6:30 p.m. on CKLN-FM 88.1 and on the internet at www.ckln.fm.
He can be reached by phone at 416-595-5068 or by e-mail at Norman at ckln.fm.
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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