[News] Robert and Mabel Williams's Great Fight

News at freedomarchives.org News at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 7 11:39:28 EDT 2005


July 5, 2005

"The Last of the America We Have Known"

Robert and Mabel Williams's Great Fight


On a recent visit to Oakland, CA., I had the opportunity to meet and 
converse with Claude Marks of the Freedom Archives. For those readers 
unaware of this project, the Archives are run by a group of individuals 
determined to discover and maintain the history of those US residents and 
colonial subjects that have struggled against oppression. What this 
struggle has usually meant in that fair land is the struggle against 
individual and systemic racism. Among its projects, the 
<http://www.freedomarchives.org/>Freedom Archives collaborated with 
documentary director Sam Green (The Weather Underground) in filming an 
interview with the imprisoned SDS/WUO member David Gilbert. Most recently, 
The Freedom Archives released (with AK Press) a CD/book combination titled 
Self-Defense and Self-Determination. This publication is a documentary of 
the life of African-American freedom fighters Robert and Mabel Williams.

Robert and Mabel Williams grew up in the town of Monroe, North Carolina-a 
small town that also happens to be the birth place of the racist former US 
Senator Jesse helms. Indeed, it was after witnessing Helms' father-who also 
happened to be Monroe's chief of police in the 1950s and 1960s-beating a 
black woman that Robert Williams made a personal commitment to fight 
racism. This commitment would lead Williams to join the NAACP after 
returning home from his military service. He helped the local branch 
organize a series of protests whose purpose was to open the publicly-owned 
swimming pool in town to its black citizens. This seemingly innocent demand 
evolved into an armed confrontation with hundreds of Klansmen and their 
supporters-and all the NAACP wanted was that African-Americans be allowed 
to use the pool one day a week!

As related by Mabel on the CD, the struggle around the swimming pool 
convinced Rob once and for all that non-violent resistance to racist 
oppression was doomed to failure. Only when such resistance was backed up 
by the possibility of armed self-defense could it be effective. In 
retrospect, it seems quite clear that this approach played itself over and 
over as the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s rolled on. The Williams also 
understood the nature of imperialism and the place of the US black 
liberation struggle in the world wide struggle against Washington's ongoing 
war to master the planet. When the couple was forced to leave the United 
States after the government brought kidnapping charges against them 
(charges that were ater dropped for lack of evidence), Robert and Mabel 
understood instantly that they would find asylum in the countries then 
seeking to establish socialism: Cuba, China, Vietnam, and the Soviet Union. 
Williams never ceased detailing the ways that the worldwide struggle 
against US imperialism and the black liberation struggle in the US were one 
and the same. This argument was made in their shortwave broadcasts on Radio 
Free Dixie and in the pages of their newspaper, The Crusader. The Black 
Panthers developed a similar analysis of this relationship, as did Malcolm 
X in the months before his assassination.

The Robert Williams CD/book package is a well-made piece of living history. 
As I write this review on the Fourth of July 2005, I can't hep but think of 
the obvious contradictions involved. A nation conceived in a violent 
struggle against British colonialism that institutionalized the slavery of 
Africans and the genocide of the land's indigenous peoples is once again 
engaged in the brutal oppression of a people half a world away in the name 
of freedom. Meanwhile, here at home, the power elites continue to 
consolidate their control via ever-intensifying police state techniques and 
the manipulation of the economy. Racism continues to poison our daily 
lives-often using the very language of the past's anti-racist struggles to 
justify its deeds. A conspiracy of intentions no less dangerous that that 
which existed during the Williams' heyday continues to rule our land as 
conservative and liberals alike fund imperial projects like the occupation 
of Iraq and their "war on terror." Justice is no nearer yet remains ours to 

As Robert Williams states on the CD: "In looking at America from abroad, I 
see America in a state of deterioration. This is a very serious state. And 
I think now we are living in an era when we are seeing the last of the 
America that we have known. And I'd like to be here with my people when 
this period of transition finalizes."

Ron Jacobs is author of 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1859841678/counterpunchmaga>The Way 
the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just 
republished by Verso. Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in 
CounterPunch's new collection on music, art and sex, 
<http://www.easycarts.net/ecarts/CounterPunch/CP_Books.html>Serpents in the 
Garden. He can be reached at: <mailto:ron05401 at yahoo.com>ron05401 at yahoo.com

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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