[News] Black Liberation leader Robert Williams remembered

News at freedomarchives.org News at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 31 08:46:20 EDT 2005


New audio documentary

Black Liberation leader Robert Williams remembered

By J. Marquardt
Oakland, Calif.
Published May 28, 2005 8:53 AM

Hundreds of people packed an Oakland church May 20 to celebrate the release 
of a new audio documentary about civil-rights leader Robert F. Williams. 
The documentary is titled “Robert F. Williams—Self-Defense, Self-Respect & 
Self-Deter mination (as told by Mabel Williams).”

Organized and funded by several foundations, including the Paul Robeson 
Fund for Independent Media and the Freedom Archives, the event brought 
together at least three generations of progressive activists and artists, 
primarily from the Black communities in the San Francisco Bay area.

In the late 1950s, Williams became president of the Monroe, N.C., chapter 
of the NAACP. At that time, the African Amer ican neighborhood of Monroe 
was sometimes attacked by groups of Ku Klux Klan. When North Carolina Gov. 
Luther Hodges did nothing to stop the attacks, Williams and the local NAACP 
chapter formed a National Rifle Association chapter and trained their 
members in using firearms.

In the summer of 1957, when a Klan motorcade attacked the home of NAACP 
member Dr. Albert E. Perry, an armed defense squad drove them off. Klan 
night riding came to a sudden stop in Monroe.

This famous incident electrified many Black people and identified Williams 
with armed self-defense for Black people.

Mabel Williams, who had been together with Robert Williams for almost 50 
years when he died in 1996, spoke eloquently of the historic struggle in 
Monroe in the late 1950s and through the 1960s. The government’s phony 
charges for an alleged kidnapping, but really for their militancy, forced 
the couple into exile in Cuba. There they became de-facto representatives 
of the oppressed and working class people in the United States.

She said that everywhere they went—Cuba, China, Vietnam and African 
countries—Williams told her that he did not want to represent the “ugly 
America” but be a good ambassador “for our people and for the whole human 

The Williams’ son, John C. Williams, told the audience what it was like to 
be raised by his activist parents. Forced into exile in Cuba, the Williams 
family saw firsthand what a socialist government can do for its citizens 
and guests.

John Williams also recalled the struggle to integrate a public swimming 
pool back in Monroe. Black people were forbidden in the pool because the 
white racists spread the lie that Blacks would leave an untidy discolored 
ring on the sides of the pool. By contrast, Williams said, the public 
schools and recreation areas were integrated in Cuba.

Other speakers included world-renown ed activists and artists Amiri Baraka 
and Amina Baraka, and Yuri Kochiyama. Kochiyama spoke about Black freedom 
fighter Assata Shakur, herself now living in exile in Cuba, and the $1 
million bounty the FBI recently place on her life. Quoting Cuban president 
Fidel Castro, Kochiyama said, “Nothing will happen to her—she will be 

Amiri Baraka recalled his many years of friendship with Robert Williams, 
whom he first met in Cuba in the early 1960s. He pointed out that Robert F. 
Williams was an advocate for armed self-defense before Malcolm X became 
known and before the emergence of the Black Panther Party.

Baraka also talked about the Mont gomery, Ala., bus boycott, reminding the 
crowd how truly correct Williams was in promoting the idea of “treat people 
as they treat you.” Racist White Citizens Councils and KKK members—also 
known as the state police—burned and bombed homes and shot dead or beat to 
death Black people. Baraka compared these acts of terror to the present 
international activities involving the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles’ 
attacks on socialist Cuba.

All the participants shared the sentiment of Robert F. Williams’ words on 
the banner hung in the front of the church: “We are going to have justice 
or set the torch to Racist Amerika. Let our battle cry be heard around the 
world—Freedom, freedom, freedom now or death.”

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