In January 1960, Martin Luther King Jr., the rising star of the civil rights movement, and Robert Williams, president of the Monroe, North Carolina, branch of the NAACP, conducted an extraordinary public debate over the permissible use of violence on behalf of racial equality.
Williams was the instigator. In 1959, responding in fury to the sham acquittal of a white man who had raped a pregnant black woman, Williams declared, “Since the federal government will not bring a halt to lynching in the South, and since the so-called courts lynch our people legally, if it’s necessary to stop lynching with lynching, then we must be willing to resort to that method.”
One day later, after receiving a distraught phone call from NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins, who worried about the blowback from Williams’ incendiary rhetoric, the North Carolina activist offered a modification. “Negroes have to defend themselves on the spot when they are attacked,” Williams said.
Posted by The NON-Conformist