The Shocking Truth About Guns and Civil Rights

[Note: As a researcher and writer of Mississippi modern civil rights, I still hear people, including news commentators and some historians, assert that this movement was nonviolent, and that guns were not part of it, except for Klansmen and other white racists. In fact, because of the KKK and Citizens Councils (with members such as Byron De La Beckwith) many  civil rights icons, including Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rev. Martin Luther King, and others were forced to keep guns around for self defense. Had they not had guns, they would not have lived as long as they did! There were frequent gunfights in the Delta, and Cleve McDowell, a Delta civil rights attorney and friend of James Meredith, Evers and Dr. King, was known to have guns stashed in every corner of his home, his car, his office and on his body. McDowell was finally murdered in 1997, and I have released a copy of his autopsy today. Meanwhile, I am honored to host the following guest blog by a sociologist who played a significant part in this movement, and still lives to tell important stories about the people he knew and loved — several of whom did not survive, but were gunned down. In this blog post, Dr. John Salter, Jr., retired Tougaloo College sociologist and leader in the Jackson Movement and Native American movement, who was a close friend of Medgar Evers, talks about guns and self-defense, a fact of history that is still unknown to many students of the civil rights movement. By the way, June 12 was the 49th anniversary of Evers’ murder. Susan Klopfer]
* * * * *

Guest Blog: Hunter Bear (Dr. John Salter, Jr.)

This is the Time of Year that Medgar Evers was shot and killed in Jackson Mississippi — in the heat of the Jackson Movement of 1962-63.  And I often send around my very long webpage focusing on my personal recollections of Medgar.  

Now, also carrying as a recent addition, recollections of our fine mutual friend and Movement colleague, the late Cleveland Donald, Jr, that long page is always one of our more consistently and heavily visited ones:   

Its material is also carried by the excellent Civil Rights Movement Veterans website of which anyone with any interest in social justice Movement matters of any genre, should be well aware:    

This time, I’m sending this short piece which certainly captures the ethos of a murderous time and place — and the high courage of many indeed.  [H]


I’m attaching a short response of mine to an African-American scholar. We consistently practiced tactical non-violence in civil rights demonstrations — but, more or less quietly, we did support and did indeed sometimes explicitly practice thoughtfully active individual/family self-defense via firearms.

It’s been almost 50 years since Eldri and I and Baby Maria had a long Christmas dinner and family visit with Medgar and Myrlie Evers and children at the Evers home on Guynes Street. The ethos was somber, especially as night came on. James Meredith was in Ole Miss — protected by legions of Federal troops and U.S. Marshals.  Our economic boycott of Jackson was off and going well. And we were already planning its extension into a vastly broader Movement — which was precisely what happened.

Four nights before, our home on the Tougaloo campus had been shot into — and several of us had since been standing armed guard on the campus borders. Racist hysteria pervaded Mississippi [and the other recalcitrant sections of the South] and violence and murder were in the air, all around us. Our pleasant Christmas dinner, no matter how much we all attempted to “lighten” things, was grim.

Medgar and I knew guns, had guns. Less than six months later, June 11 1963, Medgar was shot in the back and killed by a night-time assassin. And much more in that genre occurred.

 From Hunter to an African American scholar:

Your question is solid.

The short answer is that the National Office of NAACP was not concerned about Medgar’s being armed. [It was obviously concerned about other things — but not that.]  It was understood in every civil rights organization that field representatives — and certainly the grassroots people with whom we worked — would very likely be armed.  [Then and now, of course, most people in what’s called the United States do have firearms.

This is certainly true of African Americans, South and North — and universally true with Native Americans.] But although many if not most civil rights field people were armed, we were not — usually — too public about that. A major reason was the concern that many liberal/left Northern supporters [not all] would be troubled by that. I was probably more open about my firearms than were many civil rights field persons.

The NAACP had felt itself to be “burned” by the Rob Williams self-defense situation in Monroe, NC — where Williams, NAACP local president, and faced with constant and very substantive Klan violence, secured an NRA charter and organized a broad self-defensive structure in the Black community. [He was also a supporter of the Cuban revolution.]

When trouble erupted in the Monroe situation, the NAACP attacked Williams, who was forced from the country and several of his colleagues subjected to “criminal” charges.  Medgar, during one of our earliest conversations, expressed to me his strong sympathy for Williams and his self-defensive actions.

There were “ways of warning” the hostile forces we faced. I and my wife, Eldri, recall vividly Medgar’s telling us that a young white utility worker came by his house, somewhat nervously, to check on some outside power lines.  When the guy was finished, Medgar invited him into his home, ostensibly to show him “a large fish that I caught, stuffed, and put on my wall.” The young man came in but, only glancing at the stuffed fish, stared at a couple of Medgar’s rifles that were also racked on the wall.

“He couldn’t take his eyes off my guns,” Medgar told us, chuckling.
* * * * *

Hope this has been helpful.  All best — and write again if so inclined.  In Solidarity, Hunter [Hunter Bear]

Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari’
Member, National Writers Union AFL-CIO
(much social justice material)

See the Stormy Adoption of an Indian Child [My Father]:
(Expanded much in May/June 2012 — and also some photos.)

For the new, just out (11/2011) and expanded/updated
edition of my “Organizer’s Book,” JACKSON MISSISSIPPI —
with a new and substantial introduction by me.  We are now at
the 50th Anniversary of the massive Jackson Movement of

And see – Elder Recognition Award
(Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Story Tellers: