Interview with Cleveland Sellers

Questions of self-defense, the Deacons of Def--for Defense and what went on in Philadelphia, Mississippi.


Okay, I think that, ah, that, I, that, the Deacons for Defense was a group of, ah, Blacks from, in the South, in Louisiana that's responsibility was to, ah, to defend their communities or defend themselves against attack. It was not, never a group of retaliation. I think that, ah, one of the things that we can look at in, in Philadelphia, Mississippi or anywhere along the march, the, the mode of non-violence was still there but I think we were beginning to come grips with the fact that we had to be real with people in terms of, if somebody attacked you, that you expected to be able to protect yourself. So the whole idea, notion of self-defense was a growing, ah, notion inside of SNCC and inside of other civil rights organizations. Non-violence was a tactic for SNCC and we used it as a tactic. Ah, everybody in SNCC was not, ah, believed non-violent as a way of life, as a philosophy. Ah, in Philadelphia, Mississippi I think that it was non-violence that assisted us in getting out of there. If we would of gotten involved in a, a confrontation in Philadelphia, Mississippi, we all probably been history. Ah, and that's the way you look at it. When you look at the, the hostile nature of areas, Philadelphia, Mississippi was one of those areas. Or if you looked at Mississippi, the chances of you, ah, provoking through retaliation, ah, a response were very good, probably more so than many of the other states. Ah, so on the march, we involved the Deacons for Defense to protect the marchers, if they could eliminate an aggressive action or eliminate sharpshooters or people taking advantage of the march, then that's what they would do and that's what we tried to do. We tried to learn from them. They would tell us certain things we needed to know along the way. They would go into the wooded areas. The would, ah, check the intersections. They would check cars out. They would keep their eyes on, on all of these, ah.