Interview with Robert Williams


Robert Williams:

Well, after we had held off the Klan for six years. We had a rifle club, we had been successful, we hadn't lost any people, we had dug fox holes, we had sand bags, steel helmets, heavy rifles, and we also had introduced the Molotov cocktail to the civil rights movement. But uh, we allowed because I was coming under pressure from many people in the North who said that uh, Reverend King's method was the proper method, and that I was going to ruin the whole civil rights movement. And that I should give Reverend King an opportunity to come in to demonstrate to Monroe, and I took the position that I was not trying to promote any philosophy. I just wanted effectiveness, and if Reverend King could prove to me that he was effective in a situation like that, that I too would become a pacifist. So I agreed to let him come in there. So, but as a forerunner, he sent one of his aides, Reverend Paul Brooks, a young minister and also James, James Foreman—

[unintelligible background conversation]

Robert Williams:

So I agreed to let Reverend King come in, but he had sent some of his people in advance, people sent down Reverend Paul Brooks came to represent him and set up the possibility of a mass meeting that he was supposed to come in. And at that time, uh, SNCC was just beginning to be formed in fact it wasn't really an organization then. And James Foreman came, he was in Monroe, he came representing also the pacifist forces. But the situation got real bad, and started to deteriorate as soon as the Klansmen discovered that these pacifists had come. In fact one Klans—the head of the local Klan—called me and said that he had heard from the press conference they had had, that the struggle was going to be non-violent. And he asked me if I had become a pacifist, and I told him, no, that I wasn't going to partici—participate in it. But I had agreed for them to demonstrate their power of non-violence and love and then that they would be conducting it. And he said, well Robert, we sure glad to hear that you not going to be involved in it, because we've got a message for these people. So and the thing deteriorated over a period of time. They started to beat them and to arrest them and some had to run away into the woods. They had there also seventeen freedom riders who came in, and most of them were white, from white schools and uh, from the North, they had just come out of prison in Alabama. And but, the thing broke down and uh, on the twenty-seventh, which was Sunday. I was also opposed to any Sunday activity. We had never had Sunday activity for uh, sit-ins, on grounds that uh, these people, factory workers, would not be working on the weekend, and they were available, you see, for mobilization. And so we took time when we knew that they were working in the plants and they could muster the man-power that they needed, but the non-violent forces said that was not the way of non-violence. That non-violence was a powerful force of love and uh, understanding, and that they had to take on the most difficult task and that's what they did and uh, it collapsed on a Sunday, the twenty-seventh. And uh, whites started attacking blacks who had come from church, who had nothing to do with the demonstration. All kinds of things took place. And this white couple who had been active in the Klan uh, were taken out of a car about a block from their house as a result of this, uh it was stated that since I was the leader, that I bore the responsibility, but afterward people were crying and screaming to kill them, and they would have killed them if I hadn't intervened. But as a result of this we felt that many people were going to be killed that night and, so we uh, it was there that many people were going to be killed that night. And they know that they had made the four attempts on my life, and two of these aided by and in the presence of the police, in the state police, and I had escaped. They tried frame-ups and it had worked also that uh, I had been indicted on the sit-in, and I had a case then on appeal. In fact one of my, my case was one of the ones that went to the Supreme Court that uh, that uh, called the, the new laws for abandoning segregation in public places. In fact there were seven cases went up and mine was one of them. They don't tell that because they try to rewrite the history of the whole thing. Plus the fact that the NAACP took the others and dropped mine in the middle of the case and uh, of the civil liberties.