Black People Used to Shoot Back and It Wasn’t a Big Deal

The Second Amendment was a help to black people during the civil rights movement.

A few days ago I pointed out that it was wrong to act like it was controversial for African Americans to consider arming themselves in order to protect themselves from violent attack. The Second Amendment is for black people, white people, and every other color.

Since then has uncovered some material about the civil rights movement:

Dylann Roof’s racially motivated murders of nine black churchgoers have brought predictable calls for new restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. How ironic this is we shall soon see.

Advocates of gun rights argue that the best way to prevent such atrocities is for would-be victims to arm themselves; killers will break gun laws without hesitation (though Roof obtained his .45-caliber handgun legally), so legal obstacles to gun ownership only impede the innocent. Relying on the police for defense is futile—or worse.

This argument persuades few who are committed to “gun control” (a misnomer because law-abiding people, not guns, are subject to control). But those who demand it while grieving over the racist massacre at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C., ought to understand that “time and again, guns have proven pivotal to the African American quest for freedom.”

That sentence is found in Charles E. Cobb Jr.’s important book That Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible.

It turns out that the civil rights movement involved people who chose when it was best to suffer and when it was appropriate to shoot back. They didn’t support civil war but they didn’t feel required to get shot at and not respond.

As one Mississippi activist and farmer, Hartman Turnbow, put it after scaring off night riders with his gun, “I wasn’t being non-nonviolent; I was just protecting my family.”

Guns of course pervaded the South before the civil rights movement, and this was true of black culture too. Moreover, many black war veterans came home with guns, determined to win their freedom. As the black freedom movement emerged after World War II and the Korean War, it was only natural for guns to be seen as important in the defense against the daily threat posed by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists.

Cobb’s book is filled with accounts of incidents in which brutal racists were persuaded to retreat by black men armed and ready to defend themselves and their families.

So why would all this be forgotten? It shouldn’t be!