Notes on African-American History Since 1900

What was the Women’s Policitical Council in Montgomery, Alabama and what did they do?

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What was the Women’s Policitical Council in Montgomery, Alabama and what did they do?
The women’s Political Council in Montgomery was an organization of African American women that had been working in Montgomery trying to change the segregated bus system even before the arrest of Rosa Parks. Upon Mrs. Parks’ arrest, it was the council women who contacted the local ministers and organized the first Montgomery bus boycott.177
This event led to the development of the Montgomery Improvement Association and the mass scendancy of it’s leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King advocating the use of non-violent resistance and creative social disorder to end Jim Crow emerged as new and dynamic leader.
What did Martin Luther King, Jr. believe in, and how did he go about accomplishing it?
Martin Luther King believed that change could and should come about through non-violent means. This was the method he advocated and taught to those who participated in his movement. Non-violent retaliation was practiced no matter how threatening or violent the situation might be.
In 1955, Queen Mother Audley Moore founded the Reparations Committee of Descendants of United States Slaves. Queen Mother who pioneered grassroots education on reparations for more than three decades, taught young African-American activists and intellectuals the importance of demanding separations.178 Queen Mother explained reparations in her pamphlet, Why Reparations?
After 244 years of free slave labor and the most inhuman, sinister and barbaric atrocities which surpass in magnitude any savagery perpetrated against human beings in the history of the planet earth and an additional one hundred years of so-called freedom accompanied by terror, the Committee seeking Reparations for the descendants of African Slaves concludes that the payment of Reparations is an absolute necessity if the Government of the United States is ever to wipe the slate clean, redeem herself and pay for the damages she has inflicted upon more than 35 millions, who are members of the African Race. The payment of Reparations is the only position the U.S.A. can take in the interest of justice and make an effort to restore the dignity to 15 percent of the people thus injured.179

Who was Queen Mother Audley Moore?
Moore, Queen Mother (1898-1997). Born on 27 July 1898 in New Iberia, Louisiana, Audley “Quuen Mother” Moore was involved in both the communist and black nationalist movements. While Audley only had three years of formal schooling, her education in southern folkways prepared her for a political life. After marrying at an early age into a black middle-class family, she promptly repudiated this background and joined Marcus Garvey’s black nationalist movement in 1919. That same year, Queen Mother organized a massive demonstration of armed blacks to support Garvey’s right to speak at Longshoreman’s Hall in New Orleans. In the early twenties, Moore, as one of Garvey’s most ardent supporters, migrated to New York City to work in the Garvey organization. Garvey’s incarceration and subsequent deportation left her searching. In 1936 Moore joined the Communist Party. She was an active street agitator and orator, enjoining Harlemites to come to the aid of Ethiopia after its Invasion by Italy. In 1938 she was the Party’s candidate for state assembly from the Twenty-first District and in 1940 she ran for alderman from the Nineteenth Assembly District. In 1941 she was elected executive secretary of the Twenty-First District, the Harlem section of the Communist Party. By 1942 she had risen to become secretary of the New York State branch of the Party. In the late 1940’s she, along with others, began to assert the Afro-American “national question” within the Party, after its suppression during the Earl Browder years. For this she was ignored, and she finally left the Party in 1950.
In the early 1950’s Queen Mother Moore’s political activities took on a decidedly nationalistic bent. She and her sister Eloise, Mother Langley, and Dara Collins founded the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women, which protested the reign of lynch-law in the South. She led the support teams for Robert Williams, an advocate of armed self-defense, after his standoff with authorities in Monroe County, North Carolina, in 1959. She also tutored the young Malcolm X and prodded Elijah Muhammad to call for a separate state for black Americans in the south. During the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963, she established a Reparations Committee to advocate compensatory payments to descendants of slaves for their ancestors’ forced labor and for subsequent social and economic injustice. Throughout the 1960’s, Queen Mother Moore’s presence became a catalyst for the new generation of “Black Power” advocates. In 1968 she was one of the critical forces involved in the declaration of the Republic of New Africa and initiated its statement of independence. Throughout the 1970s, she was actively engaged in support of nationalist political prisoners. During her long career of political activism, Queen Mother Moore fused black nationalism, socialism, and Pan-Africanism. She was mentor to many of the sixties and seventies generation of activists. In 1956 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Alabama laws regarding public transportation were unconstitutional. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted about a year and was successful. Daisy Bates of the Little Rock, Arkansas, NAACP helped organize a group of nine African-American students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock. President Eisenhower eventually had to send troops to Little Rock to protect the African-American students. On the third anniversary of the Brown decision, Dr. King along with A. Philip Randolph and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, organized a mass prayer vigil in Washington, D.C. of some 15,000 to 20,000 people, which was the largest African-American protest demonstration, up until that time, in history. Highway construction programs cut up African American Communities.
Who Was Robert F. Williams?
In 1957 Robert F. Williams president of the Monroe, North Carolina branch of the NAACP organized an armed defense guard and had gun battles with the ku Klux Klan. Robert F. Williams, known as “Rob,” was born February 25, 1925, in Monroe, North Carolina.
Robert Williams raised on stories from his former-slave grandmother, Ellen and tales of his grandfather Sikes Williams, also born into slavery, who stumped North Carolina for the Republican party during Reconstruction and published a newspaper called “The People’s Voice.” Before she died, Ellen Williams gave young Robert the rifle which his grandfather had wielded against the terrorist “Red Shirts” who ravaged Southern blacks at the turn of the century.180
As a youth, Rob Williams became radicalized by blatant racist Southern terror. Williams came face to face with racism early on. As an 11 year-old in 1936, he saw a white policeman, Jesse Helms, Sr., beat an African-American woman to the ground. Williams watched in terror as North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms’s father hit the woman and “dragged her down the street to a nearby jailhouse, her dress over her head, the same way that a cave man would club and drag his prey.”181
In his mid-teens, Rob Williams organized a group called X-32 to throw stones at white men who drove nightly into town trying to assault African-American women.182
Later, Rob Williams was trained as a machinist in the National Youth Administration, where he organized a strike of workers at the age of 16.183 During World War II, he went North to find work. He moved to Michigan where he worked for a year at the Ford Motor Company as an automobile worker. Rob and his brother John Williams fought in the Detroit 1943 riot, when white mobs stormed through the streets and killed dozens of African American citizens.184
Drafted into the army in 1944, Rob Williams served for 18 months, fighting for freedom in a segregated army. In the late 1940s Williams wrote a story in The Daily worker entitled “Some Day I Am Going Back South.”185 Williams returned to Monroe and in 1947 married Mabel Ola Robinson, a beautiful and brilliant 17 year-old whom he had known for several years and who shared his commitment to social justice and African-American liberation. In 1953 Williams joined the U.S. Marines before attending West Virginia State College, North Carolina, and Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1955 as a husband and father of two sons (Robert F. Williams, Jr. and John C. Williams), he returned home with an honorable discharge from the U. S. Marine Corps.
Keenly aware of social injustice, Rob Williams joined the local NAACP and became its president. As president of the Monroe, North Carolina, NAACP branch he went into the bars and pool rooms to recruit members of the African-American working class. He was also a member of the Monroe Unitarian Fellowship and the Union County Human Relations Council. Facing armed harassment and intimidation of African American women by the KKK and denied justice in the courts, Williams began to advocate armed self-defense of the Monroe, North Carolina. African American community. Members of the NAACP branch formed a rifle club, with a National Rifle Association charter, and protected their homes with rifles, machine guns, and sandbag fortifications.
The Monroe, N. C., NAACP branch fought the KKK on numerous occasions with rifles and Molotov cocktails. From 1957 to 1961 the armed self-defense units militarily fought the racists. Because of his militancy, Rob Williams was stripped of his presidency of the branch by the national NAACP. But through Williams’s leadership, the Monroe branch had grown from a membership of 50 to 250.
The Kissing Case

Williams attracted worldwide attention in 1958, when he took up the defense of two black Monroe boys accused of molesting a white girl.

David “Fuzzy” Simpson, 8, and James “Hanover” Thompson, 10, were convicted of molesting the 7-year-old girl after she kissed them on the cheek during a game instigated by a white boy. Police nabbed the boys later that day as they pulled their wagon down Franklin Street. They were tossed into jail and held for six days without seeing or speaking to their parents.
The peck on the cheek set off a tempest. A white mob surrounded the jail. White supremacists fired shots into Fuzzy and Hanover’s homes. Six days later during a court hearing a judge sentenced the children to reform school near Rockingham indefinitely.
As head of the NAACP, Williams rushed to defend the children and masterminded a media blitz that landed the “kissing case” on the front page of newspapers from the New York Post to the London News chronicle. He sent out press releases, called major newspapers and embarked on a national speaking tour.
The publicity sparked worldwide protests. Activists implored President Dwight Eisenhower to intervene. N.C. Gov. Luther Hodges received tens of thousands of letters beseeching him to release the boys. He finally relented. Three months after they were snatched off a Monroe sidewalk, Fuzzy and Hanover came home. And Williams became a hometown hero among African-Americans.186
The Fight for Desegregation

Between 1960 and 1961 Williams organized demonstrations (peaceful pickets) to desegregate the city-owned, white-only swimming pool. The African American community engaged in a struggle to use the local swimming pool that had been constructed with federal funds. Local white authorities would not allow integrated use nor would they consent to separate use. When the African American community refused to give up and did not accept promises of construction of a pool at some undefined date in the future, the town government filled the pool with concrete rather than let the African American community use it.187

When the sit-in movement began among Southern African American students, Rob Williams staged sit-ins at lunch counters, organized boycotts of department stores and desegregated the local library. He was a candidate for mayor of the city of Monroe in 1960, running as an independent.
Also in 1960, Williams visited Cuba, met Fidel Castro, and became a member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. He would even fly a Cuban flag in his back yard.188 Rob Williams was a forerunner in the motion toward black political empowerment.
Rob Williams’s physical and political stance on armed self-defense impacted upon Malcolm X, who then was a minister of the Nation of Islam. Minister Malcolm X on one occasion let Williams speak at Mosque No. 7 in New York to raise money for arms.
Freedom Riders Come to Monroe

When the Freedom Rides began in 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rob Williams – who had debated nonviolence vs. self-defense as a tactic or philosophy – agreed to test nonviolence in Monroe. It was Rob Williams’s belief in the right of having peaceful demonstrations but using them in tactical flexibility with self-defense that led him to invite Freedom Riders to Monroe, North Carolina, in 1961 to test nonviolence. But when the Freedom Riders came to Monroe, white mobs numbering in the thousands attacked them.

The final confrontation came when the Black community came to the aid of nonviolent freedom riders who were demonstrating in front of city hall. The demonstration had been attacked by a vicious mob who had beaten Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activist James Forman with a shotgun, splitting his head open. Unsuccessful efforts were made to rescue them and get them back to the Black community. Armed Black people set up defenses at the border between the white section of town and the Black community of Newton.189
A racial riot broke out as shots were fired. During the race riot a white couple wandered into the angry African American community. Their car was surrounded by African Americans from adjoining communities who had come to Newton for a showdown with the Klan. Rob Williams allowed the couple to take shelter in his home. Although the couple left unharmed, the local authorities pressed kidnapping charges against Williams. Receiving word that the he would be held accountable for all the violence that was taking place and knowing the racists were preparing to kill him, Robert F. Williams, along with his wife and two sons, left town.
Escaping a nationwide manhunt of at least 500 FBI agents, Rob Williams and his family were forced out of the country and into exile. His successful escape from “legal” racism was one of the early victories of the civil rights movement. Rob Williams’s example of courageous struggle stimulated a young generation of activists to emulate his actions.
Williams in Exile

Williams went to Cuba, where he was given political asylum by Fidel Castro and welcomed by the Cuban people. He was a personal friend of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. While living in Cuba for five years, Rob and Mabel Williams organized a radio program called “Radio Free Dixie.” Radio Free Dixie brought the message of collective armed self-defense to the African American masses who were battling the racists in America’s streets.

From exile in Havana Williams wrote the book Negroes with Guns (published 1962) about his experiences from 1957 to 1961. He also continued to publish his newsletter The Crusader, which called upon African Americans to unite with their allies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (the Third World) and with progressive whites in the United States and through out the world. Appealing to all heads of state to make a call in support of the civil rights movement, Robert F. Williams was influential in the issue by Chairman Mao Zedong of the People’s Republic of China of a declaration of support to the cause of African American Liberation.
As international chairman of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM, 1965), Rob Williams traveled in Asia representing the African American freedom struggle. He moved to the Peoples’ Republic of China in 1966 and resided there during the height of the “Cultural Revolution.” While there he met and talked with Chinese leaders and toured the country. He visited North Vietnam, met and talked with President Ho Chi Minh. He also broadcast antiwar messages to African American soldiers in South Vietnam from North Vietnam.
The example Rob Williams set in the African American Freedom movement inspired the formation in the South of groups such as the Deacons for Defense (1965) and the development of the student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which changed its policy from nonviolence to armed self-defense in 1966; the Black Panther Party (BPP, 1966) and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW, 1969) considered Rob Williams the the godfather of the armed self-defense movement.
White in China, Williams was elected President-in-Exile of the Detroit-based self determinationist organization, the Republic of New Africa. Williams visited Africa and was imprisoned in Britain while trying to return to the U.S. In 1969 he returned to the U.S.A. and fought extradition from Michigan to North Carolina. He finally returned to North Carolina in 1976, after all charges against him had been dropped.
Back in the U.S.A.

After returning to the United States he continued his political relations with the People’s Republic of China, helping to establish an import-export trade agreement with China and paving the way for President Nixon’s historic trip to that country in 1972. Rob Williams was a Fellow at the University of Michigan’s Center for Chinese Studies. Williams also published an article on the “Cultural Revolution.” He served as director of the Detroit East Side Citizens Abuse Clinic, where he was “too” successful in rehabilitating clients.

Rob William resided in Baldwin, Michigan, remaining active in the People’s Association for Human Rights. In the late 1970s he traveled the country speaking for the U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association.190 Rob Williams completed the first draft of his autobiography, While God Lay Sleeping: The Autobiography of Robert F. Willaims.
Up until his untimely death, October 15, 1996, due to Hodgkins disease, Williams was planning to further escalate his leadership activities in the African American liberation movement, even at the age of 71.191 His fighting spirit and leadership will be felt forever. Rob Williams’s shining example as a courageous, sincere, scientific, spiritual, visionary, and honest freedom fighter will be honored. Robert F. Williams’s insight and foresight is an inspiration for those who cherish the establishment of a people’s democracy based on humanitarian principles.
In 1958 Dr. Martin Luther King in a meeting with sixty ministers from across the South was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The SCLC advocated the use of non-violent direct action as a strategy for achieving equality. Ella Baker is chosen interim executive secretary of the organization.
Why did Southern African-American Ministers led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) provide leadership to the southern civil rights movement in the 1950’s and early 60’s?
The African American church and its leaders has always had a prominent role in all facets of life in the African American Community. It not only nourishes the spirit but the minds and hearts of African Americans. Its leaders are usually well respected in the community. The church is the place of solace, guidance, information and social interaction. Thus, when the civil rights movement began it was the church and its leaders who could rally the support and cohesiveness necessary to affect change.192

Integration of the University of Alabama by Autherine J. Lucy. Supreme Court rules Montgomery’s (Alabama) laws, Separate but Equal, on public transportation is unconstitutional.


Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)

-Formed by Martin Luther King (elected president)

-Meets with 60 ministers from across the south.

-Advocates nonviolent direct action as a strategy for achieving equality.

-Starts non-violent movement to the end of Jim Crow and gain voting rights in South.

-Jim Crow is ruled unconstitutional.


Different groups experiment with nonviolent direct action. The Louisville NAACP tries sit-ins to desegregate public facilities. Charleston, West Virginia and Lexington CORE try sit-ins.

On February 1, 1960, four students, Joseph McNeil, David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Izell Blair from the North Carolina Agricultural and technical College in Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in (white only section) at a segregated lunch counter. This was the beginning of the sit-in movement. The center of focus was Woolworth’s national chain. On Tuesday the 4 freshmen were joined by about 20 new recruits from North Carolina A&T and returned to the same counter193 On February 3 over fifty African-American and three white students participated in the demonstration. Demonstrations spread to Nashville, TN, Charleston, SC, Atlanta, GA. By April 50,000 African-American and white students had joined the sit-in movement.
Slater King runs for Mayor of Albany, Georgia and Robert F. Williams runs for Mayor of Monroe, North Carolina. Both run as independents.
Who Was Ella Baker and what did she believe in?
Ella Baker was a civil rights activist who believed that strong effective local activism as opposed to centralized top down activism was essential to bring about the changes necessary to foster political and economic change for African Americans. She facilitated the organizing of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) by calling together student leaders from across the country to a conference at Shaw University in 1960.194
On April 15, 1960, Ella Baker called all the student sit-in leaders to Shaw University over Easter weekend under the auspices of the SCLC and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded. The Conference included 126 students and 58 adult delegates from different southern communities.

What was SNCC (The Student Non-Violent Coordinating committee) and what did it do?
SNCC was the student led movement that initiated the sit-ins and freedom rides that resulted in the desegregation of public accommodations.195
On October 19, King and some 50 other African-Americans were arrested for sitting in the Magnolia room of Rich’s Department Store in Atlanta. The others were released, but King was sentenced to 4 months of hard labor in Reidsville State Prison. On October 26, John Kennedy called Mrs. King and expressed his sympathy and concern. His campaign manager and brother, Robert F. Kennedy telephoned the Georgia judge who had sentenced King and pleaded for his release. On the following day King was released. The news of the action of the Kennedy brothers swept through the African-American community, plus distribution of the 1 million pamphlets telling of their deed.
In November, 1960 JFK defeated Nixon in the closest presidential election of the century. African-Americans felt their vote was decisive in the election of Kennedy. In Illinois, which Kennedy carried by 9,000 votes, it is estimated that 250,000 African-Americans voted for him. In Michigan, where Kennedy won by a margin of 67,000, some 250,000 African- Americans supported him. He carried South Carolina by 10,000 votes including an estimated 40,000 African American votes.
Within two years, 70,000 persons had demonstrated and over 3,600 demonstrators spent time in jail.
SNCC’s efforts led to a sit-in at a bus station by eight students to test compliance with the Interstate Commerce Commission ruling, which became effective that day, barring segregation in transportation terminals.196 On May 4, 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) began it’s Freedom Ride into the south to test desegregation laws in interstate transportation secured in the Supreme Court’s decision, Boyton vs.Virginia in December of 1960. The Freedom Rides were undertaken by trained interracial groups who had as their purpose the exposure of illegal segregation practices at terminals all the way to the Deep South. So much violence was unleashed against the Freedom Riders by racists in the South, particularly in Alabama, that CORE was going to call the rides off. The students from the recently organized SNCC, led by Diane Nash of the Nashville Student Movement took up the challenge to continue the rides. The Freedom Rides continued through the summer of 1961.197
What role did Diane Nash play in the Nashville student sit-in movement and the Freedom Rides of 1961?
She was one of the student leaders of sit-ins in Nashville, TN. When Freedom Riders found themselves without protection or transportation, Diane Nash provided transportation back to Birmingham. Later she made it clear the movement of the sixties was really a peoples movement. The media recorded the era as Martin Luther King’s movement. Ms. Nash made it clear that it was a people’s movement who’s primary proponents were young people like themselves.

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