Guns made civil rights possible: Breaking down the myth of nonviolent change

Charles E. Cobb Jr. in Salon:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.
—Ella Baker

Martin_luther_king6I have never subscribed to nonviolence as a way of life, simply because I have never felt strong enough or courageous enough, even though as a young activist and organizer in the South I was committed to the tactic. “I tried to aim my gun, wondering what it would feel like to kill a man,” Walter White wrote of his father’s instruction to shoot and “don’t . . . miss” if a white mob set foot on their property. If I had been in a similar situation in 1960s Mississippi, I would have wrestled with the same doubts that weighed on the young White. But in the final analysis, whatever ethical or moral difficulty I might have had would not have made me unwilling or unable to fire a weapon if necessary. I would have been able to live with the burden of having killed a man to save my own life or those of my friends and coworkers.

It has been a challenge to reconcile this fact with nonviolence, the chosen tactic of the southern civil rights movement of which I was a part. yet in some circumstances, as seen in the pages of this book, guns proved their usefulness in nonviolent struggle. That’s life, which is always about living within its contradictions. More than ever, an exploration of this contradiction is needed. The subjects of guns and of armed self-defense have never been more politicized or more hotly debated than they are today. Although it may seem peculiar for a book largely about armed self-defense, I hope these pages have pushed forward discussion of both the philosophy and the practicalities of nonviolence, particularly as it pertains to black history and struggle. The larger point, of course, is that nonviolence and armed resistance are part of the same cloth; both are thoroughly woven into the fabric of black life and struggle. And that struggle no more ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 than it began with the Montgomery bus boycott, Martin Luther king Jr., and the student sit-ins.

More here.