Gun!Â Just the word raises the temperature. AddÂ NegroesÂ and the mixture is incendiary, evoking images of hopeless young gangsters terrorizing blighted neighborhoods.
This book tells a dramatically different story. It chronicles a tradition of church folk, merchants and strivers, the very best people in the community, armed and committed to the principle of individual self-defense. This black tradition of arms takes root early and ranges fully into the modern era. It is demonstrated in Fredrick Douglassâ€™ advice of a good revolver as the best response to slave catchers. It is evident in mature form in 1963, when Hartman Turnbow of Mississippi fought off a Klan attack with rifle fire. Turnbow considered this fully consistent with the principles of the freedom movement, explaining, â€œI wasnâ€™t beingÂ non-nonviolent,Â I was just protectinâ€™ my familyâ€.
The black tradition of arms has been submerged because it seems hard to reconcile with the dominant narrative of nonviolence in modern civil rights movement. But that superficial tension is resolved by the longstanding distinction that was vividly evoked by movement stalwart Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamerâ€™s advice about segregationists who dominated Mississippi politics was, â€œBaby you just got to love â€˜em. Hating just makes you sick and weak.â€ But asked how she survived the threats from midnight terrorists Hamer responded, â€œIâ€™ll tell you why. I keep a shotgun in every corner of my bedroom and the first cracker even look like he wants to throw some dynamite on my porch wonâ€™t write his mama again.â€
Read the whole thing, and you can pre-order the book here.