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  • Robert and Mabel Williams target practicing in Havana, Cuba

    Robert and Mabel Williams target practicing in Havana, Cuba

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The Film

Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power tells the dramatic story of the often-forgotten civil rights leader who urged African Americans to arm themselves against violent racists. In doing so, Williams not only challenged the Klan-dominated establishment of his hometown of Monroe, North Carolina, he alienated the mainstream civil rights movement, which advocated peaceful resistance.

For Williams and other African Americans who had witnessed countless acts of brutality against their communities, armed self-defense was a practical matter of survival, particularly in the violent, racist heart of the Deep South. As the leader of the Monroe chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Williams led protests against the illegal segregation of Monroe’s public swimming pool. He also drew international attention to the harsh realities of life in the Jim Crow South. All the while, Williams and other protesters met the constant threat of violence and death with their guns close at hand.

In August 1961, the Freedom Riders, civil rights activists trained by Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead non-violent resistance, came to Monroe to demonstrate the superiority of passive resistance. An angry mob turned on the protesters and, by the end of the day, the Freedom Riders had been bloodied, beaten, and jailed, and Rob Williams was on the run from the FBI.

For eight years, Williams and his family lived in exile, first in Cuba and then in China. In Havana, Williams began to broadcast a 50,000-watt radio program called "Radio Free Dixie." Selected recordings are featured in Negroes with Guns. The radio show fused cutting-edge music with news of the black freedom movement and Williams’s editorials, which, among other things, urged blacks not to fight in Vietnam.

The Filmmakers

  1. Sandra DicksonProducer
  2. Churchill RobertsProducer
  3. Cindy HillProducer

Sandra Dickson, Churchill Roberts, Cindy Hill, and Cara Pilson have worked together for more than 15 years producing documentaries for national distribution on PBS. Their works include the critically acclaimed Freedom Never Dies: The Legacy of Harry T. Moore, winner of the 2001 Erik Barnouw Award for Outstanding Historical Documentary, Giving Up the Canal, Campaign for Cuba, and Last Days of the Revolution.