Deacons for Defense
Just got Prof. Lance Hill's book, "The Deacons for Defense" (U. N. Carolina press, 2004). I'd expected the usual sort of book, which I can read in a day or less -- I cover ground pretty quickly. Instead it took me half a day to get to p. 77, which leaves about 300 more to go. This is a VERY serious piece of historical scholarship, combining news storys and interviews of members and witnesses, and putting everything in a detailed context.
Prof. Hill's thesis (to the extent I can see from the first 77 pages) is that the Deacons and related groups played a role at least as important, and perhaps more important, than the non-violence protestors (which in the context of the difference, means "no violence even if attacked" protestors). He adds, BTW, that even those civil rights workers understood that it was "no violence if attacked while on duty" -- many had guns in their homes and understood that if attacked at home they were free to fire back,
The armed groups such as the Deacons served several purpose. First, they made it safer for the non-violent workers, by making it harder for the Klan to stage large attacks. In many towns, Klan attacks stopped the first time they picked on a Deacon and he fired back. As one Deacon put it, Klansmen were willing to kill but not willing to be killed. Second, their defensive tactics often forced law enforcement to protect the nonviolent demonstrators. Law enforcement would sit back so long as Klan v. civil rights consisted of attacks by the Klan. When it became a two-sided conflict, that was something that had to be prevented. Third, in an honor-based society, they earned respect that would not be accorded someone who allowed himself to be beaten or attacked.
The quotes are wonderful. "We were tired of singing 'We Shall Overcome.'" Klansmen "didn't mind killing, they just didn't want to die." And the history -- the group started as some WWII vets who formed a sort of police auxilliary, and were given pistols, badges and a squadcar by the local police chief. He'd hoped they'd become a sort of overseer, and he could use them to control local blacks. It didn't work out that way, but when they made it clear they would not enforce segregation laws they apparently earned enough respect to where they kept their status.
Here's an intriquing note from the Martin Luther King papers: at one point the good doctor was applying for a gun permit, and another civil rights worker was shocked to see "an arsenal" in his house.