Violence and Self-Defense
Despite their adherence to the philosophy of nonviolence, Mississippi blacks understood too well the implications of not being prepared to defend with arms their lives and property. Civil rights workers throughout the state set up around-the-clock surveillance of some of the churches and homes they used as meeting places. As far as they were concerned, not striking back while participating in a public protest was quite different from defending one's home, church, or community center from imminent attack.
Griffin McLaurin, a Covington County activist, said that "we were guarding all of our houses" and "we formed a little group that was patrolling the community and keeping an eye on our community center." McLaurin noted that there was still plenty of fear because they received threats on their lives every day. He added that although they "blew up a lot of cars on the road going to the center," they did not succeed in bombing it because they kept a 24-hour watch on the building. McLaurin stated that "they'd come in late at night and try to get to the center, but we had our guards. We stood our ground, and whenever we heard something that we thought wasn't right, we had our firepower."
Louisville resident and former civil rights activist Bilbo Rodgers told one interviewer that Charles Evers, Medgar's brother and the former mayor of Fayette, MS, was not the pacifist that Medgar appeared to be. He said that in one meeting, Charles told a group of whites, "If they shoot at him, he's going to shoot back." Although he was "a nice guy, he wasn't going to lay down and take it easy."
Franzetta Sanders, a Moss Point activist who was instrumental in bringing Head Start to the Gulf Coast, had a similar story. She told of an incident where she and a group of other activists used the "whites only" bathroom at the Hattiesburg Greyhound station. When they came out "a short, dumpy, white fellow, with overalls on" began calling them names and threatening them with a cane. Her companion, Sara Ellen Lett, noticed Coca Cola bottles stacked in crates near the spot where the man stood. Sara Ellen, knowing they had been taught not to fight back, turned and said to the man, "I'll tell you what, if you do whatever you threatened to do with that cane, it won't be any Coca Cola bottles left in here." The man ceased with the threats as the activists peacefully boarded the next bus to Moss Point.