On Violence and Self-Defense go to audio

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.

audioClick on the play button to hear the following excerpt. 
                                                                                                                                Total time: 1 minute, 6 seconds
Well, our strategy was we always did carry our weapons out there, and so at that time we decided we were going to get a group of men to get on the side where they was to come in at, and then we had another group on the other side the way, when they shoot, they would keep on down that way. And so, when they came over that Wednesday night and started to shooting, and when they got down there about half a mile, then our people opened fire on them. And so, they turned around, then, and come back that a-way. And when they come back that a-way, the people on that side started shooting over they heads. (Laughter.) And [when they] got in town, said, "We not going to go back out there no more." Said, "Them niggers got all kinds of machine guns out there." (Laughter.) And so they was always coming back to this Sixty-six service station, and that's where they would meet at, and that word got out, and so from then on we never had no more problems when we'd go out there [with] nobody coming by shooting no more. So that broke that up.

--Walter Bruce is a Durant, Mississippi, native. He was active in the civil rights movement and eventually became the chair of the Holmes County Freedom Democratic Party.

audioClick on the play button to hear the following excerpt.    Total time: 54 seconds
But that particular summer, that death brought all the anger to a boil with us. You know what I mean? I'm talking about we were convinced that it ain't nothing about no nonviolence about this thing. (Laughter.) We didn't participate in the nonviolent movement at all. We would catch white boys and beat them down. You know. I'm saying they would end up—. Black folks scared of white folks? We turned that around. They'd better be scared of us. You hear me?

-- Anonymous

audio Click on the play button to hear the following excerpt.   Total time: 24 seconds
I can remember plenty of times the threat of bombing and all of that. You called the FBI, you called the sheriff, "Man, I ain't going to give you no damn private guard. Who do you think you are?—OK, I got my damn shotgun loaded.

—Aaron Henry, Mississippi NAACP president during the 1960s