Robert Williams (1925-1996) was born in Monroe, North Carolina. After having worked as an autoworker in Detroit and having fought in the 1943 riots there, he returned to his native town in 1955. Back in Monroe - the regional headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan - Williams became active for the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), and radicalised his views steadily after having fought several cases of racism. One of these cases involved two young black boys, a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old, who were found guilty of rape and sentenced to indefinite terms in reform school after having kissed a white girl. The case gained a lot of attention in Europe and led to huge demonstrations in Paris, Rome, and Vienna. In Rotterdam the U.S. Embassy was stoned. Embarrassed by these protests the US government decided to release the boys.
Several other cases of legal racism convinced Williams that Afro-Americans could not get justice under the then system, and that armed self-defense was a necessity for black people. His organisation of armed squads of black people to fight off attacks by the KKK and his militant views had a large impact in black communities all over the country, especially as they proved effective. 'The Afro-American is a "militant" because he defends himself. His family, his home, and his dignity. He does not introduce violence into a racist social system - the violence is already there, and has always been there. It is precisely this un-challenged violence that allows a racist social system to perpetrate itself', Williams writes in his book Negroes With Guns (1962).
When in 1961 'Freedom Riders' from all over the country came to Monroe to join the Civil Rights struggle, Williams welcomed their support but refused to take their oath of non-violence. Racist mobs attacked the Freedom Riders and massed for an attack against the black community. Williams, who received death threats himself, gave a white couple shelter in his home, and was subsequently accused of having kidnapped the couple . Williams and his wife had to fly from Monroe. While the FBI launched a nationwide hunt for them, they found refuge in Cuba and stayed there for five years. From Cuba the Williamses continued to advocate armed self-defense and black liberation through their Radio Free Dixie broadcasts and their Crusader newsletter.
In 1966 Williams and his family were guests of Mao Tse Tung's regime and lived there until 1969. In that period Robert Williams became the international chairman of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and travelled to Africa and North Vietnam, where he met Ho Chi Minh and broadcast anti-war propaganda to black soldiers in South Vietnam. In 1969 he returned to the U.S. The legal battle over the kidnapping charges in North Carolina lasted until 1976, when the charges were finally dropped.
Together with Malcolm X Robert Williams was a major influence on militant groups like the Black Panther Party and the Weathermen. On the Missed Encounters track Williams can be heard addressing the audience at the second Black Panther rally, where he had unexpectedly shown up to give his support to the cause of black armed self-defense. The speech was handed to us on CD by Cary Loren from Oak Park, Michigan.