These days, when Black Lives Matter and white supremacist domestic terrorism is the most serious threat to the United States, some Black people have looked to the Second Amendment and armed self-defense to protect themselves and their families from racial violence.

But Black people have been down this road before. Decades earlier, even before the Black Panthers, there was an important chapter in the Civil Rights Movement that not nearly enough people have heard about - the Deacons for Defense.

Formed in 1964 in Jonesboro, Louisiana as the Deacons for Defense and Justice, the organization was started to protect the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) from the Ku Klux Klan, protecting civil rights workers Black people who wanted to register and exercise their right to vote. A pioneering self-defense group in the South, it would grow to 21 chapters and hundreds of members.

Although the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King and others was based on a commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience as a tactic and philosophy, civil rights leaders and activists depended on armed protection. While Dr. King was not associated with guns, he was most certainly surrounded by armed guards. After all, remember that racial justice activism was dangerous, risky, life-threatening work when you were trying to change society and crazy angry white men were rolling up on you with guns and Lord knows what else. And very often, the armed vigilantes and the police were one and the same.

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The NAACP was a fully nonviolent organization, and they still stood for that [in 1965]. But they didn't stand in the way of no one else that decided that it took some violence to protect yourself. They didn't stand in the way of this, no way,” said James Young, Secretary of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, Natchez, Mississippi.

Civil rights workers were injured and some were made martyrs by the Ku Klux Klan. And many more would have died without the Deacons for Defense. Because when you were marching down some back road in Alabama or Mississippi - and there were white domestic terrorists hiding in the bushes with guns - you needed Black folks hiding in the bushes with guns.

The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover kept tabs on the Deacons for Defense as part of its COINTELPRO program targeting civil rights organizations and its leaders for infiltration, disruption and destruction. But the group was in decline in the late 1960s, and the feds set their sights on the Black Panther Party and the Black Power movement.

For all the Deacons did for the movement, they never received the credit they deserved. “For CORE and others, nonviolence had to be the face of the movement for federal support, for northern support, for president of the United States support,” said Akinyele Umoja, professor of African American studies at Georgia State University. “Black men with guns was not the best way to get support.”

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When no one else would protect you from the Klan, there were the Deacons for Defense. In the same way that Black militia groups such as the NFAC are defending against Proud Boys and other racist rightwing groups today, the Deacons were the protectors of the movement against white supremacist violence. Because we ain’t finna get killed today.

David A. Love, JD - Serves

BlackCommentator.com as Executive

Editor. He is a journalist, commentator,

human rights advocate, a Professor at

the Rutgers University School of

Communication and Information based in

Philadelphia, a contributor to Four

Hundred Souls: A Community History of

African America, 1619-2019, The

Washington Post, theGrio,

AtlantaBlackStar, The Progressive,

CNN.com, Morpheus, NewsWorks and

The Huffington Post. He also blogs at

davidalove.com. Contact Mr. Love and