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The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi$

Ted Ownby

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9781617039331

Published to University Press of Mississippi: May 2014

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781617039331.001.0001

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“It’s Time for Black Men …”

“It’s Time for Black Men …”

The Deacons for Defense and the Mississippi Movement

(p.204) “It’s Time for Black Men …”
The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

Akinyele Umoja

University Press of Mississippi

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on the Deacons for Defense and its place in the civil rights movement in Mississippi. It examines the role of the Deacons as an option for African Americans who perceived a lack of local or federal government protection for protest efforts. It traces the roots of the Deacons to Louisiana, where they began as a paramilitary group in 1965, and their eventual foray into Mississippi, where they gained new public significance during the James Meredith “March against Fear and Intimidation” in 1966. The chapter explores the tradition of armed resistance in Mississippi and its distinction from paramilitary organizations, along with issues of organizing and self-defense and the multiple strategies employed by the Deacons. It also highlights the role of the Deacons in the Natchez consumer boycott in order to contextualize the group’s political relevance in the communities where they were active.

Keywords:   civil rights movement, Deacons for Defense, Mississippi, African Americans, James Meredith, March against Fear and Intimidation, armed resistance, paramilitary organizations, self-defense, consumer boycott

The documentary film Black Natchez opens with an oath taken by an initiate of the paramilitary Deacons for Defense. Deacons member James Jackson repeated the beginning of the oath that Natchez activist John Fitzgerald administered to him. The oath began “I do solemnly swear that I will not reveal or invade any of these above secrets.”1 In the article “‘We Will Shoot Back’: The Natchez Model and Para-Military Organization in the Mississippi Freedom Movement,” I argued that the organization of the Deacons for Defense increased the effectiveness of activists in the Mississippi freedom movement.2 While blacks had employed armed resistance in the fight for freedom in Mississippi and the South since enslavement, paramilitary organization represented a significant transitional point in the Mississippi freedom movement. Mississippi activists were attracted to the paramilitary organizational model after the development of the Deacons for Defense in 1964 in Louisiana.

The Deacons for Defense was distinguished from previous armed resistance networks in the Mississippi civil rights movement because of its paramilitary organization. Paramilitary organizations have a specific chain of command and are composed of civilians, not professional military personnel. They are organized and operate similar to formal military or law enforcement groups. Unlike previous informal defense networks in the Mississippi civil rights movement, the Deacons for Defense was organized with a clear chain of command, and members viewed themselves as filling the vacuum left in the African American community by federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel who were either sympathetic or neutral to white supremacist violence.

This essay explores the role of the Deacons in the Mississippi civil rights (p.205) movement. By distinguishing paramilitary organizations from previous forms of armed resistance in Mississippi and emphasizing the role the Deacons played in a significant consumer boycott, the essay contextualizes the political meaning and significance the Deacons had in the communities where the group was active.

Mississippi and the Tradition of Armed Resistance

Blacks quietly built institutions and organizations during the nadir period from the 1890s to the 1910s. The organizations and informal, clandestine networks blacks created in this period were effective assets for the activism that emerged in the 1950s. The organizing of groups like the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was supported by informal associations of armed blacks willing to provide self-defense. These same informal networks would provide assistance to Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) workers who went to the state to organize voter registration efforts in the early 1960s. Some rural communities possessed a higher level of participation and efficacy in their defense networks. In particular, black majority communities with high percentages of black landowners provided relative security for mobile black activists. SNCC organizer MacArthur Cotton described these communities as “haven communities.” Armed self-defense was essential for the survival of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and its volunteers during Freedom Summer.

After Freedom Summer, SNCC and CORE activists considered an open embrace of armed self-defense. Several factors contributed to this change in position. First, the practice of indigenous Mississippi black activists influenced SNCC and CORE members. SNCC and CORE activists depended on local people for survival against the terror of white supremacists. As Bob Moses stated, “Local people carried the day” in terms of how weapons were to be used in the Mississippi freedom movement. The failure of the federal government, the Democratic Party, and the northern liberal coalition to support the challenge of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in 1964 motivated several activists in a more autonomous direction. Armed self-defense represented an aspect of self-reliance. To protect themselves, those in the movement would rely on their own resources, rather than on an unreliable federal government.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice was one of the alternatives that (p.206) presented itself to the Mississippi movement. First organized in Jonesboro, Louisiana, in July 1964, the Deacons received national attention because of the members’ practice and open advocacy of armed self-defense. The Deacons publicly declared their existence and willingness to use their weapons in the cause of civil and human rights. The Deacons’ public advocacy of armed resistance was a significant contrast to previous armed networks in the Deep South. The Deacons could also be distinguished from informal defense groups and patrols that protected African American communities and movement centers by their paramilitary structure, their identifiable chain of command, their laws, and in some cases their badges and uniforms.

The primary reason for the formation of the Deacons was the lack of police protection from Ku Klux Klan and other vigilante terrorists for movement activists and black communities in general. A prominent example was the formation of the original Deacons group in Jonesboro, Louisiana, after a reign of terror by the Klan in the summer of 1964. Local police initiated a campaign of harassment and intimidation in response to CORE voter registration activity. The United Klans of America klavern in Jonesboro also increased its activities in the spring of 1964. Voter registration workers were harassed by police and beaten in the streets of Jonesboro by white racist civilians in broad daylight, and mobs of young whites threatened the security of blacks in the evening. Klan cross burnings also were becoming commonplace in the small mill town. Any thought of receiving protection from local police was crushed on June 9, 1964, when a police car led a Klan caravan of twenty-five cars. The Klan caravan distributed leaflets demanding that blacks “stay in their place.”3

The next evening a group of ten black World War II and Korean War veterans met to discuss how they could defend their community. Participants decided to form a paramilitary group to protect the voter registration workers in Jackson Parish and their community, particularly since the movement and the black community could not depend upon police protection. After deciding to form an organized armed response to the white supremacist reign of terror, their next move was to survey the black community to assess what weapons and ammunition were available to them. Originally called the Justice and Defense Group, by March 1965 the group was known and incorporated as a nonprofit organization under the name Deacons for Defense and Justice. By the time the Jonesboro Deacons were incorporated, the group had expanded from its original 10 members to somewhere between 45 and 150 members who regularly patrolled the black community.4

The Klan terrorism subsided after the patrols by the Deacons. The cross (p.207) burnings, beatings, and other forms of abuse all decreased in the face of disciplined, armed black resistance, and CORE workers were able to conduct their voter registration drives in a qualitatively more secure environment. Members of the Deacons protected the CORE Freedom House at night, escorted CORE activists in and out of town, and provided personal security for leading CORE activists. The leadership of the Deacons warned police officials that armed blacks under a disciplined leadership would monitor police activity in the black community and that police brutality would not be tolerated. In fact, the Deacons constituted a parallel police force that represented the forces of the movement.5

The spokesperson and organizer of the Jonesboro Deacons was Earnest Thomas, often referred to as “Chilly Willy.” Thomas, thirty-two years old when the Deacons were first organized, was a self-employed handyman by profession. He was responsible for organizing new chapters of the Deacons and traveled throughout the South and to northern cities like Chicago to recruit members and financial support for the work of the organization.6

One of the most important recruiting ventures Thomas made was his trip to Bogalusa, a town in southeast Louisiana. Bogalusa had “perhaps the highest percentage of active Klansmen of any city in the South.”7 Just as in Jonesboro, there was an acceleration of activity by the local Voters League with assistance from CORE, as members of the Bogalusa Voters League began to test segregated venues after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the summer of 1964. In response to this offensive, the Klan and local police began to harass movement activists and members of the black community. Klan nightriders invaded and terrorized the black community in the evenings. The black community showed its willingness to respond to the proliferation of Klan terrorism.8

On February 21, 1965, Earnest Thomas was present at a meeting in Bogalusa in his capacity as spokesperson for the Deacons for Defense and Justice. The purpose of this meeting, which included the leadership of the Bogalusa Voters League and CORE, was to discuss the formation of the Deacons in Bogalusa. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance reports, Thomas informed the Bogalusa activists what was necessary to form a chapter of the Deacons. He also discussed, based upon the Jonesboro experience, the type of weapons, ammunition, and logistical support necessary for this level of paramilitary organization. According to FBI reports, the Jonesboro Deacons’ spokesperson revealed to the Bogalusa group that he had contacts in Chicago and Houston who could supply automatic weapons. Thomas also spoke of the use of paramilitary armed patrols to prevent law (p.208) enforcement officers from arresting movement workers.9 The day after the meeting with Thomas, the leaders of the Voters League met to discuss the merits of forming a chapter of the Deacons, and Bogalusa activists, including Hicks and Voters League president A. Z. Young decided to form a chapter.10

While Robert Hicks and A. Z. Young were considered the primary spokespersons for the Bogalusa Voters League, the public representative and leader of the Bogalusa Deacons was clearly Charles Sims. A veteran of the U.S. Army and World War II, Sims was an insurance agent by profession prior to his full-time commitment to activism in 1964. Sims had earned the reputation as a troublemaker in Bogalusa. He did not fit the stereotypical image of a southern movement leader. Having been arrested before his formal entrance into the movement for carrying a concealed weapon and assault, Sims was the prototypical “Bad Negro.” Sims was not a minister or an idealistic young student but a bold-talking, gun-carrying “tough” who had a reputation for verbally and physically confronting local whites. Sims did not change his image as the leader of the Deacons. In fact, his image may have been an asset in the frontier climate in this Louisiana town, where civility was not a virtue in confronting the Klan.11

It was in Bogalusa that the Deacons received the most publicity and notoriety, as national media reported on the existence of an armed black military presence in the southern movement for the first time since Robert Williams was forced into exile in 1961. The Wall Street Journal and New Times magazine both ran features on the Deacons in 1965. Violent confrontations ensued between the Deacons and Klan forces in the spring and summer of 1965. On several occasions armed Deacons had to rescue CORE workers from white terrorist civilians. As in Jonesboro, armed patrols of the Deacons protected Bogalusa black neighborhoods in the evenings from invading nightriders. Personal security details were also assigned to Hicks and Young. Deacon Henry Austin was arrested for shooting and critically wounding a white male, Alton Crowe, who was physically attacking participants in a demonstration on July 8. Louisiana governor John McKeithen dispatched state troops to Bogalusa to prevent further violence and threatened to disarm Deacons and Klansmen alike. McKeithen also called for negotiations between the leaders of the Voters League and local officials. Movement leaders believed that without the presence of organized, armed blacks, the governor would not have intervened.12

The Deacons served as a model for blacks in Mississippi and throughout the South. The effectiveness of the paramilitary Deacons in Jonesboro and Bogalusa had gained the respect and admiration of movement activists (p.209) and black people in the South and the United States in general. The lack of protection provided by the FBI and the Justice Department and the inaction and complicity of state and local police with white terrorists motivated many activists to reconsider the efficacy of nonviolence. The Deacons seemed to be the natural progression for many Mississippi black activists and supporters, and armed resistance would now become more overt and organized.

Deacons Enter the Mississippi Movement

The desire of the Louisiana Deacons to expand their organization carried them across the state border into Mississippi. Charles Sims and a contingent of Bogalusa Deacons came to speak at a meeting of the MFDP in Jackson in late August 1965. Sims and the Deacons were called to Jackson in response to turmoil sparked by the shooting of Rev. Donald Thompson on the evening of August 22, 1965. Thompson was a white Unitarian minister who had been active in the movement in Jackson and on the board of the local Head Start program. Dozens of angry black youth gathered in response to the shooting of Thompson and planned to retaliate. Elder activists pleaded and ultimately discouraged the youth from acting that evening.13

The shooting of Thompson motivated some participants in the Jackson movement to consider organizing a chapter of the Deacons. Sims was contacted and arrived with ten Louisiana Deacons at an MFDP meeting one week after the shooting of the Unitarian minister. Roy Byrd, another visible Bogalusa Deacon, also spoke at the rally. MFDP representatives from the city of Jackson and the rest of Hinds County, Madison County, and Forrest County were present at the rally. Sims and his Deacons delegation were well received by a predominantly black Mississippi audience. Reports of the size of the audience ranged from 175 to 300.14

Sims pledged that the Deacons would come to the state whenever needed. The organization’s Bogalusa spokesperson argued that a Deacons chapter could have prevented the shooting of Donald Thompson. If the Deacons could not stop the shooting of human rights activists, he argued, they had the capacity to find the perpetrators. Sims declared that southern whites would not respect black people until “Negroes were ready to die for their families and for their beliefs.” In a speech that received several standing ovations from his Mississippi audience, the Bogalusa leader challenged the audience, stating, “It is time for you men in Jackson to wake up and be men.”15

Immediately after the MFDP meeting, the Bogalusa Deacons sent organizers to Greenville, Natchez, and the south-central Mississippi town of Columbia. (p.210) Sims and Byrd offered to return to Jackson within months to form a chapter if financial support was raised for organizers. Ultimately no Deacons chapter was formed in Jackson. The Jackson MFDP was not unanimous about forming a paramilitary arm there. MFDP executive committee member Rev. Ed King stated that the organization was not taking a stand in support of the organization, but was providing the Deacons a forum. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission had informants at the August 29 Jackson rally and contacted the FBI for assistance in preventing the Deacons from establishing a chapter in the city. It is not known whether state and federal operatives in the Mississippi movements were critical in preventing the establishment of a Jackson group.16

Sims and Byrd were able to establish a Deacons presence in Marion, Forrest, and Jones counties in southern Mississippi. Blacks in Columbia, the seat of Marion County, complained to Deacons’ field organizers about incidents of nightriders firebombing and shooting at the local Freedom House. Bogalusa Deacons Roy Burris and Henry Austin were dispatched to Columbia to organize a chapter of the Deacons. On October 7, 1965, a group of forty black residents attended a meeting organized by the local MFDP for the purpose of forming a Deacons chapter under the leadership of the Bogalusa Deacons. Most of the participants in the meetings were young African American males. According to historian Lance Hill, local white supremacists fell prey to Deacons’ booby traps in the road that damaged their tires. The Klansmen never returned after falling into the Deacons’ trap.17

Bogalusa Deacons also organized Deacons in Forrest County. The Forrest County Deacons were visible in the city of Hattiesburg after the murder of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer. On January 10, 1966, Dahmer died after repelling Klan nightriders from neighboring Jones County with shotgun blasts. The Klan set Dahmer’s rural home on fire, and the Forrest County activists grabbed his weapon and fired on the Klansmen as his wife, Ellie, and ten-year-old daughter Bettie escaped from the burning house to safety. Dahmer died days later in a local hospital due to burns in his respiratory tract.

Charles Sims and Roy Byrd led a contingent of Bogalusa Deacons to Hattiesburg for a demonstration on January 15, the day of Dahmer’s funeral. On January 27 leaders presented Hattiesburg and Forrest County officials with a list of demands, including employment opportunities in the public sector, the desegregation of public facilities, and implementation of federal civil rights and voting legislation.18 The Bogalusa Deacons returned to Hattiesburg to establish a chapter. In Hattiesburg, Deacons were known as “the police unit.” Like Deacons groups in other southern towns, their basic responsibility was (p.211) to protect movement leaders, activists, and the black community. The Bogalusa Deacons were able to establish a chapter in neighboring Laurel through contacts made from their work in Hattiesburg. In Laurel, the Deacons supported voter registration efforts and became the basis of the paramilitary organization of a local labor movement.19

The Meredith March and the Louisiana Deacons

One of the most publicized campaigns and massive efforts involving the Louisiana-based Deacons in Mississippi was their participation in the James Meredith “March against Fear and Intimidation.” On June 6, 1966, movement activist James Meredith was shot one day after he initiated his March against Fear. Meredith’s one-man march was a challenge to the intimidation blacks had endured from white supremacist terror for centuries. He said the march would “point out and challenge the all pervasive and overriding fear that dominates the day-to-day life of the Negro in the United States—and especially in Mississippi.” Meredith would travel from Memphis, Tennessee, 220 miles south to Jackson. Meredith’s march was interrupted two miles south of the northern Mississippi town of Hernando as he lay wounded from birdshot fired from the shotgun of sniper Aubrey James Norvell.20

Leaders of the national civil rights movement converged in Memphis in response to the shooting. Allowing a sniper’s bullet to bring Meredith’s March against Fear to an end, they believed, would be interpreted as a significant defeat for civil rights forces. Martin Luther King Jr., representing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Roy Wilkins of the NAACP; Whitney Young of the Urban League; Floyd McKissick of CORE; and Stokely Carmichael, Cleve Sellers, and Stanley Wise of SNCC all rushed to Memphis, where Meredith was hospitalized. Meredith had reluctantly agreed that the movement organizations should pick up the march from the point he was assaulted in De Soto County.

The national leadership of the NAACP, Urban League, SCLC, CORE, and SNCC met at Rev. James Lawson’s Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis on June 9, three days after the shooting of Meredith. Wilkins and Young proposed continuing Meredith’s march by including nationally known personalities and liberal organizations. Their proposal sought collaboration with the administration of President Lyndon Johnson and an emphasis on drawing the attention of national media. The NAACP and Urban League leaders had been in consultation with the Johnson administration on legislative objectives. They argued the goal of the march should be to build support for (p.212) a new civil rights bill that would guarantee federal protection for desegregation activists.21

Carmichael and McKissick wanted to issue a public statement critical of the Johnson administration for failing to protect movement activists, including Meredith. Carmichael presented a proposal emphasizing indigenous Mississippi participation to encourage black voter registration, black electoral campaigns, and promotion of local black leaders.22 Carmichael also proposed that the Louisiana-based Deacons for Defense should participate in the march. Carmichael had worked with the Deacons in the effort to build an independent black political organization, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, in the Alabama Black Belt. The Deacons requested to participate in the march after the shooting of Meredith. Deacons founder and national spokesperson Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas arrived in Memphis with a contingent of Chicago Deacons and planned to coordinate security with Louisiana and Mississippi chapters of the organization. According to one northern Black Nationalist publication, the Deacons “vowed to put trigger happy whites in the cemetery.”23

CORE supported Carmichael’s proposals to emphasize grassroots black participation and include the Deacons in the March. SNCC and CORE perspectives on development of local leadership and organization were similar. CORE had developed a relationship with the Deacons from the inception of the Louisiana-based paramilitary formation. King stood in the middle of this heated debate. He was sympathetic to the criticism of the Johnson administration and Carmichael’s call for a locally based emphasis of the march, but he initially disagreed with including the Deacons in the march. He was ultimately convinced to allow their participation if the march maintained the banner of nonviolence. Sensing a loss of their positions, both Wilkins and Young abandoned the effort, left Memphis, and returned to New York.24

The Deacons said their goal was to “patrol the perimeters of the march and protect the campsites.” Their role was to protect the marchers from Klan and other white supremacist civilian attacks.25 Deacons’ national organizer Earnest Thomas told Jet magazine, “Some of us will join the marchers. Others will go along as observers. If a white man starts shooting again, you’ll know where to find him.”26

The Deacons’ role in a march sponsored by national civil rights movement organizations represented an important shift in the black freedom movement. While continuing to march under the banner of nonviolence, the public association and acknowledgment of the Deacons signified that the movement had entered a new period. SNCC, CORE, and the SCLC and their (p.213) national leadership were relying upon organized black militants, not local, state, or federal government, to defend their organizations and the participants in this campaign.

The March against Fear became a venue for the debate between nonviolence and armed resistance. One white nonviolent protestor, Rev. Theodore Seamans, argued that “the movement is no place for guns.” Seamans made his comments after he observed a .45 handgun in a vehicle driven by one of the Deacons. Responding to criticism from Seamans, Earnest Thomas retorted that it was dangerous to tell blacks not to fight back in such a violent and hostile situation. The debate between Seamans and Thomas sparked a vigorous exchange between nonviolent advocates and supporters of armed resistance. The debate caught the attention of media observers. CORE field secretary Bruce Baines intervened, “If you want to discuss violence and nonviolence, don’t talk around the press. This march is too important.” CORE chairman Floyd McKissick maintained a deceptive and conciliatory posture with the press concerning armed security. He told the press he was not aware of arms around the campsite and insisted telling all marchers, including the Deacons, “the march must remain nonviolent…. I don’t believe in no damn war.”27

A growing number of activists appreciated the presence of the Deacons. SNCC members openly praised the Deacons’ security efforts and role in the movement. “Everyone realized that without them [the Deacons], our lives would have been much less secure,” declared Cleve Sellers. Willie Ricks proclaimed to an audience in Belzoni, “We don’t have enough Deacons.” The Deacons gave some marchers a feeling of security and a confidence they could prevent white terrorism. SNCC executive committee member Jesse Harris sensed: “Along the march we had no problems because all the white folks, Klansman and everybody, they knew if they came in with a threat, if a church got bombed along the way, boom … the Deacons were going to find you.”28 All of the spokespersons, including Thomas, insisted the march was nonviolent. But while the Deacons leader acknowledged the march was nonviolent, he openly advocated armed self-defense. With a masculinist appeal, Thomas told a rally in Belzoni, “It’s time for Black men to start taking care of their Black women and children.”29

The mainstream media were obsessed with the Deacons and the significance of their presence. Unlike marches of the past, where blacks covertly secured their comrades, observers noticed “disciplined” black men communicating with “two-way” radios. Probably more troubling were the “bulges” detected “beneath the clothing” of young men patrolling the march. While (p.214) often speaking in conciliatory terms, Deacons leader Thomas was frank to the press about the presence and purpose of the organization at the march. Thomas told the press the Deacons were guarding the campsite “with pistols, rifles, and shotguns…. But we don’t take guns with us when the people are marching…. The march is nonviolent.” The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported, “Appearance of the ‘Deacons’ in the Mississippi marching column marked a significant, and to many a frightening shift in tactics of Negroes who for 10 years had been lulled and led by the non-violent oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”30

A common theme in national coverage of the March against Fear emphasized contradictions between King and those embracing armed resistance. Observers constructed a dichotomy pitting the nonviolent King against the “violent” Deacons and Black Power militants. On June 22 a New York Times article titled “Dr. King Scores ‘Deacons’” stated that King publicly lashed out at the “Black Power” advocates, SNCC, and the Deacons.31

It is clear that consenting to allow the Deacons in the march did not mean that King had abandoned his allegiance to nonviolence. On the contrary, King was disturbed by the public advocacy of armed self-defense by the Deacons and also a growing number of young activists who had rejected nonviolence. Concerning the growing support of armed resistance, one black publication quoted him as saying, “I worried about this climate.” King believed a violent confrontation during the march was potentially “impractical and disastrous.” He not only supported nonviolence morally but believed it was tactically viable. King argued since black people were a minority, it was impossible to achieve a strategic victory against a hostile majority through armed resistance. While King was not opposed to self-defense in the face of racist or oppressive violence, he believed demonstrations utilizing nonviolence assisted activists in achieving a moral high ground to expose injustice rather than being perceived as an aggressive protagonist.32 In spite of his concerns, King respected the Deacons and saw them as a viable part of the movement. King’s associate Andrew Young said King “would never resort to violence, even in defense of his life, but he would not and could not demand that of others…. He saw the Deacons as a defensive presence not a retaliatory one.”33

The presence of the Deacons and the debate around armed resistance during the march was a significant factor in the transition away from the perception of nonviolence as the primary tactic in the black freedom movement. The Deacons’ bold rhetoric and armed profile would be replicated throughout the United States by militant Black Power formations.

(p.215) The Natchez Movement and the Mississippi Deacons

Paramilitary organizations were forming in Natchez in August when Charles Sims and Louisiana Deacons organizers arrived in late August 1965. The Natchez movement would not form an extension of the Louisiana Deacons but instead formed its own indigenous Mississippi Deacons for Defense.

Natchez was a Klan stronghold. The Ku Klux Klan in Natchez, led by E. L. McDaniel, was among the most violent and organized in the state. The Natchez police chief J. T. Robinson was also a vocal advocate of white supremacy and had no problems using coercive force to uphold the system of segregation. Natchez mayor John Nosser called for racial tolerance but had no effective control over the Natchez police or Chief Robinson. Some local blacks also believed the Natchez police feared the Klan.34

An incident in the summer of 1965 hastened racial antagonism in Adams County. On August 27 NAACP leader George Metcalf was seriously injured after a bomb hidden beneath the hood of his car exploded after he turned on the ignition. Metcalf was fortunate enough to survive the blast but had to be hospitalized suffering from facial lacerations, a broken arm and leg, and other cuts and burns. The explosive completely demolished Metcalf’s vehicle and damaged several other cars nearby. The explosion of Metcalf’s vehicle occurred in the parking lot of the Armstrong Tire plant, where he had just finished a shift. Some local blacks believed his supervisors had collaborated with the perpetrators of the bombing since Metcalf was asked to work overtime the evening of the bombing. The attack on Metcalf occurred eight days after the NAACP submitted a petition on behalf of Metcalf and eleven other Natchez blacks to the school board to desegregate Natchez public schools on the basis of the Brown decision. Metcalf had also recently contacted the Adams County chancery clerk to seek compliance with federal voter registration legislation.35

The terrorist attack on Metcalf was a part of a series of attacks, including house bombings and church bombings, that had been initiated since the arrival of COFO in Adams County. COFO workers and black residents of Natchez were harassed and beaten by white vigilantes and hooded members of the Klan on several occasions between 1963 and 1965. On one Saturday evening in September 1964, two explosions jarred the home of Natchez mayor John Nosser and black contractor Willie Washington. Nosser, an American of Lebanese origin, believed his home was bombed because he attempted to serve as a “peacemaker” during the racial hostilities of Freedom Summer. Metcalf’s home was also sprayed with gunfire from nightriders in January (p.216) 1965. Leading up to the bombing of his car, the NAACP leader was the target of several acts of harassment and intimidation at his home and his place of employment.36

A small group of black men met secretly in Natchez to form a paramilitary organization weeks prior to the bomb attack on George Metcalf. As in Bogalusa and Jonesboro, the Natchez paramilitary group was formed due to the perception among local movement activists and supporters that they could not rely on the police for protection. Most of the men were workers who had grown up in Adams County and had known each other most of their lives. These men were also either members or supporters of the local NAACP. The Natchez paramilitary group began to protect Metcalf, his family members, and his home prior to the bombing.37

The activity and the size of the Natchez group accelerated after the attack on Metcalf. James Jackson, a barber and one of the leaders of the Natchez paramilitary group, publicly announced that a chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice was to form on August 28, one day after the bombing attack on Metcalf. The Natchez group had heard of the success of the Louisiana Deacons in neutralizing white terrorists in Bogalusa and Jonesboro. According to Bogalusa leader Robert Hicks, Charles Evers asked some of the Louisiana Deacons to come to Natchez and help establish the organization there. Charles Sims, the spokesperson for the Louisiana Deacons, arrived in Natchez to discuss the formation of the Deacons for Defense in Adams County the day following Jackson’s announcement.38

According to Natchez activist James Stokes, the Natchez paramilitary group decided not to affiliate with the Louisiana Deacons. While Sims offered advice on how to set up a paramilitary organization, the Natchez group thought they had little to gain from a formal affiliation with the Deacons. Stokes remembered Sims pledging no significant material aid or reinforcements to the Natchez paramilitary group. According the Stokes, Sims primarily offered the Natchez group permission to use the name of the Deacons for Defense and Justice. Sims stated the Natchez group had to pay a percentage of their dues to the Louisiana-based group in order to identify themselves as Deacons. The Natchez group rejected Sims’s offer and politely asked him to leave town.39

While the Natchez paramilitary group decided not to officially affiliate with the Louisiana Deacons, they had no problem using their name. To friend and foe, the Natchez group became known throughout the movement and the state as the Natchez Deacons for Defense and Justice. The Natchez group formed a foundation for the Mississippi Deacons for Defense and Justice and (p.217) assisted other paramilitary affiliates across the state, particularly in southwest Mississippi. The Natchez Deacons, wearing overalls and white shirts, were visible on the streets of Natchez, providing security at marches and demonstrations by early October 1965, a little over a month after the attack on Metcalf.40

The Natchez Deacons were officially chartered in the state of Mississippi as the Sportsmen Club. On the surface the Sportsmen Club sounded like an apolitical hunting association, but conciliatory language in its charter revealed a broader purpose. While the Sportsmen Club’s charter stated the organization was “non-violent,” this hunting group pledged to “abide by the U.S. Constitution (including the Second Amendment, right to bear arms)” and to “protect property.” The Sportsmen Club was authorized to function anywhere in Mississippi since it was a state-chartered entity. The Sportsmen Club charter was extended to other Mississippi Deacons groups in Wilkerson, Claiborne, and Copiah counties.41

Like the Deacons in Louisiana, the Natchez Deacons never revealed the size of their membership. This kept the Klan, police, and FBI confused about the actual size and capability of the group. Organized much like a secret society, the Deacons realized the less their enemies knew about them the better. James Young, who joined shortly after the attack on Metcalf, revealed that the actual size of the Natchez Deacons was about ten to twelve men. As in Jonesboro and Bogalusa, a few central leaders were identified to represent the Deacons to the public. James Stokes was appointed spokesman. James Jackson was the first president of the Natchez Deacons. James Young was selected secretary and was responsible for the development of the bylaws and the charter for the Deacons and the Sportsmen Club. According to Stokes “The strongest thing we had going for ourselves is that nobody knew, not even some of our members, how many men there were in the organization.” Concealing the size of their organization served as a weapon for the Deacons to instill doubt and concern in white supremacists since they really did not know the capacity of the Natchez paramilitary group.42

Even movement folks outside the Deacons were not privy to the identities of the entire Deacons membership. SNCC activist Hollis Watkins remembered, “It was a situation where none of us knew all of them and in many cases that was the beauty of it…. In some cases they’d call and say ‘we’ll have two or three of the brothers at y’alls rally or at y’alls meeting.’ … You don’t know who they are, because you don’t know all the people from the community.”43

Since secrecy was essential for the Deacons’ mission, it was important (p.218) that the organization selectively recruited its members and that its membership did not reveal its secrets. Trust was an important factor for recruitment, so the initial group only recruited men they had grown up with and knew their background and character. “Everybody we had, we knew,” said James Young. A Deacons recruit had to be sponsored by someone already in the group. Anyone with a history of abusing alcohol or a criminal past was not allowed to join. The Deacons did not want to have member who could be easily compromised by police coercion.44

A prospective member learned the seriousness of joining the Deacons before induction into the organization. The Deacons informed their recruits that revealing organizational secrets could result in death for the informant. A founding member by the name of “Otis” expressed his seriousness about protecting the integrity of the organization at the first meeting of the Natchez Deacons in late August 1965. On that occasion “Otis” stated, “Your tongue is the worst weapon against you…. I mean it from the heart, that I … swear before God, may he kill me now if I don’t mean it, for something as important as this, I’d burn my brother. I’d blow his damn brains out … before I’d let one guy mess up a whole lot of guys.”45 In an interview, James Stokes also emphasized how serious the Deacons viewed internal security: “If he [a Deacon] leaked anything out, we let it be known, you better figure on dying.” Stokes believed no member of the Deacons ever divulged information about the Deacons to local, state, or federal law enforcement personnel.46 The Deacons’ internal security methods were apparently effective and prevented the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, the FBI, local police, and the Klan from receiving an adequate assessment of the size and capability of the Deacons. A small group within the membership made all of the plans in order to maintain internal security. Individual members would know their assignments, but not the entire security plan. This also prevented information from leaking to the opposition.47

There was a proliferation of arms in the black community in Natchez in response to the white supremacist reign of terror, which heightened in Adams County around 1963. One unidentified source in the Natchez Deacons revealed that the organization possessed “hand grenades, machine guns, whatever we needed.” According to this source, only one store in Natchez would sell ammunition to the Deacons. If white supremacists knew the Deacons had a limited supply of ammunition, the Deacons defense would be compromised. To counter this, the Natchez Deacons received ammunition from outside sources. According to the unidentified source, Fidel Castro’s Cuba was one source for obtaining “all the guns and ammunition we needed.”48

(p.219) Mississippi law allowed civilians to openly carry loaded weapons in public. Citizens could also carry loaded firearms in their vehicles as long as they were not concealed. This allowed the Deacons to openly carry guns to protect demonstrations, mass meetings, and community institutions. According to James Stokes, “We [the Deacons] used to walk up and down these Mississippi streets with our guns in our holsters, day and night, and they were afraid to bother us.”49 The Deacons openly carried their weapons on marches and demonstrations to protect movement activists and supporters from attack. James Stokes described how the Deacons’ security worked to prevent racist violence at a march. “They [white supremacists in a vehicle] would try to break through the line [of demonstrators]…. We would always have Deacons at the block intersection … and at the end of the block…. And if we saw a car coming, he would see us with our guns on and he wasn’t about to come that way. This is how we protected people.”50 The Natchez Deacons and the Wilkerson County chapter of the Deacons for Defense combined to scatter a mob of white supremacists on September 4, 1967, in Centreville, a small town in Wilkerson County in southwest Mississippi. Twenty-five armed Deacons responded to prevent the demonstrators from harm after a member of the racist mob trained his weapon at participants in a demonstration for voting rights for blacks.51 Deacon James Young described the situation that day: “These peckerwoods down there, they lined up at the junction of the 15 highway…. They was all bad and we pulled in there. The President of the Deacons got out and come up to them and said ‘Ok, unblock that road.’ … We pulled in there and started unloading all of this heavy artillery and they loaded up and left.”52 Also present that day was SNCC activist Hollis Watkins, who remembered the leader of the Deacons stating, “We represent the Deacons for Defense. If you come in here with that you’re going to be in trouble.” Hearing the name “Deacons for Defense,” according to Watkins, was almost as effective in scattering the racist mob as the guns.53 The armed presence and preparedness of the Deacons prevented the movement in Natchez and in southwest Mississippi from being terrorized and intimidated. White supremacist terrorists also were on alert that any foray into the black community or in the vicinity of movement activity was not without consequence.

As in Louisiana, Mississippi state officials opposed to the movement wanted to find means to disarm the Deacons. FBI documents from September 3, 1967, reveal that a proposal was forwarded by an unnamed source to the governor of Mississippi to make it illegal for members of the Deacons for Defense in the state to possess firearms. On September 4, 1967, the same day as the confrontation between the Deacons and the white mob in Centreville, three members of the Deacons were arrested for illegal possession of (p.220) firearms. The State District Attorney for the Southwestern District of Mississippi gave the Mississippi State Highway Patrol the “authority to disarm all members of the Deacons for Defense and Justice.” As in other southern states, Mississippi law made it illegal for anyone to transport rifles and shotguns in the cab of a car, instead requiring that rifles and shotguns be carried on a rack on the back of a vehicle.54

Even though state and local authorities challenged the Deacons’ possession of firearms, being armed as an organized force served as an asset to the organization and the movement. The armed organized presence of the Deacons and their preparedness for combat, as well as the uncertainty on the part of whites of the Deacons’ capabilities, provided the movement with a serious bartering chip. As Stokes stated, “White people had become so fearful. Anything we wanted they was always trying to offer you a deal. Come down and talk.” The presence of the Deacons combined with effective boycotts to give Charles Evers and local leaders a position of strength from which to negotiate.55

To have an effective paramilitary operation, logistical support was necessary. The Deacons possessed walkie-talkies, citizens band radios, and vehicles that were equipped with radios to aid them in paramilitary functions. The Deacons developed codes to confuse enemy surveillance by the Klan and local police collaborating with white supremacists. The Natchez Deacons raised funds for communication equipment, vehicles, ammunition, and weapons through speaking engagements by their spokesperson James Stokes and financial contributions from civic groups in the North. In October 1965 Stokes participated in a fund-raising tour in California, speaking at San Mateo College and to civic groups and movement supporters.56

In the field visible members of the Deacons wore badges as identification and carried permits for their weapons. Law enforcement officers, particularly highway patrol and local police, were informed by Deacons’ officials not to interfere with Deacons attempting to protect movement demonstrators from racist attackers. In some cases, the Deacons had negotiated with law enforcement officers to serve Deacons with traffic violations later, if they were speeding to come to the rescue of activists or members of the black community. James Young stated law enforcement officers were told, “If you see one of these men moving [to the defense of movement activists, supporters, or members of the Black community] … get his tag [license plate] and get out of the way.”57

The Deacons became an essential ingredient in the Natchez and Mississippi movements. They provided the movements with an instrument to (p.221) neutralize the violence of Klan and other white supremacist civilians. The potential of the Deacons for Defense and retaliatory violence also gave Evers and other leaders more potency in their negotiating position with the white power structure and allowed them to be more bold in their public statements. The Natchez movement was able to organize an effective consumer boycott. Their formula included the protection and visible security profile of the Deacons, rhetoric openly advocating armed resistance, and the use of enforcer squads to chastise blacks who attempted to shop in white-owned businesses in the Natchez commercial district. Evers’s lieutenant, Rudy Shields, was the organizer of the enforcer efforts. This model of resistance would be replicated in other communities in southwest Mississippi and other parts of the state.

The Mississippi Deacons and the Natchez Boycott Paradigm

The formula developed in Natchez to combat the local white power structure to win concessions toward human and civil rights was utilized in other parts the state, particularly in southwest Mississippi communities. Other communities observing the success of the Natchez boycott began to organize boycotts using the model developed in Natchez. Evers and Shields were invited to provide leadership for boycotts in Jefferson, Claiborne, Wilkerson, and Forrest counties. The Natchez model had proven the necessity to utilize the threat of a coercive response to defeat external and internal enemies of the Mississippi freedom movement. When Evers and Shields became involved in boycott campaigns in Jefferson and Wilkerson counties—both of which were contiguous to Adams County—the Natchez Deacons became directly involved. Wilkerson County activists established their own chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice. While having their own chapter of the Mississippi Deacons for Defense and Justice, the Wilkerson Deacons received personnel and support from the Natchez Deacons and virtually came under their chain of command.58

Several communities established Deacons chapters that were more autonomous from the Natchez group than those in Claiborne and Copiah counties. When NAACP-led boycotts developed in Claiborne County and in the towns of Hazlehurst and Crystal Springs in Copiah County, these communities organized their own chapters of the Mississippi Deacons for Defense and Justice. In all of these communities, the Deacons and enforcer squads were organized as part of boycott campaigns to pressure the white power structure to concede to demands similar to those presented by black leaders in Natchez.

(p.222) The Claiborne County Deacons for Defense and Justice was among the most visible paramilitary organizations in the state. The Deacons for Defense and the enforcer squads, now known as “Da Spirit,” were organized in Claiborne County after the black community, under the leadership of Evers and the local NAACP, called for a boycott on April 1, 1966. The Deacons were organized after Rudy Shields arranged a meeting between James Stokes, state spokesman for the Mississippi Deacons for Defense and Justice based in Natchez, and local NAACP activists and supporters prior to the initiation of the boycott. After forming a chapter of the Deacons, Claiborne County activists officially resigned their membership in the NAACP.59

Friend and foe alike in Claiborne County called the local Deacons chapter “the Black Hats” because Claiborne Deacons wore black helmets while on duty during the evening and black straw hats in daytime hours. Khaki pants were also part of their uniform. The Black Hats first appeared in public on April 1, 1966, the day the boycott was initiated in Port Gibson. The Deacons came out to protect the NAACP picket of white merchants in downtown Port Gibson. Claiborne Deacons president George Walker remembered, “We [the Deacons] were in the street all day, because we didn’t know what they [the white supremacists] were going to do.” The Deacons also patrolled the African American community during the evening, specifically monitoring the activity of the local police, the Klan, and other white supremacist forces. The Claiborne Deacons for Defense and Justice were determined to prevent “another Neshoba County” from happening in their county.60

Rudy Shields, who served as the principal organizer of the boycott, received special attention from the Claiborne Deacons. Shields received an escort by armed Deacons when entering or leaving Claiborne County. Natchez Deacons took responsibility for Shields’s security when the activist left Claiborne to travel south to Jefferson County. One evening in 1966 armed Deacons came to the aid of Shields in a confrontation with two police officers. The police were responding to an argument between Shields and a group of black supporters and a white merchant in downtown Port Gibson. Armed Deacons positioned themselves on a building above Shields and the merchant before the police arrived on the scene. When the two police officers arrived, arms drawn and threatening the boycott organizer and the other militants around him, George Walker remembered Shields responding, “I tell you what officer…. You got your weapon on me and you got your weapon on the rest of the people out here…. If you shoot me tonight, you gonna die too, ’cause if you don’t believe it, there’s guns on you too.” According to Walker, upon hearing Shields’s threats, the two white officers returned (p.223) to their car and left the scene. Shields engaged in more bold agitation and confrontation with white merchants and police with the protection of armed Deacons.61 The boycott of white-owned enterprises in Port Gibson lasted over three years, driving several white merchants out of business.

Rudy Shields left Claiborne County and worked with militant activists to organize boycotts in Ferriday, Louisiana (across the Mississippi River from Natchez), and in Hazlehurst and Crystal Springs in Copiah County during 1967. Shields established a paramilitary organization calling itself the Deacons for Defense in each of those communities as part of his strategy of organizing boycotts. Shields left southwest Mississippi in 1968 to organize a boycott in Humphreys County. He did not organize a Deacons group there, but, realizing that the white power structure feared the Deacons, he threatened on several occasions to bring the Deacons to the south Delta county. Along with his previous affiliation with the Deacons, Shields used his threats to involve Deacons in the consumer boycott and other activism to neutralize attacks by white supremacist civilians and police on movement leaders and the African American community. Shields later organized boycotts in Yazoo City (1969) and Aberdeen and West Point (1970) before returning to spark protests in Jackson (in the aftermath of the shooting deaths on Jackson State’s campus) in 1971, and finally residing in Yazoo County, Mississippi, until he died in 1987. In Yazoo, Shields reorganized “Da Spirit” as a protective and enforcer squad not only to aid boycotts in the county but also as a permanent armed wing of the Yazoo County movement.62


The Louisiana Deacons and the homegrown Mississippi Deacons played a significant role in the Mississippi black freedom movement. The Deacons helped win significant concessions for blacks in communities such as Natchez, Port Gibson, Fayette, Woodville, Hattiesburg, Crystal Springs, and Hazlehurst, where the Deacons provided security for consumer boycotts and other movement efforts and often neutralized the violence of white supremacists. The Deacons were an essential component for the efficacy of the movement in these communities. The role they played in the 1966 Meredith March against Fear helped increase voter registration in the state and the overall sense of African American empowerment in the movement.

The shift to an emphasis on paramilitary organization represents an ideological shift in the southern movement. The rhetoric of nonviolence was challenged by militant voices that embraced armed resistance and openly (p.224) challenged white supremacist forces. The language of reconciliation was being replaced with words of retaliation and the style of armed militancy. The tough speech of Earnest Thomas, Charles Sims, James Young, and Rudy Shields in some ways preceded or at least was parallel with that of Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown in the Black Power stage of the movement. The profile of armed Deacons for Defense also served as a model for Black Power organizations like the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

The style of the Deacons also represented a greater emphasis on masculinity in the black freedom movement. By challenging black men to assume the role of protecting black women and children, Sims and Thomas were consistent with the masculinist appeal of their contemporary in the North, Malcolm X. Prior to 1964–1965 the nature of armed resistance and self-defense in the Mississippi Freedom Movement tended to be informal, compared to the character of the Deacons. Women like Ora Bryant, Annie Reeves, Laura McGhee, Unita Blackwell, and countless others regularly participated in the defense of their homes and communities. Women, though, rarely participated in patrols of the community. The original Jonesboro Deacons included four female members in its formation.63 Subsequent Deacons groups were all male. The movement toward paramilitary organization further institutionalized the function of armed resistance as a male responsibility as it became more organized and specialized. The idea of defending the community became equated with manhood.

The Deacons helped change the style and emphasis of the Mississippi movement as it continued after 1964 until the late 1970s. Black activists continued the tradition of armed resistance and bold rhetoric in the black freedom movement in campaigns in West Point (1970), Okolona (1978), Holly Springs (1977), and Tupelo (1978). The Deacons established a legacy in Mississippi that was modeled in the Mississippi freedom movement for over a decade. The role and example of the Deacons were critical factors in the achievement of civil and human rights for African Americans in Mississippi and the South.

Some parts of this essay were originally printed in Akinyele Umoja, “The Ballot and the Bullet: A Comparative Analysis of Armed Resistance in the Civil Rights Movement,” Journal of Black Studies (March 1999). The sections are reprinted here with the permission of Sage Publications.


(p.225) (1) . John Fitzgerald and James Jackson quoted in Black Natchez (videorecording), produced by Ed Pincus and David Neuman, Center for Social Documentary Films (1965).

(2) . Akinyele Umoja, “‘We Will Shoot Back’: The Natchez Model and Para-Military Organization in the Mississippi Freedom Movement,” Journal of Black Studies 32, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 267–290.

(3) . Gwendolyn Hall, “Jonesboro: The Red River Valley Again” (unpublished manuscript), 1–4, Box 1, Folder 7, Gwendolyn Hall Papers, Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, New Orleans; Herman Porter, “An Interview with Deacon for Defense,” Militant 29, no. 42 (November 22, 1965): 1.

(4) . Roy Reed, “The Deacons, Too, Ride by Night,” New York Times Magazine, August 15, 1965, 10; Porter, “Interview with Deacon”; “Jonesboro ‘Deacons’ Offer Example for Rights Forces,” Militant 29, no. 9 (March 1, 1965): 1; “Deacons for Defense and Justice Articles of Incorporation,” Box 1, Folder 3, Gwendolyn Hall Papers.

(5) . “Jonesboro ‘Deacons.’”

(7) . “Bogalusa, Louisiana,” Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Papers, 1959–1976, microfilm; “The Bogalusa Negro Community,” CORE Papers; “The Man in Middle,” Time, July 23, 1965, 19.

(8) . Robert Hicks, interview by Robert Wright, August 10, 1969, Bogalusa, La., Civil Rights Documentation Project, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

(9) . “United States Government Memorandum, From: W. C. Sullivan, From: F. J. Baugardner, Subject: Deacons for Defense and Justice Information Concerning (Internal Security),” February 26, 1965.

(10) . Ibid.; “Bogalusa Incidents Addition,” March 25, 1965, CORE Papers; Hicks interview.

(11) . For an example of Sims’s attitude and demeanor, see interviews with him including “The Deacons … and Their Impact,” National Guardian, September 4, 1965, 4–5; and “Charles Sims,” in Howell Raines, My Soul Is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1977), 416–423.

(12) . “Man in the Middle,” 19; “Deacons … and Their Impact,” 4; Reed, “Ride by Night,” 20; Roy Reed, “White Man Is Shot by Negro in Clash in Bogalusa,” New York Times, July 9, 1965, 1.

(p.226) (14) . Roy Reed, “Deacons in Mississippi Visits, Implores Negroes to ‘Wake Up,’” New York Times, August 30, 1965, 18, Pro Quest Historical Newspapers.

(15) . Ibid.

(16) . Ibid.

(17) . “Investigation of a report that the Freedom Democratic Party would have a meeting in Columbia, MS, on October 7 1965 for the purpose of organizing a chapter of the Deacons for Defense,” Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, MDAH, http://mdah.state.ms.us/arrec/digital_archives/sovcom/result.php?image=/data/sov_commission/images/png/cd01/006134.png&otherstuff=2|31|0|19|1|1|1|5976|; Lance Hill, The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance in the Civil Rights Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 212–213.

(18) . “Black Community Leader Killed in Klan Bombing, Hattiesburg, Mississippi,” Vernon Dahmer File, University of Southern Mississippi Archives, Hattiesburg; W. F. Minor, “Rights Leader Buried in Mississippi,” New Orleans Times Picayune, January 16, 1966, 2.

(19) . Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission investigative report by A. L (Andy) Hopkins, “Observation and Investigation in Hattiesburg, Forrest County, Mississippi, January 17 and 18,” January 20, 1966, Governor Paul Johnson Papers, University of Southern Mississippi Archives; Sam Simmons, interview by author, July 25, 1994, Laurel, Miss.; Memorandum: From Lee Cole to E. Johnston, “Boycott in Hattiesburg, Mississippi,” July 21, 1967, Sovereignty Commission, MDAH, 2-64-1-111-1-1-1, http://mdah.state.ms.us/arrec/digital_archives/sovcom/result.php?image=/data/sov_commission/images/png/cd04/026942.png&otherstuff=2|64|1|111|1|1|1|26439|.

(20) . “Mississippi Story,” New York Times, June 12, 1966, 20, ProQuest Historical Newspapers; “Heat on Highway 51,” Time, June 17, 1966, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,899204,00.html. Norvell was apprehended and charged with assault with intent to commit murder. He pleaded guilty before trial and received a five-year sentence, of which he served eighteen months. Carolyn Kleiner Butler, “Down in Mississippi: The Shooting of Protester James Meredith 38 Years Ago, Seemingly Documented by a Rookie Photographer, Galvanized the Civil Rights Movement,” Smithsonian Magazine (February 2005), http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Down_In_Mississippi.html.

(21) . Roy Wilkins, with Tom Mathews, Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins (New York: Viking Press, 1982), 315; Steve Lawson, The Pursuit of Power: Southern Blacks and Electoral Politics 1965–1982 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 51.

(22) . Lawson, Pursuit of Power, 51–52; Kwame Ture, with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael [Kwame Ture] (New York: Scribner, 2003), 496–497.

(p.227) (23) . Ture, Ready for Revolution, 493, 497; Jesse Harris, interview by author, July 23, 2009, Jackson, Miss.; Hill, Deacons for Defense, 246; “Black Power,” Now: News of the Nation and the World 2, no. 5 (Summer 1967): 5.

(24) . Ture, Ready for Revolution, 497–500; Henry Hampton and S. Fayer, Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1980s (New York: Bantam Books, 1990), 284–289; Cleveland Sellers, with Robert Terrell, The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990), 162–163; Harris interview.

(26) . Chester Higgins, “Meredith Threat to Arm: Not Answer, Says Dr. King,” Jet, June 23, 1966, 18.

(27) . Gene Roberts, “Marchers Upset by Negro Apathy,” New York Times, June 14, 1966, ProQuest Historical Newspapers, 19; Lester Sobel, Civil Rights 1960–66 (New York: Facts on File, 1966), 393.

(28) . Sellers, River of No Return, 166; Gene Roberts, “Marchers Stage Mississippi Rally,” New York Times, June 18, 1966, 1; Harris interview.

(29) . Roberts, “Marchers Ranks Expand,” 20.

(30) . James K. Cazalas, “Deacons Play Role at March,” Commercial Appeal, June 26, 1966, Sovereignty Commission, MDAH, 11-11-0-20-1-1-1.

(31) . Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), 26–27, 55–59.

(32) . Higgins, “Meredith Threat,” 18; King, Where Do We Go, 26–27, 55–59.

(33) . Andrew Young quoted in Ture, Ready for Revolution, 497.

(34) . “Cops, Race Strife Cut Tourist Trade in Natchez,” Muhammad Speaks, September 25, 1964; James Young, interview by author, July 28, 1994, Natchez, Miss.

(35) . Jesse Bernard Williams, interview by author, July 24, 2009, Natchez, Miss.; “Natchez Mayor Offers Reward for Bomber,” Clarion-Ledger, August 28, 1965, 1; Charles Horowitz, “Natchez, Mississippi-Six Weeks of Crisis,” October 9, 1965, Freedom Information Center document, Freedom Information Service Archives (FISA), Jackson, Miss.; “Desegregation Petition Filed,” Natchez Democrat, August 20, 1965, 1; Young interview; John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 354.

(36) . “Natchez Bombing Is Laid to Whites,” New York Times, September 27, 1964; “Police Push Investigations of Blasts That Hit Natchez,” Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News, September 27, 1964, A1; “Two More Burned Out Churches Dedicated,” Clarion-Ledger, March 22, 1965; “Statement of Events in Natchez, Miss.—November 1 and 2, 1963,” Freedom Vote for Governor, FISA; “Leader Claims Five Slayings,” Jackson Daily News, May 7, 1964.

(p.228) (37) . James Stokes, interview by author, tape recording, August 1994, Natchez, Miss.; Transcript of film Black Natchez (1965).

(38) . Stokes interview; “Bombing Angers Natchez Negroes,” New York Times, August 29, 1965, L51; Hicks interview.

(39) . Stokes interview; Young interview.

(40) . Horowitz, “Natchez,” 6.

(41) . Ed Cole, interview by author, July 24, 1994, Jackson, Miss.; Stokes interview; Young interview.

(42) . Stokes interview; Young interview.

(43) . Hollis Watkins, interview by author, July 13, 1994, Jackson, Miss.

(44) . Stokes interview; Young interview.

(45) . Black Natchez.

(46) . Stokes interview.

(47) . Ibid.; Young interview.

(48) . Deacon Informant X, interview by author. This informant chose not to be identified in this study due to the sensitive nature of his comments. He was interviewed in the summer of 1964 in Natchez. He was active in the Deacons from its inception until its demise. Charles Evers also spoke of the Deacons possessing hand grenades in Charles Evers, with Grace Hansell, Evers (Fayette, Miss.: Charles Evers, 1976), 132.

(49) . Stokes interview.

(50) . Ibid.

(51) . “Marches Sponsored by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at Woodville and Centreville, Mississippi, to Protest Election Results September 2, 4, 1967,” 14, FBI Racial Matters, document, National Archives, Washington, D.C., September 6, 1967.

(52) . Young interview.

(53) . Watkins interview.

(54) . “Marches by NAACP,” FBI Racial Matters, document, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Stokes interview.

(55) . Stokes interview; Cole interview.

(56) . “Deacons for Defense and Justice, Inc.,” FBI Racial Matters, report, March 28, 1966, 5–8.

(57) . Young interview.

(58) . Stokes interview; Lillie Brown, interview by author, July 29, 1994, Fayette, Miss.; Samuel Harden, interview by author, October 1994, Woodville, Miss.

(59) . George Walker, interview by author, September 29, 1994, Port Gibson, Miss.; Emilye Crosby, A Little Taste of Freedom: The Black Freedom Struggle in Claiborne County, Mississippi (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005).

(60) . Walker interview.

(p.229) (61) . Ibid.

(62) . Ibid.; Herman Leach, interview by author, 1994, Yazoo City, Miss.

(63) . “From: Frederick Brooks to: Oretha Castle—North Louisiana Director of CORE, Jackson Parish, Jonesboro, Louisiana,” Box 3, Folder 14, Gwendolyn Hall Papers.