MLK, a Pacifist, Was Guarded by Men With Guns

Martin Luther King Jr. MLK
Dick DeMarsico, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


In the end, [Martin Luther King’s campaign for equal rights] worked because the world saw the civil rights protesters as people being brutalized for attempting to enjoy the rights that America claimed it offered to all its citizens.

The hypocrisy was exposed; this country that was supposed to be an example of freedom for the rest of the world was refusing to give those freedoms to its African-American citizens.

But it also worked because when the cameras were turned off and the darkness descended, King and his followers did what they had to do to survive another day in the movement.

They guarded themselves and King with guns.

Charles Cobb Jr., a veteran of the civil rights movement who spent much of the 1960s in Mississippi as an organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, explored the role of guns in the civil rights movement in his 2014 book, “This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible.”

In it, he examines how self-defense complemented peaceful resistance against segregation in the South.

“After King’s home was bombed in 1956, he applied for a gun permit and, of course, was denied,” Cobb told me. “As he became deeper involved in the movement, he embraced nonviolence.

“But he was protected by armed men … their attitude was that they weren’t going to let him be killed. King was a man fighting for social change, and the people around him were going to protect him.”

— Tonyaa Weathersbee in MLK and his aides had guns for self-defense

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