Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tonight on UNC-TV: "Negroes With Guns"

Before he wrote Blood Done Sign My Name, Tim Tyson published another book about race in North Carolina. Only this one was not about a single episode that nobody wanted to talk about. Radio Free Dixie is about one of the most important black activists of the civil rights era. From the book blurb:

Radio Free Dixie is the remarkable story of Robert F. Williams--one of the most influential black activists of the generation that toppled Jim Crow, created a new black sense of self, and forever altered the arc of American history. In the late 1950s, as president of the Monroe, North Carolina, branch of the NAACP, Williams and his followers used machine guns, dynamite, and Molotov cocktails to confront Klan terrorists. Advocating "armed self-reliance" by black Southerners, Williams challenged not only white supremacists but also Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights establishment. Forced to flee during the 1960s to Cuba--where he broadcast "Radio Free Dixie," a program of black politics and music that could be heard as far away as Los Angeles and New York City--and then China, Williams remained a controversial figure for the rest of his life. "Robert Williams was just a couple of years ahead of his time," Malcolm X said in 1964, "but he laid a good groundwork, and he will be given credit in history for the stand he took."

The book opens with a young Williams walking down Main Street in Monroe where he happened to see a police officer beat the tar out of a black woman. "Eleven-year-old Robert Williams looked on in terror as Big Jesse flattened the black woman with his huge fists, then 'dragged her off to the nearby jailhouse, her dress up over her head, the same way that a cave man would club and drag his sexual prey.'" "Big Jesse" was the father of Sen. Jesse Helms.

Tonight at 10, UNC-TV is airing the new documentary "Negroes With Guns: Robert Williams and Black Power." Read more about it, including what Tim Tyson has to say, in today's NYT.

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