Segments in this Video

Introduction (00:60)


A news report announces black militant Robert Williams returned from self-exile and was arrested as a fugitive. He advocated "violent self-defense," he explains.

Rob Williams' Background (01:57)

Rob Williams' father was exploited by a white boilermaker working on the railroad in Monroe, North Carolina. A black woman recalls growing up with mixed feelings about Williams.

Organizing Self-Defense Militias (02:18)

Rob Williams organized black people and gathered guns in response to Klan violence.

Williams' Approach (02:53)

Use of a gun to defend rights would have been unremarkable for a white Southerner. Williams engaged Klansmen who called to threaten him. His militia confronted police motorcades with guns.

Kissing Case (02:59)

Williams is quoted saying blacks' only recourse is to a bullet, not the Constitution or persuasion. In Monroe, two black boys were jailed, beaten and terrorized for kissing a white girl; Williams publicized the case.

Williams Urges Restraint (01:30)

After a white man attempted to rape a black woman, Williams restrained his militia from killing the man, still believing in the law.

Not Guilty Rape Verdict Radicalizes Williams (02:14)

The defense lawyer convinced a jury that a white man would not want to rape a black woman. After the verdict, Williams declared at a press conference that blacks must be prepared to kill.

NAACP Suspends Williams (02:08)

The NAACP, heavily reliant on white liberal support, suspended Williams for calling for the use of force. The local chapter responded by making his wife its president.

Battling White Mob (02:45)

Williams and the Monroe NAACP were shot at as they protested segregation. Only when it became clear that Williams had a gun did police get involved; he refused to yield his weapon.

Tension in Monroe (01:30)

Klan threats against Williams escalated. In footage from another documentary, an announcer says Williams' tactics alarmed black and white moderates, and between the Klan and Williams' militia, Monroe was a powder keg.

Freedom Riders (00:57)

Freedom Riders came to Monroe at Williams' invitation as King sought to prove nonviolence is more effective than violence.

Freedom Riders and Monroe (03:04)

Monroe people share their perspective on the Freedom Riders' coming. A white English woman who came with the Riders recalls meeting Williams. Whites harassed the protesters.

Williams, Freedom Riders and the Klan (02:14)

Williams did not take part in Freedom Rider protests, not wanting to support the nonviolent movement. Klansmen poured into the city to attack the protesters; Williams sent his men to defend them.

James Foreman Against the Mob (02:01)

Protesters fled the Klan in cars. James Foreman put a white English woman protester in a car, setting off the mob. Foreman stood his ground and got in the car but was hit with a gun barrel.

Williams Protects White Woman (03:01)

Williams would not take a call from Martin Luther King, irritated that he only now wanted to get involved. Williams protected a white woman from violence by his own supporters.

Williams Flees (01:52)

State troopers came after Williams for allegedly orchestrating kidnap of a white woman. Williams fled to New York, but the FBI got involved, which he had not expected. He fled to Cuba.

Radio Free Dixie (02:59)

In Cuba, Castro gave Williams asylum. Castro put his "Radio Free Dixie" on the air, which broadcast black protest music throughout the U.S.; the CIA jammed it.

Call for Violence (01:39)

Williams calls for the use of every available weapon, including guns and bombs. Defending his move to Cuba, he says a man under a tyrannical government cannot be accused of treason.

Appeal of Revolution (01:03)

Williams urges continuation of the spirit of L.A.'s Watts Riots. Clayborne Carson says the Cuban Revolution gave revolution romantic appeal against the realists who said a minority could not successfully use violence.

Negroes With Guns (01:30)

Negroes With Guns published in 1962, was the founding document of the Black Power movement. Many lost patience with nonviolence.

Radio Hanoi Broadcasts (01:06)

Radio Hanoi rebroadcast Radio Free Dixie. On a broadcast, Williams denounces the Vietnam War and the "brainwashing" of Negroes into accepting "masochistic" nonviolence.

Break with Cuban Government (01:22)

Though Cuba used him as a Cold War pawn, Williams was not a communist. Cubans worried his ideas would divide the working class racially, and he left.

Williams in China (02:11)

Williams went to China; a Chinese propaganda film shows his arrival. The U.S. let Williams return in 1969 to find out what he knew about secretive China's Cultural Revolution.

Return to U.S. (03:15)

Fearing hijacking, airlines refused to fly Williams to Detroit before arranging a special flight at government request. The CIA expected him to take leadership of the Black Power movement, but he did not.

Last Years (01:40)

Williams saw Monroe as his Mount Vernon, where he returned after a great struggle, his wife recalls, but his health deteriorated as he was contemplating the move.

Closing (01:31)

Scenes of ordinary life illustrate the success of the black struggle. We hear audio of Williams defying those who call him a criminal for advocating self-defense.

Credits: Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power (00:40)

Credits: Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power

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Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power

3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



Robert F. Williams was the forefather of the Black Power movement and broke dramatic new ground by internationalizing the African-American struggle. This program takes an electrifying look at the forgotten civil rights leader who dared to advocate armed self-defense in the face of racist terrorism in the Jim Crow South. A thought-provoking examination of black radicalism and a launching pad for the study of black liberation philosophies, the film includes insightful interviews with historian Clayborne Carson, biographer Timothy Tyson, Julian Bond, and a first-person account by Mabel Williams, Robert’s wife. (53 minutes)

Length: 54 minutes

Item#: BVL49787

Copyright date: ©2005

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

Winner, Organization of American Historian’s Erik Barnouw Award          


Audience Award/Best Feature, Detroit Docs            


Winner, UrbanWorld Film Festival          


“Robert Williams was the voice of Afro-America calling for self-defense, pre Malcolm X. Rob and Mabel Williams were among the most militant and inspirational figures of the ‘60s. This video will bring people a little further up to speed about two authentic Black revolutionaries.”  —Amiri Baraka             


“We have much to learn from this important film, notably how far we’ve come--and how far we have yet to go.”  —Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney          


“Revives the powerful words and actions of this legendary black leader and restores him to his central place in the black struggle for dignity and human rights.”  —Kathleen Cleaver, former Black Panther, Professor of Law, Yale University           


“This extraordinary film helps a new generation of students and activists appreciate the advances Williams made in the ongoing movement against racism.”  —Manning Marable, Columbia University   


“Williams was bold, electrifying, brilliant, and iconoclastic, one of the most significant race rebels of the generation that toppled Jim Crow....This film, like Williams himself, is an American original and a classic.”  —Timothy Tyson, University of Wisconsin-Madison


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