Negroes With Guns

It’s an intentionally jarring lede insofar as it employs a descriptive term that has long since fallen out of everyday use in a society that now, ironically, winces under the crack of the PC whip. Leave it to Ann Coulter – the doyenne of right-wing bomb-throwing – to simply plop it like a fresh cow pie onto the kitchen table in the middle of supper. Ordinarily I can’t stand her (and even parodied her political crush on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie here and here), but even a stopped clock is right twice every day. The significance of the title will become clear if you read on.

And so it happens that on this occasion, La Coulter springboards off the Anti-Klan Act of 1871 (see today’s 7 AM history post) and dives into a muddy pool of historical revision and collective amnesia to retrieve – what else? – the truth.

After the war, Democratic legislatures enacted “Black Codes,” denying black Americans the right of citizenship – such as the rather crucial one of bearing arms – while other Democrats (sometimes the same Democrats) founded the Ku Klux Klan.

For more than a hundred years, Republicans have aggressively supported arming blacks, so they could defend themselves against Democrats.

The original draft of the Anti-Klan Act of 1871 – passed at the urging of Republican President Ulysses S. Grant – made it a federal felony to “deprive any citizen of the United States of any arms or weapons he may have in his house or possession for the defense of his person, family, or property.” This section was deleted from the final bill only because it was deemed both beyond Congress’ authority and superfluous, inasmuch as the rights of citizenship included the right to bear arms.

Under authority of the Anti-Klan Act, President Grant deployed the U.S. military to destroy the Klan, and pretty nearly completed the job.

But the Klan had a few resurgences in the early and mid-20th century. Curiously, wherever the Klan became a political force, gun control laws would suddenly appear on the books.

This will give you an idea of how gun control laws worked. Following the firebombing of his house in 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King, who was, among other things, a Christian minister, applied for a gun permit, but the Alabama authorities found him unsuitable. A decade later, he won a Nobel Peace Prize.

How’s that “may issue” gun permit policy working for you?

The NRA opposed these discretionary gun permit laws and proceeded to grant NRA charters to blacks who sought to defend themselves from Klan violence – including the great civil rights hero Robert F. Williams.

A World War II Marine veteran, Williams returned home to Monroe, N.C., to find the Klan riding high – beating, lynching and murdering blacks at will. No one would join the NAACP for fear of Klan reprisals. Williams became president of the local chapter and increased membership from six to more than 200.

But it was not until he got a charter from the NRA in 1957 and founded the Black Armed Guard that the Klan got their comeuppance in Monroe.

Williams’ repeated thwarting of violent Klan attacks is described in his stirring book, “Negroes With Guns.” In one crucial battle, the Klan sieged the home of a black physician and his wife, but Williams and his Black Armed Guard stood sentry and repelled the larger, cowardly force. And that was the end of it.

As the Klan found out, it’s not so much fun when the rabbit’s got the gun.

Bullseye! In many respects, Negroes With Guns is as seminal a treatise today as Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington was in the early 20th century.

Coulter naturally takes the concept to a not-so-absurd conclusion:

We don’t know the facts yet, but let’s assume the conclusion MSNBC is leaping to is accurate: George Zimmerman stalked a small black child and murdered him in cold blood, just because he was black.

If that were true, every black person in America should get a gun and join the National Rifle Association, America’s oldest and most august civil rights organization.

The logic is flawless and incontrovertible. Perhaps Robert Heinlein was right all along: “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.

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