The non-violent demonstrations against racial segregation that took place in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 represent one of the major events in the history of the civil rights movement in the United States. Organised by Revd Martin Luther King Jr’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Birmingham campaign exposed the viciousness of southern racism. Pictures of peaceful black teenagers being felled by high-powered streams of water and of demonstrators being bitten by snarling police dogs shocked the United States and the world. However, although SCLC was genuinely committed to philosophical non-violence, the
reminiscences of Andrew Young, the right-hand man of Martin Luther King during the 1960s, call attention to the ambivalent attitudes that the movement’s non-violent protest strategy evoked among some male activists.
Recalling the Birmingham demonstrations in his memoirs, Young expressed his concerns about two female student activists, Dorothy Cotton and Diane Bevel, who participated in peaceful protest marches. ‘I had been brought up to respect women, and part of that respect was taking care for their safety’, Young wrote. ‘On the occasions that Dorothy and Diane did march, I stayed as far away from them as possible. I didn’t trust myself not to defend them if they were attacked’.1
Andrew Young’s memories hint at the intricate relationship between violence,non-violence and manhood in the African American freedom struggle of the 1950s and 1960s. Young’s understanding of what it meant to be a man challenged the movement’s
non-violent orthodoxy and implied an obligation to defend black women against racist attacks. Probing this gendered dimension of violence and non-violence in the civil rights movement can help us better understand the opposition that activists frequently
encountered when organising in the Deep South. Concentrating on what sociologist Robert Connell has called ‘marginalized’ masculinities also sheds light on the meanings of defensive violence for those African Americans who complemented demonstrations
and voter registration drives with armed self-defence.2 Finally, a focus on gender allows us to comprehend some of the differences between the role of violence in the southern civil rights struggle and the Black Power movement. Only recently have historians begun to explore masculinity in the black freedom movement. An early example is Gender and the Civil Rights Movement, an edited collection of essays that explores the social and cultural dimensions of manhood and womanhood in the civil rights struggle. Its editors, Peter Ling and Sharon Monteith, explicitly acknowledged ‘the profound association of the attainment of dignity with manhood’.3 More recently, scholars have produced a number of sophisticated studies that examine this seemingly banal truism in greater detail. Steve Estes, for instance, studying the protest strategies of African American activists and their white racist opponents, found that both sides ‘framed their actions in terms of claiming or defending manhood’, using this ‘masculinist’ rhetoric to mobilise followers and supporters.4 In Brothers’ Vietnam War: Black Power, Manhood, and the Military Experience, Herman
Graham analysed the strategies of black GIs to create newforms of assertive masculinity to overcome marginalisation and discrimination in the late 1960s. In the Black Power era, according to Graham, black nationalist consciousness and opposition to racial discrimination became constitutive elements of a new conception of black manhood.5 Scholars of armed resistance in the southern civil rights struggle, on the other hand, have hinted at the interrelationship between black masculinity and armed self-defence against racist aggression.6 However, these scholars have neither examined how certain notions of gender impeded the activists’ organising efforts, nor have they studied how the relationship between violence and black manhood changed over the course of the 1960s. A closer look at civil rights organising in the Deep South reveals that the nonviolent strategy’s connotations of effeminate submissiveness seriously hampered the efforts of civil rights activists to win over male African Americans to the movement’s cause. Conversely, those black southerners who were forced to use defensive violence to protect the movement beamed with pride at their ability to protect themselves and their communities. A comparison of armed resistance efforts in southern civil rights campaigns with those of post-1965 Black Power groups such as the Black Panther Party shows both commonalities and differences with regard to the interrelationship between self-defence and gender. In both phases of the black freedom struggle, activists regarded their armed actions as an affirmation of black manliness. In the southern movement, however, the affirmation of manhood remained a by-product of the physical imperative to protect black lives against racist terrorism. Among Black Power militants and their black nationalist precursors, by contrast, self-defence, while initially intended to stop police brutality and other forms of racist oppression, ultimately came to be utilised mainly as a symbol of militant black manhood. The Black Power movement’s affirmative message countered traditional stereotypes of black male powerlessness and instilled a positive black identity into many activists. At the same time, however, the gendered discourse it produced tended to perpetuate black women’s subordination.
Violence and black manhood prior to the civil rights era
To fully comprehend the gendered entanglements of the civil rights era, it is necessary to understand the complexities of the violent history of the American South. ‘Violence’, sociologist Michael Kimmel has pointed out, ‘has long been understood as the best way to ensure that others publicly recognize one’s manhood’.7 In particular, in the southern region of the United States, such concepts of ‘manly’ violence were powerful. Dixie’s violent nature stemmed from the region’s long-time status as a frontier settlement, antebellum notions of honour and chivalry, and white southerners’ violent strategies to suppress the resistance of black slaves. Armed conflict between white settlers and Native American tribes coupled with the long tradition of extra-legal vigilantism in the region fostered a culture that encouraged the carrying of weapons. For many men, armed protection became a simple necessity. But violence also reflected an important aspect of southern male identity. Antebellum notions of honour and chivalry created an idea of masculinity that subsequent generations learned, used and reinforced, primarily through the use of force. White men felt pressured to prove their manhood, and the skilful use of firearms and the willingness to defend one’s honour frequently served this end.8 The gendered nature of southern violence carried special significance for black men, who learned that violence, race and gender were inextricably linked. Prior to the legal victories of the civil rights movement, violence was an important means of racial control. Antebellum plantation owners maintained their power over black slaves primarily through the threat of brutal punishment, suppressing any signs of unrest or rebellion. This racial hierarchy affirmed the manliness of white men and signified for them the relative powerlessness of male and female slaves. ‘From the point of view of whites’, as Craig Thompson Friend and Lorri Glover have noted, ‘enslavement equalled emasculation’.9
Although the end of the Civil War marked the end of the ‘peculiar institution’, white violent oppression continued. In the aftermath of the war, racist organisations such as the Ku Klux Klan launched a reign of terror that echoed the brutality of antebellum slave patrols. Gail Bederman’s research has shown that middle-class white men at the turn of the twentieth century construed such violent symbols of white supremacy as a reflection of white male power.10 This racist ideology, which allowed white men to subjugate African Americans and to control white women, primarily targeted black men. ‘Racist oppression took many forms and damaged Afro- American men andwomen in numerousways’, historical sociologist Orlando Patterson concluded in his study on the consequences of slavery, ‘but the single greatest focus of ethnic domination was the relentless effort to emasculate the Afro-American male in every conceivable way and at every turn’.11
Lynching was an additional example of the gendered nature of racial violence in the American South. When mob violence emerged as a new form of social control in the 1870s and 1880s, most white men conceptualised lynching exclusively in terms of
‘protecting’ whitewomen from stereotypical black rapists. White men used this form of ritualised murder primarily to maintain economic, political and racial hierarchies, but it also allowed them to assert their masculinity by proclaiming themselves guardians
of southern white womanhood. While pledging to protect ‘their’ wives and daughters, white men abused African American women with impunity, continuing a form of sexual exploitation that had been institutionalised during slavery. If one follows anthropologist
Claude L´evi-Strauss’s idea that men use women as signs to communicate with one another, white Southerners clearly challenged black manhood. Masking the sexual exploitation and suppression of black and white women, white men’s ‘rhetoric of protection’, as Jacqueline Dowd Hall has argued, primarily expressed a power struggle between men.12 It is important to point out that many African American men developed a sense of self-worth despite these oppressive conditions. For example, recent studies on
masculinity in the antebellum South have shown that free and enslaved African Americans tended to counter white racism with their own definitions of manhood and sometimes actively resisted attempts to disparage their worth as ‘manly’ men.13 Yet throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, black men’s words and actions reflected a determination to reclaim and affirm the role of patriarchal provider and protector that white men attempted to deny them. Indeed, it is difficult to comprehend the black response to white violence without acknowledging this struggle over manhood. Consequently, as historian Jim Cullen has noted, the end of the CivilWar marked a ‘watershed for black manhood’.14 The ability of freedmen to protect themselves and their families from former masters was an important transformation of their perception of themselves as men. The right to bear arms and the ability to defend oneself against white attacks became a powerful symbol of this new freedom.15 Confronted with an unabated wave of racial terror in the 1880s and 1890s, a new generation of militant black editors began to invoke this gendered symbolism in
their condemnations of what they perceived as black men’s passivity. While Booker T. Washington, the most visible black leader during this era, publicly advocated accommodation, patience and economic self-reliance, these intellectuals vociferously denounced
white terror and called for manly resistance. In numerous articles and editorials, they countered white Southerners’ ‘rhetoric of protection’ with a black ‘discourse of protection’. 16 One of these militant authors was Ida B. Wells, a graduate of Fisk University
who became one of the most militant anti-lynching activists of the 1890s. As historian Patricia Schechter has pointed out,Wells clearly understood that lynchings represented more than racist attacks against African American citizens. They also constituted ‘a
particular assault on black males and black “manhood”’.17 Her critique of black men’s hesitancy to confront the mob utilised such notions of what it meant to be a man to push for more forceful resistance. In an 1892 pamphlet,Wells declared that nothing was ‘to
be gained by a further sacrifice of manhood and self-respect’, arguing that only the determination of armed blacks to defend themselves had successfully deterred white aggression in the past.18 T. Thomas Fortune, the well-known owner and editor of the black newspaper New York Age, wholeheartedly agreed with such exhortations. Fortune vehemently condemned the federal government’s failure to protect southern African Americans from white violence and advocated armed resistance to stop mob violence. Fortune was convinced that armed resistance would help blacks ‘to assert their manhood and citizenship’.19 John Mitchell of the Richmond Planet also regarded defensive violence as a manly duty. Framed by gun advertisements, his editorials called upon blacks to assert their masculinity by confronting racist lynchers. ‘Defend your home against the midnight assasin [sic]’, he demanded, ‘above all protect your women’.20
In the early twentieth century, W. E. B. Du Bois became another vocal advocate of manly resistance. In 1909, the Harvard educated sociologist and civil rights activist had co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP). The NAACP sought to defeat mob violence with publicity campaigns and legal action, but Du Bois also penned scathing condemnations of black timidity in the organisation’s magazine, the Crisis. A particularly harsh critique appeared in October
1916. Commenting on a recent lynching in Gainesville, Florida, he scorned the black community’s submissiveness. Du Bois lamented that blacks had ‘acted like cowardly sheep’ when they surrendered a man who had injured two white police officers in a night-time altercation. Noting that blacks had outnumbered the mob two to one, he accused them of allowing whites to harass and attack innocent men and women. According to the combativeNAACP activist, lynchingwas going to stop only ‘when the cowardly mob is faced by effective guns in the hands of people determined to sell their souls dearly’.21
In the 1920s, black nationalist Marcus Garvey similarly urged blacks to regain their manhood by replying in kind when their loved ones were attacked by white supremacists. As Deborah Gray White has pointed out, ‘The twenties drove home the concept that progress of the race rested on two things: black men’s willingness to fight for racial justice, and their ability to . . . protect . . . black women’.22
African American men and the emergence of non-violent protest During the same decade that Marcus Garvey and others called for manly self-defence, the non-violent freedom struggle of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his followers against British colonial rule in India was widely discussed in the African American press. According to Gandhi’s philosophy, loving self-sacrifice and voluntary submission to violencewould become the ‘weapon of the weak’ against seemingly omnipotent enemies. Pondering the applicability of such tenets to the black freedom struggle in the United States, some African American pundits hoped for the emergence of ‘a black
Gandhi’ in the US.23 But attempts in the ensuing two decades to convince white and black Americans that violence could be greeted with love and non-violence yielded few results. While A. Philip Randolph’s 1941 March onWashington Movement clearly
foreshadowed the potential of peaceful mass protest, it did not inculcate in blacks a Gandhian understanding of non-violence.24
When members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) attempted to recruit new members in the 1940s, their efforts ran into similar resistance. One of the main problems was that CORE’s non-violent gospel clearly challenged prevailing notions of manhood. The organisation’s pacifist founders quickly learned that such gender norms were a powerful obstacle to organisational expansion. To many of those people whom CORE sought to recruit, non-violence seemed at best bizarre; some thought it outright laughable. ‘The idea of non-violence has gotten to be something to be ridiculed everytime [sic] it is mentioned’, activist Mary Klein wrote about her frustrating efforts to discuss Gandhi’s teachings in 1946.25 Co-founder James Farmer similarly recalled in his memoirs that the idea that ‘violence could be greeted with love generally evoked only contempt’. ‘You mean that if someone hits you, you’re not going to hit back? What are you, some kind of a nut or something?’ was a common response by perplexed
listeners.26 Of course, the Christian precept to ‘turn the other cheek’was familiar to both white and black Americans. In southern black communities in particular, the church was a crucial social centre. Biblical references to redemptive suffering frequently invoked
traditional themes in African American religion, which likened blacks to Christian prophets and martyrs.27 At least in the minds of those blacks whom CORE urged to adopt non-violence as a way of life, however, peaceful protest appeared to signify
effeminacy and powerlessness. With the advent of non-violent mass protest in the 1950s and 1960s, the Gandhian protest strategy was finally catapulted into the public spotlight and helped African Americans achieve crucial victories in the fight against racial discrimination. Yet, throughout the civil rights era, certain notions of manhood continued to impede the efforts of civil rights activists to convince African Americans of the efficacy of nonviolence. For a few activists the self-control and courage that non-violent protest required from its practitioners seemed to be a boost to their male identity. For example, one of the students who initiated the 1960 sit-in movement in Greensboro, North Carolina, recalled feeling ‘as though I had gained my manhood, so to speak, and not only gained it, but had developed quite a lot of respect for it’.28 However, the available evidence suggests that only a minority of black activists in the 1950s and 1960s held such views. During the early days of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, for example, few blacks found the idea of non-violence appealing. According to one local activist, ‘many persons were unwilling to buy into the idea [that non-violent protest could be successful]. Initially people said things such as: “If I have to do things that way, count me out. If someone hits me or spits on me, I will strike back”’.29 Even Rosa Parks, etched in public memory as the symbol of the non-violent freedom movement, admitted in her memoirs that she and others remained sceptical about the idea of non-violence, even though she eventually recognised the tactical value of peaceful protest.30 WhenCOREand the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sought to introduce non-violence to black communities in the rural Deep South in the 1960s, they encountered similar reactions. Mississippi activist Jodie Scaffold remembered in an interview, ‘Dr. King wanted to see nonviolent [sic]; if they slap you on the jaw, turn the other cheek. But if they hit, I was gon’ hit ‘em back’.31 Upon meeting Martin
Luther King, black farmer Hartman Turnbow warned SCLC’s president bluntly, ‘this nonviolent stuff ain’t no good. It’ll get ya killed’.32 CORE activist Dave Dennis recalled about his organising work in the South: ‘at that time, itwasn’t about people being . . . that difficult to get involved in the movement as it was for them to accept the philosophy of nonviolence’.33 As in the 1940s, gender was an important explanation for the problems that Dennis and his comrades confronted in their efforts to organise non-violent protest campaigns and voter registration drives in the Deep South.
What exacerbated the problem was the fact that few people distinguished between non-violence as a tactic and non-violence as a way of life. Contrary to what the Gandhian–Christian rhetoric of Martin Luther King implied, the protest strategy did not rely solely on moral suasion – the hope that appeals to the conscience of white Americans would impel them to support the civil rights movement. Instead, it was primarily a form of non-violent coercion, which created crises of local, national and even international proportions that actively forced white authorities to yield to black demands.34 In the eyes of many Americans, however, as white activist Anne Braden observed in 1967, non-violence stood for ‘inaction, people turning the other cheek, submitting instead of resisting’.35 From this perspective, peaceful protest was synonymous with pacifism, a philosophy that rejects all forms of violence in human conflict. It was this seemingly pacifistic, philosophical interpretation of non-violence that many African Americans regarded as degrading to their manhood.
Armed resistance and black masculinity in the southern civil rights movement
In light of these gendered entanglements, it came as no surprise that those southern African Americans who guarded the civil rights activists with guns prided themselves on their ability to protect black communities from white aggression and viewed it as
an affirmation of black manhood. This, however, was primarily a by-product of the simple necessity to repulse the attacks of racist terrorists who sought to stop the black freedom movement. Throughout the civil rights era, black men, and sometimes black
women, aided non-violent protest campaigns and voter registration drives by guarding African American churches, private homes and meeting places with guns. On occasion, these guards traded shots with their white attackers. Local civil rights leaders, business owners and numerous black farmers protected their homes on an individual basis against white terrorists. Others formed highly sophisticated defence groups, which protected civil rights organisers, provided armed escorts, monitored non-violent demonstrations, or patrolled black communities at night.36 As early as 1957, in the aftermath of the Little Rock school crisis over the enforcement of the desegregation of one of the city’s high schools, friends of local NAACP leader Daisy Bates organised a ‘volunteer guard committee’ to protect her against racist attacks. That same year, in Monroe, North Carolina, where NAACP leader Robert F. Williams and his followers were confronted with similar forms of racist terrorism, army veteran Williams and his followers also formed a defence organisation that protected the black community with pistols, machine guns and dynamite. A similar protective squad was organised in Birmingham, Alabama, where charismatic minister Revd Fred Shuttlesworth led the city’s black freedom movement. In 1957, after Shuttlesworth had miraculously survived a bomb attack that virtually obliterated his parsonage, members of his Bethel Baptist Church established a self-defence unit that became known as the ‘Civil Rights Guards’.37
The Deacons for Defense and Justice (DDJ) are probably the best-known example of armed black militancy in the southern freedom struggle of the 1960s. The Deacons were founded in 1964 in the small town of Jonesboro, located in the northern corner
of Louisiana. Equipped with rifles, pistols and walkie-talkies, the defence squad patrolled the black section of town around the clock and protected the handful of CORE activists who assisted the local movement. Following every white driver who entered
the black neighbourhood, the DDJ quickly put an end to white violent harassment. In 1965, the emerging freedom movement in Bogalusa in south-eastern Louisiana finally catapulted the Deacons onto the national stage. Few whites dared to enter the city’s
black neighbourhood after news of the black defence group’s existence had spread.38 Physical protection was the most important rationale behind the Deacons’ protection efforts, but the defence unit also became an enormous source of manly pride for its
members. As many other African Americans, the working-class men who joined the Deacons considered philosophical non-violence degrading to their manhood. Bogalusa activist Robert Hicks explained to an interviewer, ‘see, we never had adopted CORE’s
philosophy . . . We believe in love and brotherhood, but just don’t go for the idea that if somebody slaps me on my cheek, I turn the other one. If you slap me on my cheek, then, I have to defend myself’.39 Earnest Thomas, co-founder of the Jonesboro Deacons, similarly pointed out that members of his group would never let whites brutalise them. ‘To us’, he said, ‘this does not seem like being a man’.40 Unsurprisingly, the Deacons never participated in CORE’s non-violent demonstrations. Their disdain for
non-violence echoed freedmen’s efforts to assume the role of provider and protector of their families during Reconstruction. For the Deacons, therefore, seeing women and children beaten by white racists provided an additional justification to oppose white attacks with rifles and shotguns. According to Bogalusa Deacon Charles Sims, black men had to arm themselves ‘because we got tired of the women, the children being harassed by the white night riders’.41 Earnest Thomas agreed, pointing out in an interview
that it was ‘not natural to let someone destroy your wife, your kids and your property and not prevent it. If this means battle, then that’s the way it has to be’.42 From this perspective, the Deacons successfully countered traditional stereotypes of black
male powerlessness. Members of the Bogalusa group argued that only armed resistance, not nonviolence, would ultimately compel whites to give blacks the respect they deserved. The fact that non-violent CORE appeared to earn only ridicule from whites seemed to confirm their argument. ‘Most of the guys in the white locals down there just made fun of CORE’, a black paper mill worker recalled his co-workers’ reaction. ‘It was kind of a humorous situation to them. CORE was not mean and tough and belligerent as DDJs and some of those were . . . Nobody really paid too much attention to CORE’. The Deacons, on the other hand, could not be ignored. ‘I guarantee you’, he said, ‘they were aware of that DDJ bunch’.43 Members of the defence unit felt that their armed militancy ultimately translated into grudging acceptance among whites. ‘Well, I think you have the key word here, respect’, Robert Hicks later assessed the organisation’s impact in Bogalusa. ‘We got respect from them, [because] one thing that I found the white man honors is his gun. He actually recognises and will honor a person or respect people that will stand up and speak their mind and will defend themselves’.44 Royan Burris, vice-president of the Bogalusa Deacons, also believed that whites only now began to accept members of the defence unit as men. ‘They finally found out that we really are men’, the thirty-six-year-old barber told a journalist, ‘and that we would do what we said, and that we meant what we said’.45 The Deacons, then, considered citizenship to entail more than the desegregation of lunch counters or the right to vote. For them, there was no freedom without manly dignity, and armed resistance became one among other methods to attain that dignity. The Deacons were also convinced that they represented important role models for the black community. Civil rights leader A. Z. Young averred in the summer of 1966 that the Bogalusa defence unit had ‘a psychological effect on a lot of young people’, whom he believed to have shed their ‘inferior [sic] complex about the white man’.46 The fact that white journalist Roy Reed was ‘struck repeatedly by the pride’ the Deacons inspired among local blacks suggests that Young’s analysis was partly correct.47 Historian George Lipsitz has similarly concluded that the group’s ‘discipline and dedication inspired the community, their very existence made black people in
Bogalusa think more of themselves as people who could not be pushed around’.48 While the Deacons for Defense and Justice understood that non-violent tactics were essential in the battle against racial discrimination and disfranchisement, defensive violence appears to have nurtured self-esteem among both the protectors and the protected. In Mississippi, armed defence efforts also became a significant auxiliary to voter registration drives and non-violent protest campaigns. During the dangerous 1964 Freedom Summer project, which sought to help black Mississippians to register to vote, African Americans across the state met white supremacist terror with bullets and buckshot. 49 As in Louisiana, defensive violence became a symbol of manhood in the eyes
of many African Americans. Among independent black farmers in particular, protecting their property and their families against racist attacks was perceived as a manly duty. Second World War veteran Robert Cooper, resident of the all-black Milestone
community, later commented on his shootout with Klansmen, ‘I felt that you’re in your house, ain’t botherin nobody, the only thang you hunting is equal justice. An’ they gonna sneak by at night, burn your house, or shoot in there. And you gonna sit there
and take all of it? You got to be a very li’l man with no guts at all’.50 Hartman Turnbow had similar things to say about his motivation to repel white attackers: ‘I had a wife, and I had a daughter, and I loved my wife just like a white man loves his’n, and a white man will die for his’n, and I say I’ll die for mine’.51 Like the Deacons for Defense and Justice, these independent farmers felt obliged to assume the role of protector of their families. There is no evidence of black women’s active involvement in southern defence groups. Neither the Deacons nor other protective squads allowed women to join with men in guarding black communities. Yet, on an individual basis, African American women were also prepared to repel white invaders with armed force. At least in Mississippi, it was not uncommon for women to protect their homes with guns. One Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) volunteer was perplexed to find her host heavily armed. In late July 1964, the young student wrote in a letter, ‘I met Mrs Fairly coming down the hall from the front porch carrying a rifle in one hand [and] a pistol in the other. I do not know what is going on . . . [All she said was] “You go to sleep; let me fight for you”’.52 Working near Canton, SNCC worker Jo Ann Robinson was similarly puzzled to hear that her host slept with an axe hidden under her bed. In the past, Robinson learned, she had slept with a gun under her pillow but removed it after nearly shooting a neighbour’s son. Sometimes women fired their weapons at white attackers. In the town of McComb, for example, the wife of local civil rights leader Charles Bryant shot at a car manned with Klansmen who had hurled a bomb at the couple’s home.53 The fact that women actively participated in the Mississippi freedom struggle is hardly surprising. As historian Charles Payne has pointed out, women were the backbone of themovement in the early 1960s. Not only did they host and feed civil rights workers and volunteers, they also participated in civil rights meetings, voter registration drives and demonstrations far more often than did men.54 What is surprising is that women practised what most men considered a male prerogative and an affirmation of their manhood. One explanation could be that white supremacy had traditionally
impeded the ability of black men to defend themselves and their community. Since self-defence often resulted in brutal retaliation against the black community, many black women might have been forced to rely on their own protection against white attacks, in particular against the sexual advances of white men. At the same time, there is scattered evidence that some southern black women actually expected black men to defend them against such forms of sexual aggression. Myrlie Evers, the wife of NAACP leader Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in 1963, explained in her memoirs, ‘the willingness – the ability – of a man to protect his
family is probably the basic element in our concept of manhood. The willingness to protect one’s woman from the sexual advances and assaults of other men is central to it’.55 Women like Anne Moody, a Mississippi native and civil rights activist who
was all too familiar with the violent traditions of the state, also believed that black
men had an obligation to protect their community. If they failed to do so, as in the
case of the brutal murder of black teenager Emmett Till in 1955, Moody questioned
their manhood. ‘It was at this stage in my life’, she recalled her feelings after the
Till lynching, ‘that I began to look upon Negro men as cowards’.56 Such statements
suggest that some black women – despite the fact that some of them were able to defend
themselves against racist aggression – encouraged African American men to conform
to a notion of manhood that stressed the duty to protect the ‘weaker sex’ to prove their
Judging from the available evidence, it is difficult to assess how black women’s
appeals for protection and their armed militancy affected male activists’ notions of
manhood. In many ways, black men’s arguments for self-defence and black women’s
appeals for protection affirmed and perpetuated hegemonic ideas of manliness. Black
men’s argument that armed resistance was necessary for the protection of black women
could thus be seen as mirroring white men’s attempts to control gender and race relations
by placing white womanhood on a symbolic pedestal. At the same time, within the
context of racist oppression, the affirmation of black manhood through armed resistance
could also function as a counter-hegemonic discourse since it refuted white attempts
to degrade black masculinity. Black women’s armed militancy, on the other hand,
clearly challenged traditional notions of gender in both black and white communities.
The fact that women were not allowed to join black protective units suggests that such
transgressions of traditional gender roles were deemed acceptable only if they remained
confined to exceptional situations, such as prolonged periods of violent intimidation
by racist attackers, in which black men were unable to provide protection for the entire
While any assessment of the influence ofwomen’s participation in the movement’s
self-defence discourse on black manhood must remain speculative, it is easier to assess
the limitations and benefits of armed resistance in the southern freedom struggle. There
is certainly a danger of romanticising black defence squads’ activities, and armed
resistance did have some drawbacks. For example, white police officers frequently
arrested black activists for possessing guns that they used for protection, even though
legal statutes in most southern states allowed the carrying of unconcealed weapons. At
the national level, moreover, widely publicised self-defence incidents could undermine
themovement’s moral legitimacy and white financial support.Onmany other occasions,
however, armed resistance proved very beneficial. In a number of communities, armed
actions helped local freedom movements survive in the face of racist terrorism. Black
defenders guarded black communities and protected the lives of numerous black and
white activists against nocturnal attacks. In those southern communities where black
defence groups patrolled the black neighbourhoods, the number of white attacks sharply
declined. Armed protection could also help sustain the morale of non-violent protestors.
The Ku Klux Klan and other white extremists sought to erode black demonstrators’
resolve and self-confidence. In towns like Jonesboro or Bogalusa, the armed actions of
black guards neutralised this strategy. CORE activist Richard Haley once commented
on this phenomenon in Bogalusa: ‘protected nonviolence is apt to be more popular with
the participants than unprotected’.57 Finally, armed resistance sometimes served as an
additional means of coercion in civil rights activists’ negotiations with southern white
authorities over racial desegregation. In Bogalusa, for example, the spectre of racial
warfare between the Ku Klux Klan and the Deacons for Defense and Justice increased
the pressure on white authorities to defuse the explosive crisis that non-violent protests
Violence and black manhood in the Black Power movement
While southern black defence groups such as the Deacons for Defense and Justice
gradually disbanded in the second half of the 1960s, the emerging Black Power movement
re-emphasised blacks’ right to self-defence and publicly vowed to repel racist
attacks with armed force. In popular memory, Black Power continues to be reduced
to angry cries for violence that fostered race riots, betrayed the integrationist and
non-violent vision of earlier activism and ultimately failed to achieve its seemingly
unrealistic goals. In reality, as recent studies have shown, what came to be known as
Black Power constituted a multidimensional movement with multi-layered ideologies
and agendas that accomplished much more than has been acknowledged. Black activists
engaged in a wide range of political, cultural and intellectual activism, which
helped reinterpret African American identity and left a significant political and cultural
legacy that continues to shape American society to this day.59 The Black Panther
Party for Self-Defense (BPP) exemplifies many of the positive aspects that critics of
Black Power have tended to ignore. The organisation’s paramilitary character was an
attempt to stop the police brutality that black urban dwellers traditionally confronted.
More important, the BPP wanted to call attention to the discrimination and abject
poverty that plagued black urban communities across the country. It was no accident
that the BPP’s ten-point platform discussed self-defence after the demand for selfdetermination,
full employment, decent housing and education for African Americans.
The organisation’s successful free breakfast programmes for school children, legal and
medical assistance for the poor and other essential community services testify to these
Self-defence, then, was not necessarily Black Power activists’ first priority, but its
relative visibility during the Black Power era vis-`a-vis the southern freedom struggle
hints at the importance of gender in its emergence as one of the central pillars of the
black freedom struggle’s radicalisation. Unlike their southern counterparts, post-1965
black nationalists who brandished pistols, rifles and machine guns did not repulse
attacks from the Ku Klux Klan. Rather, as Nikhil Pal Singh has pointed out, the decision
of militant groups such as the Black Panther Party to arm themselves must
be seen as ‘strategic choices and carefully posed challenges to the so-called legitimate
forms of state violence that had become all too regularly used within Black
communities’.61 Yet, precisely because the BPP faced legalised state violence – not
attacks by extra-legal terrorists that had threatened southern civil rights activists –
it was much more difficult to define and combat the enemy. Because of these difficulties,
self-defence remained mostly confined to militant rhetoric and represented
a psychological rather than practical necessity. In general, armed resistance became
mainly a symbolic form of defiance that served to affirm and nurture militant black
Black nationalists traditionally rejected non-violence, a tactic that they deemed
incompatible with their interpretation of what it meant to be a man. Long before
the emergence of Black Power, members of the Nation of Islam (NOI) and other
black radicals derided Martin Luther King’s philosophy as futile and unmanly. As
early as 1957, journalist P. L. Prattis of the Pittsburgh Courier claimed that nonviolence
would ‘not solve’ the problems that confronted African American citizens.
In a series of articles, he acknowledged the tactical advantages of peaceful protest
but insisted that black men had to be willing to put their ‘fist in somebody’s face’ to
‘win respect’.62 In the following years, like-minded critics closely watched the bloody
path of the southern freedom struggle and found their scepticism towards peaceful
protest repeatedly confirmed. In 1959, black Muslim Charles X lauded the militancy
of NAACP activist Robert F. Williams in the Baltimore Afro-American. To this man’s
mind, the North Carolinian’s confrontational stance proved that the black man had
finally reached a point ‘when he no longer begs for what he wants. From now on if the
law can’t settle things, buckshot will’.63 Two years later, when white segregationists
orchestrated bloody assaults against the Freedom Ride, a campaign designed to call
attention to racial segregation in interstate travel, the editors of the New York-based
black nationalist journal Liberator hailed their ‘heroic sacrifices’ but strongly opposed
their non-violent philosophy. ‘Unlike them’, the editors wrote, ‘we can feel no love
or compassion for either the white hoodlums who attacked them or the white officials
who failed to protect them’. From the perspective of the Liberator, the Freedom Ride
did not exemplify the power of peaceful protest but only proved the futility of King’s
Even some members of non-violent civil rights organisations struggled with the
dominant notions of manhood that black nationalists invoked. In an anecdote from
his early days in the movement, black CORE activist Jimmy McDonald hinted at
the tensions between Gandhian tenets and the urge to defend one’s ‘honour’. ‘I was
passing out leaflets in Times Square in front ofWoolworth’s’, the singer-turned-activist
recalled, ‘when two white cats came up and . . . said suppose I take that flyer and slap
you in the face with it, will you turn the other cheek? I said yes, and his friend said,
what would you do if I slapped you on that cheek? And I said I’ll put all my tens
and a half right up your ass. Now I thought that was the way that I had to react as a
man, you know, not realizing that this did not sit well with CORE downtown’.65 While
McDonald ultimately managed to face such challenges to his manhood non-violently,
this story illustrates the ubiquity of the sentiments that black nationalists articulated in
the civil rights era.
By the early 1960s, Malcolm X, the spokesman of the black nationalist Nation
of Islam, had emerged as the best-known critic of non-violence. From the Muslim
minister’s perspective, there was no ‘turn-the-other-cheek revolution’. Revolutions, he
insisted in his famous ‘Message to the Grass Roots’, could not be based on loving
one’s enemy. True revolutions involved bloodshed, and ‘modern Uncle Toms’ like civil
rights leader Martin Luther King were little more than pawns in the white man’s scheme
to perpetuate black powerlessness. ‘Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect
everyone’, he told his followers, ‘but if someone puts his hands on you, send him to
From Malcolm’s perspective, armed resistance represented a crucial affirmation
of black manhood. Rather than follow King’s emasculating philosophy, he argued,
black men needed to regain their role as protectors of ‘their’ women and their families.
Condemning SCLC’s 1963 Birmingham campaign, where activists had asked little
children to provoke violent attacks from police commissioner Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor,
Malcolm X said, ‘real men don’t put their children on the firing line’.67 The tactical
advantage of doing so meant little to Malcolm who, after learning from SNCC activist
Fannie Lou Hamer about the violent abuse that she had suffered in Mississippi, told
a Harlem audience that black men deserved no respect if they failed to protect black
women. ‘When I listen to Mrs. Hamer’, he told a Harlem audience in late 1964, ‘a black
woman – could be my mother, my sister, my daughter – describe what they had done
to her in Mississippi, I ask myself how in the world can we ever expect to be respected
as men when we will allow something like that to be done to our women, and we do
nothing about it?’68
Malcolm repeatedly suggested that ‘passive’ resistance stood for powerlessness
and effeminacy, while armed self-defence was thought to epitomise true black manhood.
‘Anybody can sit’, he once dismissed sit-in demonstrations. ‘An old woman
can sit. A coward can sit . . . It takes a man to stand’.69 Malcolm X was convinced
that his Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), a black nationalist group that
he had founded in 1964 after his split with the NOI, would regain ‘our self-respect,
our manhood, our dignity and freedom’ by convincing blacks of the need for active
armed resistance.70 Although the OAAU also envisaged political activism and social
programmes to improve the black community, Malcolm X appeared to regard the affirmation
of black masculinity through armed force as the first step towards black
Malcolm X’s biographer Bruce Perry attributes his fixation on manhood to the
brutality of his tyrannical father and a trying childhood, but the militant Muslim’s
socialisation in the NOI was probably just as important in shaping his ideas about gender.
The sect’s leader Elijah Muhammad enforced a traditional separation of gender
roles and offered his male followers a vision of racial uplift that was largely based
on African Americans’ ability to disprove and defy racist stereotypes. Black manhood
was deemed crucial to accomplish this goal. For example, early issues of the NOI’s
newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, as well as large banners at the sect’s meetings, repeatedly
urged male members to become guardians of black women. Calling on the NOI’s
female members to be good, chaste and pious, the black Muslims also created their
own ideal of black womanhood. The floor-length white gowns and white headscarves
that female members were required to wear reinforced the organisation’s romanticised
imagery of purity, which represented a powerful counter-image that challenged the
hegemony of white ideals of beauty and the idea that only white women deserved
protection from sexual abuse.71 Of course, such pledges certainly reflected genuine
concerns about women’s safety but, as Farah Jasmine Griffin has suggested, the NOI’s
rhetoric must also be considered the continuation of a power struggle between white
and black men, a struggle in which African American women were confined to the role
of passive objects.72
During his lifetime as well as after his death (he was assassinated by several
gunmen on 21 February 1965), Malcolm’s ideas on defensive violence and manhood
had a tremendous impact on the emerging Black Power movement. For example, the
two founders of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, had been
fascinated with the Muslim minister. While studying at Merritt College in Oakland,
California, Newton and Seale frequently attended services at the city’s NOI Mosque to
hear Malcolm X speak and devoured his printed speeches and statements. At meetings
of the Afro-American Association (AAA), a small black nationalist discussion group
that had formed on the campus of Merritt College, the two students debated the ideas of
their idol and other black leaders. But Huey Newton believed that neither the AAA nor
other groups were really determined to translate this nationalist message into a realistic
programme for change in urban black America. This resolved Newton and Seale to
organise the BPP in October 1966. The organisation’s ten-point programme, which
called for self-determination, full employment, decent housing, quality education and
an end to police brutality and white exploitation, sought to address the problems that
confronted blacks in cities across the US.73 Equipped with rifles, pistols and law books,
Newton and Seale followed police cars and informed African Americans of their rights
in case of arrest. Several armed stand-offs with police in late 1966 and early 1967
bolstered the BPP’s reputation in Oakland’s black community and frightened many
Like their hero Malcolm X, Newton and Seale rejected non-violent protest as
degrading to black masculinity, offering an alternative construction of manhood that
was grounded primarily in the use of violence to defend the black community. Martin
Luther King’s assertion in June 1967 that there was ‘masculinity and strength in nonviolence’
was ludicrous to Black Power groups like the BPP.74 ‘We do not believe in
passive and nonviolent tactics’, Newton told the New York Times in May 1967. From
his perspective, non-violence was ‘absurd, erroneous and deceitful’.75 Defining their
identities in direct opposition to what they perceived as feminine characteristics – weakness,
passivity and powerlessness – the Black Panthers believed that they embodied
the real traits of black manliness. ‘The black woman found it difficult to respect the
black man because he didn’t even define himself as a man!’ Newton explained in an
interview. By contrast, the Black Panthers, ‘along with all revolutionary black groups’,
had ‘regained’ African Americans’ mind and manhood.76 In other BPP chapters, which
emerged across the country in the late 1960s, black militants seem to have viewed their
activism from similarly gendered perspectives. In Philadelphia, for instance, as historian
Matthew Countryman found in his study of the city’s freedom movement, the
‘party’s hypermasculine image of the gun-toting Panther came to represent not only
the right to self-defense but all the rights of manhood, including the ability to support
and protect a wife and children’.77
Some members of the original Panthers, especially black writer Eldridge Cleaver,
seemed to be obsessed with this struggle over gender identities. Repeatedly imprisoned
on drug and rape charges between 1954 and 1966, Cleaver had become a follower of
the Nation of Islam in prison, but broke with Elijah Muhammad after the assassination
of Malcolm X. Shortly after his release in late 1966, he joined the BPP. Cleaver’s Soul
on Ice, a collection of letters and essays that he had written in prison, reflects his preoccupation
with black masculinity. Echoing the idea that men use women as signs to
communicate with each other, he explained his assaults on white women as an insurrectionary
act against white men.78 Cleaver’s scathing criticism of black homosexuality
further illustrates his fear of being considered effeminate and unmanly. To him, as he
explained in an essay on the gay black novelist James Baldwin, homosexuality was ‘a
sickness’, which prompted black men to adopt white principles and white behaviour.79
Philip Brian Harper has pointed out that this alleged lack of racial identification among
black homosexuals became a symbol of failed manhood in black nationalist circles.
Black poet LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), for instance, used homosexuality’s connotations
of effeminacy to criticise the moderate wing of the civil rights movement. In one
poem, he insulted NAACP leader RoyWilkins as ‘an eternal faggot’ whose spirit, too,
was ‘a faggot’.80 Such animosity toward homosexuals, as historian Winifred Breines
has noted, ‘was frequently expressed as a way to condemn black men who worked
with white men. Those thought not to be strong black men were called white-identified
effeminate Uncle Toms’.81
Not least because of such fears of effeminacy, Eldridge Cleaver deemed it crucial
for himself and his peers to win back black women’s respect. What he regarded as black
men’s inability to protect ‘their’ women weighed heavily on his conscience. ‘I want
you to know’, he wrote in a letter addressed to all black women, ‘that I feared to look
into your eyes because I knew I would find reflected there a merciless indictment of
my impotence and a compelling challenge to redeem my conquered manhood’.82 The
Black Panther Party and its repeated vows to protect the black community became the
vehicle that Cleaver sought to accomplish this goal. As he explained in an interview
with Playboy in December 1968, the BPP was ‘a natural organisation’ for the young,
since it was organised by their peers and supplied ‘very badly needed standards of masculinity’.
83 From Cleaver’s perspective, this standard appeared to be defined primarily
by guns and the willingness to use them.
The BPP’s visual self-representation reflected the type of masculine militancy
that Cleaver alluded to. The Panther uniform, which consisted of black beret, black
leather jacket, black gloves and dark sunglasses, generated fear among whites and
undoubtedly instilled pride and self-respect in those whowore it. Photographs similarly
communicated these characteristics. One famous image that Cleaver arranged depicts
Huey Newton sitting in a large wicker chair that is flanked by African shields and
animal pelts. Clad in the BPP’s uniform and armed with a pump shotgun in one hand
and an African spear in the other, Newton posed as the masculine warrior that Cleaver
regarded as the epitome of authentic black male identity.84 Although Newton later
severely criticised this fixation on manhood, he agreed with Eldridge Cleaver about
the importance of self-respect and pride. In his memoirs, Newton insisted that the BPP
was not searching ‘for badges of masculinity’ since the party ‘acted as it did because
we were men’.85 Regardless of whether some members were attempting to affirm
their manhood while others already felt like real men, the BPP’s powerful image of
masculinity countered traditional stereotypes of the powerlessness of African American
men, communicated defiance to white America, and inculcated in male members a
positive black identity.
Despite these beneficial aspects of the party’s machismo, however, it contained serious
problems. The Panthers countered white stereotypes and regained self-respect, but
simultaneously appropriated and reproduced what R.W. Connell has called ‘hegemonic
masculinity’. Hegemonic masculinity, as defined by Connell, is ‘the configuration of
gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the
legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees (or takes for granted) the dominant position
of men and the subordination of women’. This dominant notion of manhood is not only
grounded in patriarchal privilege but also subordinates alternative forms of masculinity,
most notably homosexuality.86
On the one hand, given the marginalised character of black manhood in American
society, the armed defiance of the Black Panthers and others represented a
counter-hegemonic discourse, since militant activists sought to reclaim the attributes
of manhood that white men had denied African Americans for centuries. On the other
hand, black nationalists reaffirmed hegemonic masculinity by perpetuating traditions
of misogyny and homophobia. African American militants often celebrated black
women’s supporting role and their reproductive capacity but resented female activists’
ambition to assume leadership positions. Black Panther member Elaine Brown, who
would lead the organisation from 1974 to 1977, recalled about gender relations in the
BPP: ‘if a black woman assumed a role of leadership, she was said to be eroding
black manhood, to be hindering the progress of the black race’.87 Although female
party members received weapons instruction and were allowed to teach these skills
to others, the predominance of male leaders coupled with their masculine rhetoric
clearly circumscribed the agency of women in the organisation.88 As Stephen Ward
has noted, the metaphor of manhood ‘and the male-centred political framework that it
represented could be, and too often was, used to silence and discipline the activism of
Some female activists appeared to believe that the positive aspects of the Black
Power movement’s machismo outweighed its shortcomings. Malcolm X, for example,
became a symbol of admirable black manhood in the eyes of a number of female activists.
As CORE-turned-Black Panther activist Sonia Sanchez later recalled, Malcolm
‘became the man that most African-American women have wanted their men to be:
strong . . . He made us feel loved. And he made us feel that we were worth something
finally on this planet Earth’.90 In a 1966 article for the black nationalist newsletter
Liberator, activist Louise Moore suggested that more black men needed to emulate
Malcolm’s example. ‘WhenWill the Real Black Man Stand Up?’ she asked, lamenting
that the black man had been ‘quiet for so long that it seems almost unbelievable that he
will ever make a decisive move toward his manhood and in that every process challenge
the white man to be a human being’.91 Gloria Richardson, who led the black freedom
movement in Cambridge, Maryland, in the early 1960s, praised the Muslim leader’s
militant heirs. In October 1967, Richardson confided to an interviewer:
I admire the black men who have been coming up in the last two years and some of the changes
in them[;] as a black woman I admire them, you know, because they are quite willing to give their
lives for whatever they happen to believe in, and to take any amount of chance to get it done. And
for the first time, I can admire them. I think the black woman needs them. I think she needs to see
black men stand on their own two feet, in whatever area.92
Thus, although black nationalists helped perpetuate traditions of gender inequality,
their promise to reassert men’s role as guardians of black womanhood could contribute
to a new sense of self-esteem among black female activists.
However, numerous other women neither commended the Black Power movement’s
machismo nor did they shy away from actively challenging their subordination
and sexual exploitation.Within some chapters of the Black Panther Party, for example,
women held important leadership positions. They also constantly tried to negotiate and
reshape gender relations within the organisation, which made them critically important
party members, as Tracye Matthews has argued in her study of the BPP’s gender relations.
The fact that Huey Newton eventually tried to reach out to the women’s liberation
movement, and the increasing number of party women in leadership positions in the
1970s, seem to buttress O. G. Ogbar’s argument that ‘the Panthers were not ideologically
static or monolithic chauvinists’.93 Nevertheless, as Peniel Joseph has concluded,
‘the Panthers’ gender politics remained more progressive rhetorically yet remained
conflicted internally, rife with contradictions that reflected the wider Black Power and
New Left’s own vertigo’.94 Outside Black Power organisations, a small number of
black feminists also challenged the movement’s obsession with manhood. Through
separate organisations such as the Black Women’s United Front, these women fought
sexism within the black freedom struggle and also addressed the issue of racism in the
women’s movement. According to Kimberly Springer, ‘black feminists added ideals of
gender equality and antisexism to the social activist milieu of the Black Power era’.95
Stephen Ward considers the activism of black feminists an important ‘component of
the Black Power Movement’s ideological legacy’.96
While Black Power machismo’s tendency to strain gender relations clearly circumscribed
the agency of black women, the most harmful consequence of the movement’s
armed assertivenesswas government repression. Beginning in 1967, the Federal Bureau
of Investigation (FBI) used COINTELPRO, a highly sophisticated domestic counterintelligence
programme thatwas established in the 1950s, to disrupt and destroy the Black
Panther Party and other militant groups that advocated self-defence and revolutionary
violence. While some might argue that the Panthers armed themselves in reaction to
COINTELPRO, the programme actually began to target the organisation only after
the BPP’s self-defence stance became widely known.97 In his memoirs, Huey Newton
admitted that white authorities’ efforts to disrupt the activities of his organisation had
not started until the Panthers staged an armed demonstration at the Sacramento State
Capitol in 1967. In the following years, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale dropped the
term self-defence from the group’s original name and used less militant rhetoric when
talking about their goals. But their hope that these measures would bring an end to
police harassment and government repression proved illusory. Even today, the Black
Panther Party is remembered primarily for its armed bravado and martial rhetoric.98
Analysis of the interrelationship between violence, non-violence and manhood in the
civil rights era has revealed much about gender dynamics in the black freedom struggle
of the 1950s and 1960s. Dominant notions of what it meant to be a man frequently
impeded the efforts of civil rights organisers to convert African Americans to Gandhian
non-violence. While activists eventually succeeded in convincing a number of southern
blacks to use non-violence as a pragmatic tactic, the way in which southern black
activists and Black Power militants interpreted their efforts to arm for protection indicates
that hegemonic ideals of manliness remained powerful. Among southern blacks,
the affirmation of manhood was largely a by-product of the physical necessity to confront
racist attackers. Certain Black Power militants argued that blacks in urban areas
would have to engage in similar activities to stop police brutality and other forms of
racist oppression but, largely because of the difficulties that combating legalised state
violence entailed, armed resistance during the Black Power era tended to remain confined
to militant rhetoric and served primarily as a symbol of militant black manhood.
This symbolism nurtured a positive black male identity but simultaneously tended to
legitimise the subordination of women and alternative forms of masculinity.
It is to be hoped that this exploratory attempt to study the complexities of black
manhood in the 1960s will stir debates and additional research in this relatively understudied
field. Martin Summers, in his superb study of black middle-class manhood prior
to the SecondWorldWar, has provided a sophisticated analysis of how black manhood
crystallised in relation and in opposition to the identities of white men, African American
women and dominant cultural representations of black manhood in the United
States.99 The same kind of sophisticated analysis would be needed for the civil rights
era. Another important aspect that requires more research is how class shaped the articulation
of gender identities in the black freedom struggle. The voices analysed in
this article are largely those of black working-class African Americans. If a number of
working-class blacks perceived their promise of protection as a boost to their identity
as men, for example, how did middle-class African Americans react to this bravado
and what alternative strategies did they use to counter racist assaults on their male identities?
Finally, it would be important to learn more about the long-term impact of the
Black Power movement’s gender discourse and its black feminist critics on the African
American community and on popular culture in the ensuing decades. Sociological research
has long suggested that what researchers have called ‘compulsive masculinity’
has become a widespread phenomenon among black males in impoverished urban
communities.100 Historians could explore how the Black Power movement influenced
black manhood in these communities and how the movement’s gender politics shaped
portrayals of black manhood in popular culture in the 1970s and 1980s. Ultimately,
such historical studies on changing notions of gender in the civil rights era will help us
better understand the black freedom struggle’s complex legacies.
1. Andrew Young, An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America (New
York: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 212.
2. R. W. Connell, Masculinities (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), p. 80.
3. Peter J. Ling and Sharon Monteith, ‘Introduction: Gender and the Civil Rights Movement’, in Peter J.
Ling and Sharon Monteith (eds), Gender and the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Garland, 1999),
pp. 1–16, here p. 6.
4. Steve Estes, I Am a Man! Race, Manhood, and the Civil Rights Movement (Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press, 2005), pp. 7–8.
5. Herman Graham, III, Brothers’ Vietnam War: Black Power, Manhood, and the Military Experience
(Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003).
6. Christopher B. Strain, Pure Fire: Self-Defense as Activism in the Civil Rights Era (Athens: University
of Georgia Press, 2005), pp. 179–80; Lance Hill, The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the
Civil Rights Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), pp. 8–9, 265–8, 318–19;
Timothy B. Tyson, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1999), pp. 2, 94, 139–49.
7. Michael S. Kimmel, The Gendered Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000),
8. John Hope Franklin, The Militant South, 1800–1861 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956),
pp. 24, 30–31;W. J. Cash, The Mind of the South (New York: Knopf, 1941), p. 43; BertramWyatt-Brown,
Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982),
pp. 352–3, 369.
9. Craig Thompson Friend and Lorri Glover, ‘Rethinking Southern Masculinity: An Introduction’, in Craig
Thompson Friend and Lorri Glover (eds), Southern Manhood: Perspectives on Masculinity in the Old
South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004), pp. vii–xvii, here p. xi.
10. Gail Bederman, Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States,
1880–1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 4.
11. Orlando Patterson, Rituals of Blood: Consequences of Slavery in Two American Centuries (Washington,
DC: Civitas Counterpoint, 1998), p. xiii.
12. Jacqueline Dowd Hall, ‘“The Mind that Burns in Each Body”: Women, Rape, and Racial Violence’, in
Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell and Sharon Thompson (eds), Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality
(New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), pp. 328–49, esp. pp. 332, 335.
13. Friend and Glover, ‘Rethinking Southern Masculinity’, p. xi; Andrea G. Hunter and James Earl Davis,
‘Hidden Voices of Black Men: The Meaning, Structure, and Complexity of Manhood’, Journal of Black
Studies 25 (1994), pp. 20–40, here p. 21.
C_ The author 2007. Journal compilation C_ Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2007
Black Manhood in the Civil Rights Era 561
14. Jim Cullen, ‘“I’s a Man Now”: Gender and African American Men’, in Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber
(eds), Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 76–91,
here p. 77.
15. Leon F. Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (New York: Knopf, 1979),
p. 428; Gilles Vandal, ‘Black Violence in Post-Civil War Louisiana’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History
25 (1994), pp. 45–64, here p. 62.
16. Farah Jasmine Griffin, ‘Black Feminisms and Du Bois: Respectability, Protection, and Beyond’, Annals
of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 568 (March 2000), pp. 28–40, here
17. Patricia A. Schechter, ‘Unsettled Business: Ida B.Wells Against Lynching, or, How Anti Lynching Got Its
Gender’, in W. Fitzhugh Brundage (ed.), Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1999), pp. 292–317, here p. 295.
18. Ida B. Wells, ‘Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases’, in Ida B. Wells, On Lynchings (New
York: Arno Press, 1969), p. 23. This is a collection of several reprinted pamphlets, which were published
separately over the course of the 1890s. 1969 was the first time that these pamphlets were published
together in one book.
19. Quoted inEmmaLou Thornbrough, ‘T. Thomas Fortune: Militant Editor in the Age of Accommodation’, in
John Hope Franklin and AugustMeier (eds), Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Urbana: University
of Illinois Press, 1982), pp. 19–37, esp. pp. 22–3.
20. Quoted in Howard N. Rabinowitz, Race Relations in the Urban South, 1865–1890 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1978), p. 234.
21. ‘Cowardice’, Crisis 12 (1916), pp. 270–71.
22. Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy A Load: BlackWomen in Defense of Themselves, 1894–1994 (New York:
W. W. Norton, 1999), p. 140. On Marcus Garvey, see Edmund David Cronon, Black Moses: The Story
of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Madison: University of Wisconsin
Press, 1955); Tony Martin, Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey
and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976); Judith Stein,
TheWorld ofMarcus Garvey: Race and Class inModern Society (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University
23. Sudarshan Kapur, Raising Up a Prophet: The African American Encounter with Gandhi (Boston: Beacon
Press, 1992), pp. 2–7, 40. On Gandhi’s philosophy, see Joan V. Bondurant, Conquest of Violence: The
Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict (rev. edn., Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).
24. On Randolph and the March onWashington Movement, see Paula F. Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph, Pioneer
of the Civil Rights Movement (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990); Herbert Garfinkel,
When Negroes March: The March on Washington Movement in the Organizational Politics for FEPC
(1959; repr. New York: Atheneum, 1969).
25. Marie Klein to George Houser, 15 September, 1946, series 3, box 6, folder 9, Congress of Racial Equality
Papers (CORE Papers), State Historical Society of Wisconsin (hereafter SHSW), Madison.
26. James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Arbor
House, 1985), p. 109.
27. Albert J. Raboteau, A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African–American Religious History (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1995), p. 71.
28. Transcript of an interview with Franklin McCain, in Howell Raines (ed.), My Soul Is Rested: Movement
Days in the Deep South Remembered (1977; repr. New York: Penguin, 1983), p. 78.
29. ‘Mrs. Johnnie R. Carter’, in Wally G. Vaughn and Richard W. Wills (eds), Reflections on our Pastor: Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 1954–1960 (Dover,MA: Majority Press, 1999),
30. Rosa Parks, with Jim Haskins, Rosa Parks: My Story (New York: Puffin Books, 1992), pp. 174–5.
31. Transcript of an interview with Jodie ‘Preacher’ Scaffold, in Youth of the Rural Organizing and Cultural
Center (Holmes County, Mississippi), Minds Stayed on Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle in the Rural
South, an Oral History (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991), p. 64.
32. Transcript of an interview with Hartman Turnbow, in Raines (ed.), My Soul Is Rested, p. 266.
33. Dave Dennis, interview by Kim Lacy Rogers, tape recording, Jackson, MS, 4 December 1995, Delta Oral
History Project, L. Zenobia Coleman Library, Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, MS.
34. On the tactical aspects of nonviolence, see David J. Garrow, Protest at Selma: Martin Luther King, Jr. and
the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978).
35. Anne Braden, ‘Nonviolent Revolution: An Idea that Wasn’t Tried’, Southern Patriot 25 (February 1967),
C_ The author 2007. Journal compilation C_ Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2007
562 Gender & History
36. See Simon Wendt, The Spirit and the Shotgun: Armed Resistance and the Struggle for Civil Rights
(Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007); Strain, Pure Fire; Hill, The Deacons for Defense; Akinyele
O. Umoja, ‘1964: The Beginning of the End of Nonviolence in the Mississippi Freedom Movement’,
Radical History Review 85 (2003), pp. 201–26; Akinyele O. Umoja, ‘“WeWill Shoot Back”: The Natchez
Model and Paramilitary Organization in the Mississippi Freedom Movement’, Journal of Black Studies
32 (2002), pp. 271–94; Tyson, Radio Free Dixie.
37. Roy Wilkins, with Tom Mathews, Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins (1982; repr. New
York: Da Capo Press, 1994), p. 247; Daisy Bates, The Long Shadow of Little Rock: A Memoir (New York:
David McKay, 1962), pp. 94, 96, 111, 162; Tyson, Radio Free Dixie, pp. 84–9; Andrew M. Manis, A
Fire You Can’t Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham’s Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth (Tuscaloosa:
University of Alabama Press, 1999), pp. 110, 117–18; Glenn T. Eskew, But for Birmingham: The Local
and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1997), p. 141.
38. On the Deacons, see Hill, The Deacons for Defense;Wendt, The Spirit and the Shotgun, pp. 66–99, 150–52.
39. Robert Hicks, interview by Robert Wright, Bogalusa, LA, 10 August 1969, transcript, p. 16, Ralph J.
Bunche Oral History Collection, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington,
40. Quoted in memorandum, ‘Deacons for Defense and Justice, Incorporated’, 8 June 1966, Deacons Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) File 157–2466–137, FBI, Washington, DC.
41. ‘The Deacons – and Their Impact’, National Guardian, 4 September 1965, p. 4.
42. Quoted in Baltimore Afro-American, 23 October 1965, p. 1.
43. Quoted in Timothy J. Minchin, The Color of Work: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Southern Paper
Industry, 1945–1980 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), p. 92.
44. Hicks interview by Wright, p. 15.
45. Quoted in Roy Reed, ‘The Deacons, Too, Ride by Night’, New York Times Magazine, 15 August 1965,
46. A. Z. Young, interview byMiriam Feingold, tape recording, Bogalusa, LA, c.July 1966, Miriam Feingold
47. Reed, ‘The Deacons, Too, Ride by Night’, p. 22.
48. George Lipsitz, A Life in the Struggle: Ivory Perry and the Culture of Opposition (Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 1988), p. 96.
49. On armed resistance in Mississippi, see Umoja, ‘We Will Shoot Back’, pp. 271–94; Umoja, ‘1964: The
Beginning of the End of Nonviolence’, pp. 201–26; Emilye Crosby, A Little Taste of Freedom: The Black
Freedom Struggle in Claiborne County, Mississippi (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
2005), pp. 167–88; Wendt, The Spirit and the Shotgun, pp. 100–30.
50. Transcript of an interview with Robert Cooper, in Minds Stayed on Freedom, p. 94.
51. Transcript of an interview with Hartman Turnbow, in My Soul is Rested, p. 266.
52. Quoted in Doug McAdam, Freedom Summer (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 90.
53. Diary entry 14 July 1964, box 2, folder 1; ‘MississippiNegroes NearViolence, Says Knox Grad’, newspaper
clipping [n.d.], box 1, folder 9, Jo Ann Ooiman Robinson Papers, SHSW; Elizabeth Sutherland (ed.),
Letters from Mississippi (New York: McGraw Hill, 1965), p. 45; ‘WATS Line Digest’, 26 July 1964, p. 2,
unprocessed accessions, Mary King Papers, SHSW.
54. Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom
Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 266–83. See also John Dittmer, Local People:
The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), p. 127.
55. Myrlie Evers, with William Peters, For Us, the Living (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967), p. 124.
56. Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi (New York: Dial Press, 1968), p. 129.
57. Haley quoted in Roy Reed, ‘Armed Negro Unit Spreads in South’, New York Times, 6 June 1965,
58. For a more detailed discussion of the benefits and limitations of armed resistance in the black freedom
struggle, see Wendt, The Spirit and the Shotgun, pp.187–99.
59. See Peniel E. Joseph,Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (New
York: Henry Holt, 2006); Peniel E. Joseph (ed.), The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights –
Black Power Era (NewYork: Routledge, 2006);MatthewJ. Countryman, Up South: Civil Rights and Black
Power in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); James Edward Smethurst,
The Black ArtsMovement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2005); Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).
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Black Manhood in the Civil Rights Era 563
60. A number of new studies provide a more sophisticated understanding of the Black Panther Party. See
Curtis J. Austin, Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party
(Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2006); Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams (eds), In Search
of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement (Durham: Duke University
Press, 2006); Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas (eds), Liberation, Imagination, and the Black
Panther Party: A New Look at the Panthers and Their Legacy (New York: Routledge, 2001); Yohuru
Williams, Black Politics/White Power: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Black Panthers in New Haven
(St James, NY: Brandywine Press, 2000); Charles E. Jones (ed.), The Black Panther Party [Reconsidered]
(Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1998).
61. Nikhil Pal Singh, ‘The Black Panthers and the “Undeveloped Country” of the Left’, in Jones (ed.), The
Black Panther Party [Reconsidered], pp. 57–105, here p. 81.
62. P. L. Prattis, ‘Non-Violence’, Pittsburgh Courier, 30 November 1957, p. 9; P. L. Prattis, ‘Non-Violence –
II’, Pittsburgh Courier, 7 December 1957, p. 9.
63. Charles X, ‘Law and Buckshot’, Baltimore Afro-American, 30 May 1959, p. 4.
64. ‘Freedom Riders Go Beyond the New Frontier’, Liberator 1 (1961), p. 2.
65. Jimmy McDonald, interview by James Mosby, New York, 5 November 1969, transcript, p. 21, Ralph J.
Bunche Oral History Collection.
66. ‘Message to the Grass Roots’, in George Breitman (ed.), Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and
Statements (New York: Pathfinder, 1989), pp. 9, 12.
67. Quoted in M. S. Handler, ‘Malcolm X Terms Dr. King’s Tactics Futile’, New York Times, 11 May 1963,
68. ‘With Mrs Fannie Lou Hamer’, in Breitman (ed.), Malcolm X Speaks, p. 107.
69. Quoted in Bruce Perry, Malcolm: The Life of aMan Who Changed Black America (Barrytown, NY: Station
Hill, 1991), p. 282.
70. ‘The Founding Rally of the OAAU’, in Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary (1970; 2nd edn, New York:
Pathfinder, 1992), p. 53.
71. Bruce Perry, ‘Malcolm X and the Politics of Masculinity’, Psychohistory Review 13 (1985), pp. 18–25,
here p. 22; Stephen Sandford Estes, Jr, ‘“I Am A Man”: Race, Manhood, and the Struggle for Civil Rights’
(unpublished doctoral thesis, University of North Carolina, 2001), pp. 93–4, 103; Claude Andrew Clegg
III, An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1997),
pp. 101, 122; Estes, I am a Man!, p. 91.
72. Farah Jasmine Griffin, ‘“Ironies of the Saint”: Malcolm X, Black Women, and the Price of Protection’,
in Bettye Collier-Thomas and V. P. Franklin (eds), Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in
the Civil Rights–Black Power Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2001), pp. 214–29, esp.
73. ‘What We Want’, October 1966, in Philip S. Foner (ed.), The Black Panthers Speak (Philadelphia: J. B.
Lippincott, 1970), pp. 2–4.
74. Quoted in David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference (New York: W. Morrow, 1986), p. 566.
75. Wallace Turner, ‘A Gun is Power, Black Panther Says’, New York Times, 21 May 1967, p. 66; ‘From “In
Defense of Self-Defense” II: July 3, 1967’, in Huey P. Newton, To Die for the People: The Writings of
Huey P. Newton (New York: Random House, 1972), p. 90.
76. ‘Interview with Huey Newton’, in August Meier, Elliot Rudwick and Francis L. Broderick (eds), Black
Protest Thought in the Twentieth Century (1965; 2nd edn, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merill, 1971), p. 508.
77. Countryman, Up South, pp. 287–8.
78. Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice (1968; repr. New York: Dell, 1992), p. 26.
79. Cleaver, Soul on Ice, pp. 101–6.
80. In Philip Brian Harper, AreWe Not Men? Masculine Anxiety and the Problem of African–American Identity
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 50.
81. Winifred Breines, The Trouble Between Us: An Uneasy History ofWhite and BlackWomen in the Feminist
Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 56.
82. Cleaver, Soul on Ice, p. 189.
83. ‘Playboy Interview: Eldridge Cleaver’, Playboy (December 1968), p. 92.
84. Erika Doss, ‘Imaging the Panthers: Representing Black Power and Masculinity, 1960s–1990s’, Prospects
23 (1998), pp. 483–516, here p. 491.
85. Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), p. 133.
86. Connell, Masculinities, pp. 37–8, 77; Tim Carrigan, Bob Connell and John Lee, ‘Toward a New Sociology
of Masculinity’, Theory and Society 14 (1985), pp. 551–604, esp. pp. 592–4.
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564 Gender & History
87. Elaine Brown, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’ Story (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), p. 357.
88. Doss, ‘Imaging the Panthers’, p. 493; Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest, ‘“The Most Qualified Person to Handle
the Job”: Black Panther PartyWomen, 1966–1982’, in Jones (ed.), The BlackPantherParty [Reconsidered],
pp. 305–34, here p. 307.
89. StephenWard, ‘The ThirdWorldWomen’s Alliance: Black Feminist Radicals and Black Power Politics’,
in Joseph (ed.), The Black Power Movement, pp. 119–44, here p. 124.
90. Transcript of an interview with Sonia Sanchez, in Henry Hampton and Steve Fayer (eds), Voices of
Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1980s (New York:
Bantam Books, 1990), p. 255.
91. Quoted in Charise Cheney, ‘“We Men Ain’t We?” Mas(k)ulinity and the Gendered Politics of Black
Nationalism’, in Charles M. Payne and Adam Green (eds), Time Longer Than Rope: A Century of African
American Activism, 1850–1950 (New York: New York University Press, 2003), pp. 536–64, here p. 547.
92. Gloria Richardson (Dandridge), interview by John Britton, New York, 11 October 1967, transcript, p. 53,
Ralph J. Bunche Oral History Collection.
93. Tracye Matthews, ‘“No One Ever Asks, What a Man’s Role in the Revolution Is”: Gender and the
Politics of the Black Panther Party, 1966–1971’, in Jones (ed.), The Black Panther Party [Reconsidered],
pp. 267–304, here p. 270; Ogbar, Black Power, p. 102.
94. Joseph, Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour, p. 244. See also Breines, The Trouble Between Us, p. 75.
95. Kimberly Springer, ‘Black Feminists Respond to Black Power Masculinism’, in Joseph (ed.), The Black
Power Movement, pp. 105–18, here p. 118. See also Kimberly Springer, Living for the Revolution: Black
Feminist Organizations, 1968–1980 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005).
96. Ward, ‘The Third World Women’s Alliance’, p. 120.
97. See Kenneth O’Reilly, ‘Racial Matters’: The FBI’s Secret File on Black America, 1960–1972 (New York:
Free Press, 1989), pp. 293–324; Ward Churchill, ‘“To Disrupt, Discredit and Destroy”: The FBI’s Secret
War Against the Black Panther Party’, in Cleaver and Katsiaficas (eds), Liberation, Imagination, and the
Black Panther Party, pp. 78–117; Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of Repression: The FBI’s
SecretWars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (Cambridge, MA: South
End Press, 1988).
98. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide, pp. 149–50; John A. Courtwright, ‘Rhetoric of the Gun: An Analysis of
the Rhetorical Modifications of the Black Panther Party’, Journal of Black Studies 4 (1974), pp. 249–67.
99. See Martin Summers, Manliness and Its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of
Masculinity, 1900–1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), p. 4.
100. See, e.g., William Oliver, The Violent Social World of Black Men (New York: Lexington, 1994); Richard
Majors and Jane Mancini Billson, Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America (New York:
Lexington, 1992); Ulf Hannerz, Soulside: Inquiries into Ghetto Culture and Community (1969; repr. New
York: Columbia University Press, 2004).