Caro Kann-The Story of Robert F. Williams

Turn the Tables: The Counterattack Strategy. Moving first shows your opponent your strategy. Wait; draw them to make the first move. Analyze their strategy and counterattack based on the weaknesses they reveal.-Robert Greene 33 Strategies of War

The Caro Kann is a strategic defensive chess opening played from the black side of the chessboard to neutralize white’s advantage in tempo due to it having the first move. If played correctly, it is not only a solid defense, but offers excellent opportunities for devastating counter-attacks that can render your opponent defenseless. Although it’s a common line for chess players, it’s tactics and strategies are transferrable to real life. Such was the case of Robert F. Williams and the Black Guard.

Robert Franklin Williams entered the Marine Corp in the early 1950’s to become a soldier. When he enlisted his test scores indicated that he skills were best suited for the intelligence/propaganda arena of warfare. In spite of President Harry Truman’s executive order de-segregating the military, many black battalions remained nothing more than a labor corp for the U.S. Armed Forces. Robert Williams wrote his Senator about this problem. As a result, he was labeled a troublemaker and was later discharged from the Marine Corp. But not before he learned some very important lessons about warfare and combat.

When he returned to Monroe, NC in the mid 50’s the Civil Rights Revolution was just beginning. He observed how the Klan intimidated, violated and assaulted blacks in Monroe with impunity. He asked himself how could men who had fought the Nazis so hard in WWII stand idily by and allow such aggression to go on unabated and un-answered? He soon joined the NAACP. But his recruitment strategy was different than most organizers of the time. Instead of recruiting educated blacks from the upper and middle class, he recruited black men and women from the jook joints and pool halls of the city. Williams formally announced to the new members that he had had enough of the Klan; and when he observed the father of the Late Senator Jesse Helms kick a black man off the curb for merely chatting with his own son, Williams knew that whites in Monroe had become far too comfortable with the status quo. Therefore, he decided that his NAACP Chapter would defend themselves against white mob violence at all costs.

As fate would have it, he would come to prominence as a result of the infamous “Kissing Case.” When two young black boys were beaten, arrested and incarcerated for kissing a little white girl on her cheek, Williams set about organizing for their defense. Kissing a white girl in the Jim Crow South was like being an ice cream cone in hell; you weren’t gonna be around long. The Monroe NAACP under Williams’ leadership was instrumental in bringing national and international publicity on the city to such a degree, that Governor Luther Hodge granted the young boys clemency after placing them in reformatory for 3 months.

But the case that made Williams iconic was the case of Mary Reid. Mary Reid was a black woman who was raped by two white men. The black community wanted immediate retaliation. Williams discouraged their thirst for revenge by telling them that the men would be rightfully punished by the courts. Southern justice would later reveal that his confidence was misplaced. When the trial began, things began to go awry right away when the judge refused to allow the independent prosecutor from New York to litigate the case. However, he allowed the Defense Attorney to go on ad nauseum about how the men were just having a little fun, and that they would never cheat on their beautiful white wives for a black woman. The jury took about 10 mins to return a verdict of not guilty. When asked his reaction, Williams exploded. He said: “From this day forward, we going to meet violence with violence. We will become our own judges, our own prosecutors, and our own executioners.” NAACP President Roy Wilkins immediately expelled him from the NAACP.

Without missing a beat, Williams founded the Black Guard; an organization whose goal was to protect and defend the black community in Monroe.  The Klan thought it was time to teach these negroes a lesson. Thus, they began prowling the streets in caravans, striking people with objects from cars and randomly beating community members. Williams and the Guard understood what had to be done and so they prepared for battle. They armed themselves, dug foxholes, filled sandbags and waited for the coming showdown. When the Klan arrived, they were showered in a hail of lead that sent them running from the black community like a prostitute from an H.I.V. test.

City officials would not let such brazen defiance stand.  They would later attempt to frame Williams when he retained a white couple to protect them from an angry mob of counter-protesters who were there to oppose Civil Rights demonstrations. After the mob dispersed, Williams saw to it that they made it safely to their destination. However, he was now charged him with kidnapping. Having tasted southern justice in The Kissing and Mary Reid Cases, Williams fled to Cuba where he set up a radio station called Radio Free Dixie. When the Russians, who were advisers to Castro’s government, pressured him(Castro) to shut down Williams’s’ radio station, he fled to China where he was greeted and treated like a Head of State.

However, Williams was not one to tow anyone’s party line be it communist or capitalist. So in 1970, he chose to come back to the U.S. and stand trial.  But when the Prosecution could not get the alleged victims to testify against him, the state instantaneously dismissed the charges. In an ironic twist of fate, the U.S. Government would pursue Williams once again. But this time, it wasn’t to frame him or place him under surveillance. It was to help them normalize diplomatic relations with China. Due predominantly to his influence, China and the U.S broke the ice of a 20 year war of silence and began diplomatic relations.

Robert Williams espoused armed self-defense when Huey Newton was still in high school. While the Nation of Islam talked about self defense, The Black Guard was actually repelling Klan violence. What is even more interesting is that Williams recruited not only working class black people, but street hustlers as well. However, he was careful to maintain a very tight discipline over them. And as a result, the hustlers became the most the dedicated members of the Guard. Williams gave them a target at which to direct their anger. When they were able to strike back at the source of their oppression, Williams noticed that their antisocial behavior literally vanished into thin air. It should be noted that the Guard not only faced off against the Ku Klux Klan, they engaged the Monroe Police Department in an armed standoff in the middle of an all white mob and survived!

Though the fringe white right tried to link him to some international communist conspiracy, he never once quoted the Communist Manifesto. Robert Williams was simply a man who had enough. He understood that trying to appeal to the mercy of your tormentor was an exercise in martyrdom. The cemetery is littered with the monuments of those who overestimated their captors’ propensity for compassion. He was once said that: “when you arm yourself, the white man has to risk his superior life to take your inferior one. And when faced with that decision, he will usually think twice.” Robert Williams used his military skill and talent to organize black men into a fighting unit that turned the tables on Klan violence in Monroe, NC. No member of the Black Guard was ever killed or incarcerated for the 1960 shootout. They escaped the hand of COINTELPRO, fought the Klan and lived to tell the story. At his funeral in 1996, Rosa Parks said that although the Civil Rights Movement had no alliance with him, he was her hero. His insistence on self defense is memorialized in Claude Mckay’s poem: If We Must Die. ”

"Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!"

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