The Deacons for Defense and Justice

Many African American men, in particular, refused to participate in nonviolent protests because they believed that passive resistance to white violence simply reproduced the same degrading rituals of domination and submission that suffused the master/slave relationship.

 

Those who have been following this blog know that I’m a student of Black history. I’ve been on this journey for the past 9 years, and every discovery enlightens and upsets me. The Civil Rights Movement was a major milestone in American history, but most of the dialogue is centered around non-violent protests, boycotts, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, I came across an organization that’s been overlooked (for obvious reasons) in a lot of mainstream discussions about that time. So it’s only right that I share my findings with you all.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice

The Deacons

Developed in 1964 by Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas and Frederick Kirkpatrick, in Jonesboro, Louisiana, The Deacons for Defense and Justice was formed to protect Black communities and Civil Rights Activists from the Ku Klux Klan and other racists vigilantes. They guarded marches, patrolled Black communities, and engaged in shoot-outs and physical confrontations with the KKK and local police. Initially, the group referred to itself as the “Jonesboro Legal and Defense Association,” “Justice and Defense Club,” or “J&D Club.” In 1965, they officially surfaced as The Deacons for Defense and Justice. And by the end of 1966, the organization had over 21 chapters with several hundred members throughout Louisiana and Mississippi.

Lance Hill’s The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement shed light on several incidents that grew the organization. The precursor was the constant harassment from the Ku Klux Klan, which left many Black men angry and eager for action. It started as a self-defense organization to compensate for the lack of police protection, but they soon developed into a political organization that countered the pacifist ideologies of many within the Civil Rights Movement. The Deacons challenged the Klan, local police, and the southern code that denied Blacks the right to open self-defense. Within a matter of months, they created a synergy amongst southern Blacks that destroyed the docile mentality from previous generations and encouraged them to fight back.

Many within my community credit Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panther Party for sparking Black militancy throughout the country. But it if weren’t for organizations like The Deacons for Defense and Justice, I believe that our narrative, particularly here in the south, would be a lot different. They were truly a grassroots group of working-class Black men who had enough and decided to take matters into their own hands. The fact that they not only wanted to protect their communities but fight for their honor as men, took my respect for them to another level.

Until Next Time…

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