The Heroes You Haven't Heard Of

by Damon L. Fordham

Since the movie Amistad, about the brave Africans who took over a slave ship and eventually returned to Africa has come out, there have been many people (even among those with a strong knowledge of Black History) who have never heard of this story or of Joseph Cinque, the leader of the African rebels. The truth is that in spite of what many movies tell you, there were MANY Black people who bravely took a stand for their rights than just Joseph Cinque, Dr. King, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers. I will deal with a few of them here.

In the early 1900's, lynchings (mob killings) of African Americans were a national pastime. According to records that are kept on this at Tuskegee University in Alabama, there were 4,733 known cases of Blacks being lynched between 1882 and 1959 and lynchings were sometimes advertised in newspapers in advance. What is not often told was that there were Blacks who bravely resisted this brutality.

According to 100 Years of Lynchings by Ralph Ginzburg, a little known example of courage in the face of a lynching occurred in Camilla, Georgia on January 30, 1921. A wealthy Black farmer named Jim Rowland and his friends were standing in front of a store across from a White farmer named Jason Harvel and his friends. At one point, Harvel and his friends decided to have some "fun" by pulling out his gun and ordering Brother Rowland to dance for them. Brother Rowland refused to degrade himself in this manner and grabbed the gun. It is unclear whether the gun went off or Rowland shot him, but James Harvel wound up dead. Harvel's friends soon formed a mob and went after Brother Rowland. When the mob caught up with him, the leader of the mob pulled a gun on Brother Rowland and once again ordered him to dance. Brother Rowland boldly refused and to make a long story short, chose death before dishonor.

Eighteen years later in Miami, Florida, a bold undertaker named Samuel B. Solomon organized African Americans in that city to take advantage of their legal rights and register to vote. According to the June, 1939 issue of The Crisis magazine, it turned out that many of the Blacks in that city took his advice, which led the Ku Klux Klan to try their old tricks again. They paraded through the Black community making threats and holding ropes as if they were going to hang the Blacks, but Brother Solomon boldly led 1,000 African American voters to the polls to the surprise of the Klansmen, who did not carry out their threats. This act of courage moved the great African-American poet Langston Hughes to write:

Sam Solomon said, "Go get out your Klan-
But you must have forgotten, a Negro is a MAN!"

Eighteen years later, the Klan was causing trouble up in Monroe, NC. According to an unpublished manuscript by Julian Mayfield (who was there at the time), NAACP protests against segregation led to the Black section of Monroe being terrorized by parades of Klansmen who fired shots, insulted, and attacked people at will. These attacks stopped on the night of October 5, 1957. The Klansmen went to the Black section to do their usual business when they were suddenly cornered and confronted by a group of Black men armed with rifles led by a local NAACP president and former marine named Robert Williams. Williams told the surprised Klansmen, "GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!" which was exactly what they did!

Unfortunately, that was not the end of Brother Williams' problems. According to The Making of Black Revolutionaries by James Foreman, after several Whites were freed in cases involving the alleged molestation of Black women in Monroe, Williams stood on the courthouse steps and shouted, "if we feel that injustice has been done, we must be willing to punish these people!" He was suspended by NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins for this. In 1961, after the US government tried to overthrow Fidel Castro's rule in Cuba, Brother Williams sent a telegram to the US Ambassador to the United Nations that the Cuban ambassador read aloud, stating that if America was willing to send armies to fight Castro, then the US should "send armies, bombs, and tanks against the racist tyrants of the South." The Foreign ambassadors cheered while American ambassador Adlai Stevenson turned red in the face.

Meanwhile, Monroe was on the verge of a race war as more Klansmen attacked civil rights demonstrators. When an innocent White couple accidentally drove into a neighborhood of angry Blacks, Williams sheltered them into his home and was falsely accused of kidnapping this couple. Brother Williams and his wife thus fled to Cuba for seven years until he returned in 1969. He died in Michigan in 1996 and his book Negroes with Guns was a major influence on Huey Newton and Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party.

The purpose of this article is NOT to incite or encourage unnecessary racial violence. This is to help many people understand that history shows that they are not powerless when they are faced with great obstacles and powerful enemies and that it is possible to take a stand. This also shows why people should not wait for movies to be made to learn about great heroes. The books are there and it is up to you to read them and tell others about them so that the people may be inspired to have courage when the time for it comes.

The Heroes You Haven't Heard Of by Damon L. Fordham

© Copyright 1998. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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