American Reckoning: Black Resistance (Excerpt)Watch the video
AKINYELE UMOJA: Natchez and the other side of the Mississippi River probably had the largest Klan group per capita in the United States. But you know, they were afraid of the Deacons. They didn’t know what they were dealing with.
RICHARD “DIP” LEWIS: See, they thought it was 500 of us. Starting off, wasn’t but five of us.
E.L. MCDANIEL (GRAND DRAGON, UNITED KLANS OF AMERICA): These Deacons for Defense, we know who they are and I’m sure that they know who I am. One thing I can say for every white man that dies at the hand of these filthy mobs, there are going to be hundreds of those no-good African jungle bunnies that’s going to go down in the streets.
LELAND BOYD: I had a lot of fear. I was expecting to have another Civil War.
RICHARD “DIP” LEWIS: Ku Klux Klan used to take pictures of us. Thought we was gonna run.
SER CLIFFORD BOXLEY: The Klan had signs saying, “The Klan is watching you.” And they would have signs saying, “The Deacons are watching you.”
JAMES JACKSON: Now I mean, I’m as afraid as the next man. I’m scared, man, you know? But you got a time set to die. Like Metcalfe’s car got blowed all to pieces, man. He’s still alive. So you don’t die until your time comes. By taking a risk, man, that don’t mean that you going to get hurt. You know what I mean?
OTIS FLEMING (DEACONS FOR DEFENSE): There’s not many of us, but if we’re together, just like a fist, man, just like a fist, we can be stronger than we can if you just come out open like this, you know?
AKINYELE UMOJA: You began to see the Deacons out in front protecting demonstrations, protecting Black leaders, protecting the community.
TONY BYRNE: The white people were concerned when they saw the Black people carrying guns. They knew about the so-called Deacons for Defense. It was, I’m sure, very frightening to a whole lot of them.
DEBRA JACKSON SYLVESTER: As a little girl participating in the marches, just seeing how they were throwing stuff at us, calling us n——. It was just ugly.
RICHARD “DIP” LEWIS: If they were out there marching and some white boy wanted to break in there to jump on somebody, we grabbed them and stomped them to the ground.
AKINYELE UMOJA: With the Deacons you had a rhetoric that was different from previous rhetoric you would hear from Martin Luther King and others in the nonviolent aspect of the movement.
JAMES JACKSON: I believe, just like Martin Luther King, everybody else, I believe in nonviolence, you know? On the other hand, I believe that our people should stop getting killed.
AKINYELE UMOJA (GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY): Self-defense is a longer tradition that goes on in Black communities from our inception, right?
SER CLIFFORD BOXLEY: I go to a meeting of the Deacons for Defense and I observed the fact that they needed more weapons, so I invite Dip here, along with a spokesperson for the Deacons named James Stokes, to California.
JAMES STOKES (SPOKESMAN, DEACONS FOR DEFENSE): Boxley introduced me to a different organization.
RICHARD “DIP” LEWIS: We told them about what was going on down here in Natchez, and they gave us guns. And they gave us money.
SER CLIFFORD BOXLEY: When they came back they had the capacity to hit the street immediately to checkmate the Klan.