In 1936 in the Jim Crow South, Robert F. Williams
was an 11-year-old black boy in Monroe, North Carolina, who watched helplessly as Jesse Helms Sr.
(father and namesake of the former senator
) beat an African-American woman to the ground and "dragged her off to the nearby jailhouse, her dress up over her head, the same way that a cave man would club and drag his sexual prey."
Years later, after a stint in the segregated military, Williams returned home to Monroe and worked as an NAACP organizer, where he brought international attention to the Kissing Case
, a 1958 incident in which two black boys under the age of 10 were sentenced to a reformatory for kissing a white girl. By then, Williams had also attracted controversy for his advocacy of armed self-defense, a position he outlined in the book Negroes with Guns
. But it would all change overnight in 1961, when Williams landed on FBI's Most Wanted
list, after being charged with kidnapping a white couple that Williams claimed he was trying to save from an angry black crowd.
Williams became a fugitive, accepting asylum in Cuba, where he would broadcast the program Radio Free Dixie
. Then, after having a falling out with the American Communist Party, Williams relocated to China, where Chairman Mao himself issued the Statement Supporting the Afro-Americans in Their Just Struggle Against Racial Imperialism
at Williams' behest. Then, in 1969, Williams successfully bargained with the Nixon Administration to ensure his safe passage back to America, trading inside knowledge of the Cultural Revolution for amnesty from kidnapping charges, which were later dropped by the state of North Carolina in the 1970s.
A Chinese propaganda poster
inspired by Robert F. Williams
The documentary Negroes with Guns: Robert Williams and Black Power (parts 1
, and 6
from Robert F. Williams to Adlai Stevenson at the United Nations
So Long Patrick Henry
, the pilot episode of the TV show I Spy
, which features Ivan Dixon as a fictionalized version of Robert F. Williams
and Muhammad Ali