Right to Bear Arms : A Critical Part of Black American History

When the Supreme Court ruled favorably on the 2nd Amendment rights of individuals to keep and bear arms, thus swatting down a 28 year gun ban in the city of Chicago, Justice Clarence Thomas supported the majority opinion with a fascinating look at Civil War Reconstruction Era and the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. As Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit points out;

Very interesting to see both the majority and Justice Thomas reference the racist roots of gun control so strongly.
Thomas' opinion stresses that the amendment that freed the slaves provides the legal buttress for the individual's right to bear arms through Section 1 of the 14th Amendment's known as the "Privileges and Immunities Clause." Here are some selected highlights in the black justice's history lesson:
After the Civil War, Southern anxiety about an uprising among the newly freed slaves peaked. As Representative Thaddeus Stevens is reported to have said, “[w]hen it was first proposed to free the slaves, and arm the blacks, did not half the nation tremble? The prim conservatives, the snobs, and the male waiting-maids in Congress, were in hysterics.” ...

As the Court explains, this fear led to “systematic efforts” in the “old Confederacy” to disarm the more than 180,000 freedmen who had served in the Union Army, as well as other free blacks. ... Some States formally prohibited blacks from possessing firearms. ... Others enacted legislation prohibiting blacks from carrying firearms without a license, a restriction not imposed on whites. ... Additionally, “[t]hroughout the South, armed parties, often consisting of ex-Confederate soldiers serving in the state militias, forcibly took firearms from newly freed slaves.” ...

As the Court makes crystal clear, if the Fourteenth Amendment “had outlawed only those laws that discriminate on the basis of race or previous condition of servitude, African-Americans in the South would likely have remained vulnerable to attack by many of their worst abusers: the state militia and state peace officers.” ... In the years following the Civil War, a law banning firearm possession outright “would have been nondiscriminatory only in the formal sense,” for it would have “left fire-arms in the hands of the militia and local peace officers.” ...

One way in which the Federal Government responded was to issue military orders countermanding Southern arms legislation. ... [A] Jan. 17, 1866, order from Major General D. E. Sickles, ... [read] “The constitutional rights of all loyal and well-disposed inhabitants to bear arms will not be infringed”. The significance of these steps was not lost on those they were designed to protect. After one such order was issued, The Christian Recorder, published by the African Methodist Episcopal Church,published the following editorial:
“‘We have several times alluded to the fact that the Constitution of the United States, guaranties to every citizen the right to keep and bear arms. . . . All men, without the distinction of color, have the right to keep arms to defend their homes, families, or themselves.’

“We are glad to learn that [the] Commissioner for this State . . . has given freedmen to understand that they have as good a right to keep fire arms as any other citizens. The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land, and we will be governed by that at present.” Right to Bear Arms, Christian Recorder (Phila.), Feb. 24, 1866, pp. 29–30.
Thus began the movement to draft and ratify the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. Section 1 of the amendment assures all citizens equal rights and prohibits the States from abridging the privileges granted.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Over the next hundred years, black Americans struggled mightily for equal footing until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's brought about a new direction for minorities. The renowned leader of that movement was, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. but the movement was supported by many black organizations. Dymphna at Gates of Vienna remembers the Deacons for Defense and Justice.
The Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group of blacks in the South who believed in armed self-defense against an entrenched hatred that often led to killings of innocent black people, particularly black men.

The myth of Martin Luther King’s touted “non-violence” as a way to bring about justice steadfastly ignores the reality of King’s armed body guards and the arsenal of weapons kept in his home - kept there illegally, by the way. Dr. King couldn’t get a gun permit.

Given the times, King’s public image as the American Gandhi was probably good strategy; it reassured the fearful white majority and no doubt prevented much bloodshed. However, the armed “Deacons of Defense” were as vital and necessary a part of the struggle as was Dr. King’s approach.

An isolated farm surrounded by the sudden arrival of truckloads of hatred in the middle of the night could change the equation instantly with the judicious application of one shot over the heads of those hate-mongers. It didn’t solve the problem instantly, but it allowed enough time for the troublemakers to sober up. One armed black farmer lived to plow another day.

This part of black history has been neglected; I hope that the coming generations will pay the respect of close attention due these men.
Now we know that King's "non-violence" was a necessary charade. So also was the myth that M.L. King was "Moses" leading the flock. For example it was not MLK's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) that launched the "Freedom Rides" in 1961; it was the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) that did the organizing. Acceptance of King and his policy was also not universal.
Privately, King's supporters knew that non-violence was not an outlook everyone shared, and [aide Wyatt] Walker amused King by telling him of how one black Virginian had responded to a white bus driver who wanted him to enter his bus by the back door. A massive figure, the man had picked up the driver with one hand and said bluntly: 'Know two things. I can break your neck, and I ain't one of Martin Luther King's non-violent Negroes.'  [Ed. note:  It is hard to believe "Negroes" was the word used when this tale was told in the '60s. This is almost certainly BBC political correctness.]
The armed Deacons for Defense had 21 organizations scattered throughout the South keeping KKK counter-insurgency at bay. In 1966, King was challenged by a militant Malcom X and the "Block Power" movement.

Liberals will argue that M.L. King's leadership and nonviolence was the reason for the success of the Civil Rights Movement. They will point out that ready access to guns resulted in Rev. King's assassination in Memphis by a racist white man. That argument aside, it is clear in retrospect that without access to firearms by blacks, the establishment of racial equality in the 1960s would most likely have failed.

  • Gadfly:
    That's some good HISTORY you got going on here.
    Many people often forget we had BLACK patriots in every war we fouhgt,not the least of which was our very own WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE!
    Blacks carried arms then.
    They fought for this nation...and died for this nation.

    Every free man should have the "right to keep and bear arms", unless he/she has proven or otherwise given reason to have such right denied in order to protect the rights of others in their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.