The Deacons for Defense and Justice

The Deacons for Defense and Justice was an armed self defense African American civil rights organization in the U.S. Southern states during the 1960s. Historically, the organization practiced self-defense methods in the face of racist oppression that was carried out by Jim Crow Laws; local and state agencies; and the Ku Klux Klan. Many times the Deacons are not written about or cited when speaking of the Civil Rights Movement because their agenda of self-defense, in this case, using violence (if necessary) did not fit the image of strict non-violence agenda that leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached about during the Civil Rights Movement. Yet, there has been a recent debate over the crucial role the Deacons and other lesser known militant organizations played on local levels throughout much of the rural South. Many times in these areas the Federal government did not always have complete control over to enforce such laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group of African American men were mostly veterans of World War II and the Korean War, organized in Jonesboro, Louisiana, on July 10, 1964. Their goal was to combat Ku klux Klan violence against Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) volunteers who were participating in voter registration activities (Deacons for Defense and Justice/ Africana Online: Breaking News, US)

The Deacons in Bogalusa were born on February 1, 1965, when Robert Hicks organized an armed guard for Bill Yates and Steve Miller, an improvised, ad hoc response to a specific threat. As guns became a fact of everyday life, however, Bill Yates realized that somebody needed to explain the mechanics of organizing a regular armed self-defense group that could provide reliable, round-the-clock protection. He arranged for two members of the Jonesboro Deacons, plus white CORE worker Charles Fenton, to visit Bogalusa (Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972).

In his book, Deacons for Defense, Lance Hill (The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement) directs long overdue attention to the Deacons for Defense (DFD) and what he rightly calls, "The Myth of Nonviolence." Using an impressive array of sources including: archival materials, government documents, FBI files and a substantial body of oral history, Hill argues "that black collective force did not simply enhance the bargaining power of moderates; it was the source of their power."  Even the limited success of civil rights organizations such as SNCC, CORE, the NAACP or the SCLC depended upon the threat of collective black violence in the form of Malcolm X, urban rebellions or the DFD. As one of African Americans' most successful, if least remembered, indigenous working class political movements in the South, the significance of the Deacons for Defense rested not only in their advocacy of armed self defense, but also in the ideological challenge they represented for middle class black leadership (Journal of Social History 39.1 (2005) 254-256).


 TTHC 4 (
- they were protected by an organization known as the Deacons for Defense and Justice.
                                        Don't you wish you were WHITE

1. Why would these ladies hold up such a sign?
2. Explain why minorities would NOT have protested this sign.
3. What is the real message these ladies are attempting to get across?
4. How might blacks or other minorities have felt and reacted after viewing this sign?
5. What symbols of racism is depicted in the picture above?
6. Describe race relations today compared to the 1960s.