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The University of North Carolina Press
The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement / Edition 1

The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement / Edition 1

by Lance HillLance Hill
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In 1964 a small group of African American men in Jonesboro, Louisiana, defied the nonviolence policy of the mainstream civil rights movement and formed an armed self-defense organization—the Deacons for Defense and Justice—to protect movement workers from vigilante and police violence. With their largest and most famous chapter at the center of a bloody campaign in the Ku Klux Klan stronghold of Bogalusa, Louisiana, the Deacons became a popular symbol of the growing frustration with Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent strategy and a rallying point for a militant working-class movement in the South.

Lance Hill offers the first detailed history of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, who grew to several hundred members and twenty-one chapters in the Deep South and led some of the most successful local campaigns in the civil rights movement. In his analysis of this important yet long-overlooked organization, Hill challenges what he calls "the myth of nonviolence—the idea that a united civil rights movement achieved its goals through nonviolent direct action led by middle-class and religious leaders. In contrast, Hill constructs a compelling historical narrative of a working-class armed self-defense movement that defied the entrenched nonviolent leadership and played a crucial role in compelling the federal government to neutralize the Klan and uphold civil rights and liberties.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807857021
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 02/27/2006
Edition description: 1
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 323,470
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)
Lexile: 1530L (what's this?)

About the Author

Lance Hill is adjunct professor of history at Tulane University. Contact the author by email at

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Hill's ground-breaking, historical narrative is exhaustively researched. . . . His scholarly reconstruction adds not only to Southern historiography, but to that of the United States as well.—Louisiana History

Grapples with a topic of great importance. . . . Challenges historians to continue to rethink black freedom movements in relationship to gender and manhood; the divergent strategies of civil rights organizations; the role of indigenous working-class blacks; the importance of our collective memory or amnesia as well as how we choose to remember those civil rights movements themselves.—Journal of Social History

Hill has written a bold and provocative book challenging the prevailing civil rights narrative. . . . This reviewer recommends this book highly and welcomes the debate it will generate.—Historian

This is a significant book. Hill tells a compelling story of an important organization at a critical juncture of the Freedom movement. . . . Hill raises important questions for his study and others that will follow. This is not a timid book, and Hill deserves considerable credit for venturing into territory where the historiography is still shifting and unsettled. He is not afraid to take on big questions, nor important analyses. His emphasis on the class implications and the timeliness of the self-defense strategy at this stage of the movement seem especially vital.—The North Carolina Historical Review

[A] ground-breaking, historical narrative. . . . [Hill's] scholarly reconstruction adds not only to Southern historiography, but to that of the United States as well.—Louisiana History

Lance Hill's book is the first full account of the [Deacons for Defense] and fills a major lacuna in the history of the era and the movement. It is also a welcome corrective to the school of civil rights historians who try to fix this multipronged, protean movement into the static polarities of nonviolence and violence, liberal integration and radical separatism. . . . Hill has done a service by rescuing the Deacons from oblivion.—The Nation

A compellingly detailed and gripping historical narrative. . . . Hill combines hands-on research . . . with an intimate and engaging narrative style. . . . Without his book, the history of the civil rights movement is indeed incomplete.—New Orleans Tribune

[Hill's] thorough and original history of the Deacons for Defense and Justice . . . is more than an impressive account of a now-obscure group that left no written records. The Deacons for Defense is also a forceful . . . challenge to the shelfful of civil rights histories that tell a story in which nonviolence was indeed an essential and defining quality of the Southern movement's success. . . . An important corrective to popular simplifications. . . . Highly valuable.—David J. Garrow, Chicago Tribune

Hill . . . brings to life this forgotten story—which traditionally has been overshadowed by the non-violence movement, and often suppressed by African-Americans. . . . A fascinating and dramatic book. . . . Hill makes a persuasive case that many of the most important victories in the civil rights movement came as a result of the Deacons and the measures they took and advocated. . . . A must-read for historians and anyone interested in the civil rights movement.—New Orleans Times-Picayune

This refreshing and illuminating account documents how militant black men, most of them working class and many of them military veterans, used armed self-defense to supplement nonviolent direct action. Lance Hill treats their struggle with the analysis and respect it deserves and opens a new window into freedom movement history.—Michael Honey, University of Washington




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