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Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Mabel Williams paints a vivid picture of segregated Monroe, North Carolina, detailing the subjugation that ate away at African Americans' sense of self. Among those who resisted was Williams's husband, Robert, the descendant of a long line of assertive African Americans, who slept with a pearl-handled revolver under his pillow. Williams remembers Robert for much of this interview, describing how his militant, assertive conviction in racial equality clashed with the rigid segregationist mentality in Monroe. Unable to assimilate in the way that many African Americans did, Robert earned the ire of white city fathers, who prevented him from finding employment in a quest to injure him and his family and undermine his masculinity. The local newspaper stopped printing his letters, one of his only safety valves for expressing the frustrations that gave him migraine headaches. But these efforts at stifling Robert's activism failed; he only grew more determined to resist white supremacy, arming himself and training fellow African Americans in armed self-defense. Guns became an important part of the Williamses' lives, whether on Robert's hip or on the seat of the car next to Mabel. Thus protected, Robert organized demonstrations to desegregate an all-white swimming pool, and even ran for mayor. Williams eventually left not only Monroe, but the United States altogether. This interview is a detailed account of the life and work of one civil rights activist who believed in violent resistance in a time of nonviolent protest.
    Excerpts
  • Segregation instills a subservient mind-set
  • African Americans struggle to cultivate pride amid a barrage of casual racism
  • Unhealthy conditions in black area of a segregated hospital
  • Racial discrimination in a wealthy home
  • Robert Williams's desire "to stand up for the right thing"
  • Robert Williams's bold legacy
  • Robert Williams's family history of empowerment
  • Materialism hurts the United States
  • Robert Williams's activism troubles some of his black peers
  • Letters to newspapers are a safety valve for the pressure of segregation
  • NAACP members face retaliation
  • Support from some churchmen for a black activist, but most whites seek to harm him
  • Founding The Crusader
  • African-American activists defend their home against violent attacks
  • Robert Williams's assertiveness unites the black community in Monroe
  • African Americans in Monroe facilitate Robert Williams's militant resistance
  • Demonstrations to desegregation a swimming pool
  • Robert Williams displays guns to intimidate white segregationists
  • Three attempts on Robert Williams's life
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.