Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

African Americans in Monroe facilitate Robert Williams's militant resistance

Williams describes the way in which Robert's militancy fit into the wider African American community. Though the white community saw Robert as a threat, he found allies in elderly women, who hid weapons African Americans were using to defend themselves. Elderly African Americans were fed up with their treatment by white segregationists, Williams explains, and appreciated that Robert was a useful member of their community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

DAVID CECELSKI:
[unclear] He was a dangerous man to have around. Dangerous man to be married to. Dangerous man to have as your neighbor. Sounds like [unclear] .
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yeah. It may sound like that. But everybody in the neighborhood who knew Robert, and knew his family, and knew his activity knew that Robert cared about his people.
DAVID CECELSKI:
And they rose to the situation.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
They rose to the situation especially the old women. Robert always was a person who would go and sit, and talk with the older people and learn from them, and listen to them. And they knew that. They knew that. I remember a Mrs. King was one of his mother's best friends. His mother passed away the year we were married. But her best friend was Mrs. King who lived right down the street near us. And she came and told him one day, or he went down there and she told him, said, "The FBI came down here saying they wanted to give you a job. And wanting to know about your activities. And I told them that if they wanted to know anything about you to go up there and ask you or your Daddy or some of your people. That I wasn't about to tell them anything." She said, "I don't know what them people were up to. They said they were from the FBI and they were getting ready to give you a good job." [Laughter]
DAVID CECELSKI:
And who was the lady that hid weapons?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
His aunt, the older lady. The one I told you the FBI said she was worse than him. Oh, no. She did, too.
DAVID CECELSKI:
[unclear]
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Oh yes. But Mrs. Crowder who was a neighbor a couple of doors below us, when we went back to Monroe, Rob and I came back to Monroe, Mrs. Crowder had some of those guns in her attic that had been there. She had hid some of the guns in her house.
DAVID CECELSKI:
She was a domestic or—?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Just a domestic, an older lady, a lady who had been in the community for years, church-going. All of these people were Christian church-going people.
DAVID CECELSKI:
And she was hiding weapons for Rob?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, for the community.
DAVID CECELSKI:
For the community.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
For the community because she felt that if that community had to—. If the Klan came—. Those people were really—. Our people were really fed up with the crap that the Klan had been intimidating them with for all these years. I remember one family. I think you saw me speak to a young man this morning. A young man who came in. He's in the military now. No, he's retired from the military. He used to be one of our neighbors. And his grandma told us stories about their family down in Georgia and how they had been run out by the Klan. They had been run out of Georgia, her husband, just for speaking up. They had run all the way from Georgia and had settled in North Carolina. Well, needless to say, they certainly didn't want to see the Klan come into our community and do what they had done in Georgia. So—and most of these men who had worked on the railroad were really—I'll say mentally—they were not—they were impacted by the racism of the white workers on the railroad. And how it impacted our community. They could see how they white men had no respect for us. And the fact that most of the black men who worked on the railroad were—they could never get a job as say a boilermaker. But they would get the job as a boilermaker helper. That's what Daddy John was. Daddy John was the one who washed the boilers down. And he was the one who did the boilermaker work because the boilermaker, even though he had the name and the job and got the pay, most of the time he'd be drunk and he knew he didn't have to produce. He had John there to produce for him. And the same thing about most of the black men from that community who worked on the railroad. And they could see the inequities of the system, and how they disrespected them and got away with it. But they were getting the big pay. And so they could hear them talking about being Klan members and, you know, there was nothing that they felt like they could do about it at the time, way back them. But they certainly didn't like it and they passed that on to their children, you know, letting them know, that you know, these folks are no good for us. They don't really mean us any good. So
DAVID CECELSKI:
What I'm trying to understand [unclear] I guess what I mean is your relationship, the connection between the people [unclear] . I know, of course, your neighbors were tired of the Klan. But neighbors all over North Carolina were tired of the Klan. You know what I mean. I mean people had been through it everywhere or at least that's what I assume. I assume that New Town wasn't like—that it was a fairly average place with the exception of Robert Williams. Do you know what I mean?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yeah, yeah.
DAVID CECELSKI:
And that maybe the people were ready, but –
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Well you know at a time when Robert first got to be the president of the NAACP some of his old classmates and school mates would cross the street uptown to keep from speaking to him.
DAVID CECELSKI:
Well, right. That's what you were talking about [unclear] .
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Right. And they were afraid. But the older people, the older people were the ones in our neighborhood. They were the ones who were most supportive it seems to me. I mean the older, old folks. I'm not talking about the ones of Robert's age. I'm talking about these old people who were just fed up with the crap that the white folks had put them through all these years. And when they saw this young man who was a product of their community. The son of Emma Williams who was one of the known Christian women in their community. That they had prayer meeting at his house, you know. And here is this young man that Emma had taught to respect us and to come and bring in wood and coal for us. And do chores around the house. And now he's down there raising a family and he's teaching his boys to come and work for us and help look out for us. Come and read to us if there's something—if we have some papers we don't understand. Call Robert Williams, he'll come down and explain them to you, you know. Those kinds of things. Those are the people that I'm talking about in our community that were—they weren't afraid of Rob.
DAVID CECELSKI:
That's very interesting.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
And they would get so angry when they knew that the police were harassing him, or somebody, you know the Klan was trying to harass him.
DAVID CECELSKI:
How would they show their support? Some of them would [unclear] hide guns.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yeah. But that was the—that's not the norm. But they just never broke off any relationship. You know, they would visit, or call for us to come and visit. Fix food for us on occasion. Call us down to come. "Come. I fixed a special pot of this, that and the other." Take care of the kids when we needed somebody to baby-sit.
DAVID CECELSKI:
[unclear]
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yeah. But, like I said, that was the older people. And they knew that Rob was not teaching anything that was detrimental to them or even teaching the young people anything detrimental. And sometimes if the kids were getting out of line, they'd call Rob to talk to them, you know. So that's the way that went.