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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Three attempts on Robert Williams's life

Williams describes three attempts on Robert's life. After Robert turned down an bribe from the state's governor, white supremacists seemed to realize that he would accept nothing less than social and economic equality, and resolved to kill him. Williams recalls the attempts on his life here. Despite coordinated efforts at assassination, at least twice with the aid of law enforcement officers, Robert kept himself alive, once with skillful driving, once by brandishing his rifle, and once with help from Williams and her shotgun.

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

These people had built up a lot of frustration.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yes, yes, yes, yes.
DAVID CECELSKI:
And Robert—
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Because at one time the governor sent a black man, a Dr. Larkins, in who was the governor's Negro. Sent him into Monroe to find out what Robert wanted. And Robert gave him the ten-point plan that the NAACP and civic league all had agreed on, which included jobs and, which included equal pay, and which included integration of the schools. And either the provision of a pool or the setting aside of days that black kids could use the pool. Ten points. And Robert told Dr. Larkin, "What I want is the ten-point plan implemented." And Dr. said, "I didn't come down here to find out what your ten points are. I want—the governor wants to know what you want, individually. What you want." And Robert told him again, "I want what my people want. And my people want this ten point plan." And so when they found out—when the governor found out that Robert was not going to sell out the movement—
DAVID CECELSKI:
[unclear]
MABEL WILLIAMS:
He couldn't be bribed. Then that's when all hell broke loose. And these people started to say, "Well we got to kill him. He's not going to give in." Even the NAACP after they had suspended him for saying that we needed to defend ourselves, they sent a man down and told him that if he would renounce his statement that—about violence, that they would take him to New York and make him the biggest Negro leader in the country. Or if it wasn't the NAACP—. Somebody contacted his lawyer, Conrad Lenn and told him that. So Conrad said, "So what do you say, Robert?" And Rob told him, "Say, go to hell. You tell them I said go to hell." And Conrad was just—oh, he was delighted. He said, "Well I already told them that because I knew that's what you would say." [Laughter] So when they found out that he was not going to give into be elevated as a leader of the black people sponsored by the white folks, then they said, "Well if we can't buy him, then we've got to kill him."
DAVID CECELSKI:
What happens then?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Then, three attempts that I know about on his life. I was behind him in cars twice.
DAVID CECELSKI:
Can you tell me a little bit about that? The first couple I know [unclear] . It happened during the pool protest.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yes, yes, yes.
DAVID CECELSKI:
Could you tell me about what happened?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
We were on the way to the pool. Robert—. The kids had been taken to the pool. Robert had gone to get, pick up some more kids. And then Mrs. Johnson and I, one of our co-workers—
DAVID CECELSKI:
[unclear]
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Aselee. We were behind—. Rob was in the car with one of the kids. And we were in the car behind Rob. Of course we had our pistols on the seat. And we were going down this road, Roosevelt Boulevard. Got to the place where they had the little—. It was a Highway Patrol station up on the hill. And Rob was driving his little Hillman car. And when we left this side of town and were trying to follow Rob to the pool, a car came along side and cut in between us. And then another car came and cut in in front of that car. And we couldn't get around. But the other car started bumping into his car and trying to run him off the side of the road. Well, going down that hill, if they had run him off the side of the road in that little car, it would have killed him. And when we were passing the Highway Patrol, that scene stands out in my mind. I was waving and pointing. The Highway Patrolmen, two of them, were standing out watching what was going on.
DAVID CECELSKI:
And just watching.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
And just watching. And I was standing—. I was in the car pointing to what was going on in front of us, and they were just standing there laughing, you know. That was one time when they tried to kill him. But he was able to maneuver and get away. And I think what happened is the—. I think he said that the car seat jammed on the rifle, else he would have been able—he would have had to kill somebody who was trying to kill him. Then when he tried to get the people arrested who had done that the policeman Mooney, told him, "Well you go get him and bring him in and we'll consider arresting him." Well, now you know, even though Rob knew who it was, had he gone on his property to try to get him and bring him in, he would have been killed right then. So, that was one of the situations. And the other one was when we were protesting again at the pool. And they blocked him off and they were getting ready—the police were getting ready to kill him except that one of the—. That he got out. Rob got out with his gun, a long rifle, which he had one of the kids to hand to him. And when he went to put a bullet in the chamber—this big, long bullet about that long fell out. And then the people—. They were getting ready to lynch him that day. They were talking about, "Pour gasoline on the niggers. Kill them." You know. "Burn them up."
DAVID CECELSKI:
That was at—
MABEL WILLIAMS:
That was at Hillltop, yeah. That was—. And we were behind him at that time.
DAVID CECELSKI:
They—
MABEL WILLIAMS:
In a different car.
DAVID CECELSKI:
They stopped his car?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DAVID CECELSKI:
And were there a lot of white people out there?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yeah. It just seems like hundreds and hundreds.
DAVID CECELSKI:
Was it—
MABEL WILLIAMS:
And the police were just directing traffic and pretending they didn't see it until he stepped out with the rifle. And when he stepped out with the rifle and they found out he was armed, then they came running and tried to disarm him at that place. And he would not be disarmed. And finally they had to—they let him out of there because he was armed and they weren't about to disarm him. So he was able to escape that time.
DAVID CECELSKI:
All he had was a rifle?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
He had a rifle. But then the young kid on the other side had his Luger. I believe it was his Luger. And when the policeman went to the side of the car and was going to shoot Rob in the back, the kid put the gun out the window and told him, "If you pull that trigger you're dead." And he backed up. That cop backed up and fell in the ditch. But then, fate, I guess, was with us. God was with us. Those prayers that his mother and my mother and everybody else had had and the neighbors protected, protected us.
DAVID CECELSKI:
And the young people had been well-trained. That took a lot of restraint.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yes it did.
DAVID CECELSKI:
Not to shoot first and then—
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Not to shoot, yes.
DAVID CECELSKI:
To let the situation play out [unclear] .
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yeah, a lot of kids would have just gone on and shot. And then all of them would have been killed at that time. They would have been wiped out. They would have been wiped out. God is good.
DAVID CECELSKI:
And you said there was a third time?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
That was going down Morgan Mill Road one time. And it seemed that Rob—I think Rob outran them. They weren't able to stop him. We were just going down Morgan Mill Road to the pool.
DAVID CECELSKI:
What was the occasion that the deputy took—stopped Rob's car when it had no lights?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
That was after they had butchered up his car. You know when I told you they were jamming his car that time. They knocked out one of his headlights. So I think it was the following Saturday or the Saturday following that. We had just put out "The Crusader." And we were out distributing it. And he was going down one of the back streets near Winchester Avenue. And he was going down Fairley Avenue. And it was about dusk dark. And the police pulled him over and told him that he was under arrest for driving a vehicle with—. That he didn't have any lights on. And he said, "Well it's not dark yet. Why would I be having lights on?" And they said, "Well, it's time for you to have your lights on. And since you don't have your lights on we're going to arrest you and take you to town." And so somehow he was able to convince them that, "Well, let me drive my car. And I will drive the car on and then I'll follow you and I'll go on." And that was down Fairley Avenue. And our street, Boyd Street, ran into Fairley Avenue. And when he got to our street, the police had already passed Boyd Street. He turned in. And then he turned into our driveway.
DAVID CECELSKI:
Now, he didn't think they were going to take him to jail or what—?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Oh yeah. He felt that what they were getting ready to do—and we all felt, knew, that what they were getting ready to do was set him up for a lynching for that night. And so he wasn't about to go to that jail with them. He convinced them somehow that he would follow them to jail. And then he turned off and came into the, our driveway. And I heard the tired screeching and all that.
DAVID CECELSKI:
You were inside the house?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
I was inside the house. And I knew something was up. I didn't know what had happened. But I came out with the shotgun. And he jumped out of the car, his car, and tried to—was trying to get our dog loose because our dog was a German Shepherd and he was bad. And I was standing there with the shotgun. So that's when the police came up and they jumped out of the car. And they were saying they were going to take him to jail. And I said, "Do you have a warrant?" And they said—. They backed up and they saw me with the shotgun. And, so, I said, "If you don't have a warrant, you're not taking him anywhere." And so [Laughter] I guess I was shaking like a leaf. And they said, "This crazy woman is nervous and crazy enough to shoot us." And they got in their car.
DAVID CECELSKI:
What was Rob doing at this time?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
He was trying—he was struggling with the dog because the dog was raging against the chain, you know. And then, well, once he saw that the police were all—they were getting scared, and I handed the shotgun to him. And they really flew them.
DAVID CECELSKI:
I bet they did.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Later on one of the neighbors said, oh, that's the first time they'd ever seen the police run that fast out of a neighborhood. [Laughter]
DAVID CECELSKI:
Did they arrest Rob?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
No. And they never did come back. They never did come back. But we got our gun club together that night because we felt like they were coming back. I told the man, "Well, don't come back unless you got a warrant." But they never did get a warrant and they never did come back. They knew they were wrong. They knew they were wrong. And it wasn't even dark, you know. So, that's another time they would have killed him for sure.
DAVID CECELSKI:
I think we're about—I'm about running out of things.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Okay.
DAVID CECELSKI:
But, didn't you get a—? Didn't you just want to like run off to Canada or something like that long before you actually had to leave?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yes, yes.
DAVID CECELSKI:
Didn't you get tired of having to live—?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
I did get tired of it. I was scared to death.