Title: Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266.
Interviewer: Cecelski, David
Interviewee: Williams, Mabel
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.