Shotgun Behind the Door: How Armed Black Southerners Helped Fight for Civil Rights  

Charles Cobb’s new book, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed, tells the story of black Southerners who fought to exercise their 14th, 15th—and Second—amendment constitutional rights.

Martin Luther King Jr. giving his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C. Wikimedia Commons

It’s that ethos that Cobb recaptures with stories of black Southerners who worked behind the scenes to protect civil rights activists who engaged in nonviolent protest, the conversations that student organizers had with local black Southerners about the dilemma of whether or not to “bring their pistol” when they went to try to register to vote, and grassroots cooperation between both sides that quietly undergirded the movement in the rural South.

Cobb invokes the language of “stand your ground” here in an instructive and provocative way, forcing us to learn that along with pushing for constitutional rights promised in the 14th and 15th amendments, black Southerners, quietly, were often also fighting for their Second Amendment rights, too.

Blair L.M. Kelley is an associate professor of history at North Carolina State University and the author of the award-winning book Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson. Follow her on Twitter.