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Thu, 11.12.1964

The Deacons of Defense, and Justice are Formed

*The Deacons for Defense and Justice are celebrated on this date in 1964.  This was an armed African American self-defense group. They were founded during the 20th century American Civil Rights era in the United States, in the mill town of Jonesboro, Louisiana.

It is intended to protect civil rights activists and their families. They are threatened both by white vigilantes and discriminatory treatment by police under Jim Crow laws. On the day of Malcolm X's assassination (in 1965), the first affiliated chapter was founded in Bogalusa, Louisiana, followed by a total of 20 other chapters in this state, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama. The Bogalusa chapter gained national attention during the summer of 1965 in its violent struggles with the Ku Klux Klan.

Blacks were harassed and attacked by white Klan vigilantes in the mill town of Jonesboro, Louisiana in 1964 including the torching of five churches, a Masonic Hall, and a Baptist center. Given these threats, Earnest "Chilly Willy" Thomas and Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick founded the Deacons for Defense to protect civil rights workers, their families, and the black community. Most of the Deacons were veterans with combat experience from the Korean War and World War II.

The Deacons had a relationship with other civil rights groups that practiced non-violence. Such support by the Deacons allowed the NAACP and CORE to formally observe their traditional parameters of peace. The Deacons protected CORE leader, James Farmer Jr. in 1965. Farmer arrived in Bogalusa to aid in desegregation and required the protection of the Deacons. They ensured his safety from the time he arrived at the New Orleans airport and provided security while Farmer spoke and marched at desegregation events. The Deacons attracted media attention for their protection of Charles Evers' desegregation campaign in Natchez, Mississippi.

Attention was given to them because, unlike similar groups that had come before, the Deacons did not hide their names from the media. This coupled with their use of armed self-defense, and modest beginnings made them heroes to harassed black communities. By 1968, the Deacons' activities were declining, following the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the entry of blacks into politics in the South, and the rise of the Black Power movement. Blacks worked to gain control of more political and economic activities in their communities.

A television movie, Deacons for Defense (2003), directed by Bill Duke and starring Forest Whitaker, was aired about the 1965 events in Bogalusa. The Robert "Bob" Hicks House in Bogalusa commemorates one of the leaders of the Deacons in that city; it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. Fundraising continues for a civil rights museum in Bogalusa to honor the work of the Deacons for Defense; it was expected to open in 2018.

Reference:

UNC Press.org

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