The discriminatory treatment and biased actions of white vigilante groups and law enforcement agencies towards black civil rights activists during the mid and late 20th century led to the formation of an armed group of African-Americans.
This group was founded with the goal of protecting and ensuring the civil and political rights of black minorities in white-dominated communities. In November 1964, this group of armed African-Americans became widely known as the Deacons of defense.
So who are the deacons of defense, what did they do, and why did they do what they did? In celebration of black history month, this article will reveal all you need to know about the deacons of defense as well as the importance of the group, especially in areas relating to the civil and political rights of African-Americans.
Table of Contents
Why Was The DOD Founded?
The Deacons of Defense was founded due to the discrimination and unjust treatment of African-American civil rights activists.
Before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, African-Americans were not allowed to exercise any form of civil or political right. The black minority groups were segregated and stopped from participating in the political decisions of the country. But with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came the legal inclusion of African-Americans in political decisions and voting processes. However, that wasn’t the end.
Despite the removal of legal barriers that prevented African Americans from voting, some white-dominated groups and communities especially in southern America were not prepared to allow African Americans to vote or exercise any civil or political right. White vigilante groups like the “Ku Klux Clan” and supporters of the Jim Crow legislation were at the forefront of this resistance.
In a bid to agitate for their civil and political rights, African American civil rights activists engaged in several demonstrations using placards and cardboards to ask that their rights be respected and enforced. But these demonstrations were met with fierce and often violent resistance by the Ku Klux Klan and other biased white majority groups. These groups killed, tortured, and intimidated the black civil activists in a bid to deny them the right to vote.
The unjust treatment, discrimination, and disregard for civil rights of African Americans led a few brave men of the black community to arm themselves with rifles and clubs to defend civil rights activists and to ensure that the political rights of African Americans as entrenched in the 1965 Voting Rights Act is respected.
Who Formed The DOD and Where Was The Group Formed?
The deacons of defense was formed by a group of men led by Earnest Thomas and Frederick Douglas. The first known chapter of the deacons was formed in Jonesboro, Louisiana in mid-1964. By 1965, the deacons had mobilized to form more than 50 chapters throughout southern America.
The members of the deacons of defense were average African Americans and everyday citizens. A good part of the group also consisted of army veterans that served in the Korean war and the second World War. The military training and experience of these veterans helped the deacons of defense stand up to the Ku Klux clan.
What Did The DOD Do?
The actions and operations of the deacons of defense cannot all be highlighted in this article because they were massive. The most notable contributions of the deacons of defense were toward enforcing the civil and political rights of African Americans.
The deacons helped to protect Martin Luther King (MLK) during the civil rights era. During this time, MLK was a top enemy of the Ku Klux Klan. The clan saw MLK as the face of African American resistance to white domination. So to them, his assassination will dwindle the fire of black resistance. But MLK was protected by the deacons as he traveled across the state.
The deacons also protected civil rights workers of the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE). During the civil rights era, CORE traveled across Louisiana, Mississippi, and other states to register African American voters. CORE also engaged in civil rights seminars to sensitize African Americans about their fundamental rights. Due to public segregation, the majority of these seminars were hosted in churches under the protection of the deacons of defense.
How Did The DOD Operate?
The DOD operated in groups. They held meetings in their homes, churches, and black communities. They also went around in their numbers to protect African Americans and civil rights activists.
For instance, in 1964, the deacons of defense showed up when local authorities threatened the desegregation of students at the Jonesboro Louisiana high school. The actions, operations, and arms carried by the deacons helped to curb the actions of the Ku Klux Klan during the civil rights era.
Does The DOD Still Exist Today?
Sadly, the actions of the deacons of defense reduced after 1970 but this was because the civil and political rights of African Americans were being respected after 1968.
However, in every one of us lies the spirit and struggle that birthed the foundation of the deacons of defense. So I am very confident that if the need for the deacons arises again, brave men and women like you and I will answer the call.
In summary, the deacons of defense were a group of armed African American men and women who believed and fought for the enforcement of their civil and political rights. The actions, words, and sacrifices of these brave individuals laid the foundation for equality and justice in the political and civil sphere of the country.