On July 8 1965, CORE led a march in Bogalusa, Louisiana. Like many marches, the Bogalusa march had members of the Deacons for Defense on hand to protect the participants. Deacons Milton Johnson and Henry Austin rode alongside the marchers, keeping an eye on the angry white crowd that followed the march. At first, police escorts were able to separate the marchers from the racist white people who were heckling them; but as the march neared it’s halfway mark, the growing crowd began to throw rocks and bricks at the marchers. When one of the bricks hit 17 year old Hattie Mae Hill in the head, the crowd of white people got closer to her, ripping at her clothes and hitting her. Medics tried to remove her from the crowd, but they were outnumbered. When Johnson was able to pull her into the safety of the car, the crowd targeted him. A white man named Alton Crowe began beating Johnson through the window of the car.
So Henry Austin pulled out his .38 Smith & Wesson and told the crowd to back off. When they ignored him, he fired warning shots into the air. And when the group of attackers ignored his warning shots, he fired two shots into the chest of Alton Crowe.
The crowd was ready to kill Austin and Johnson, but they were both immediately arrested. Crowe survived, so Austin and Johnson were both able to make bail. Austin found he returned to Bogalusa a hero — at least to the black population of Bogalusa. White politicians did not share the community’s enthusiasm over Austin’s heroism.
Here is how Lance Hill description of the political aftermath of the Crowe shooting in his book, The Deacons for Defense:
In the wake of the Crowe shooting, [Governor] McKeithen pursued a “plague on both your houses” strategy toward the Deacons and the Klan. He condemned both the violent racists and the civil rights groups as equally responsible for the Bogalusa crisis. But McKeithen reserved his harshest criticism for the Deacons and failed to even mention the Klan by name. The governor castigated [Deacons leaders] Young and Sims as “cowards” and “trash” and declared that “no decent negroes” were participating in the civil rights marches. McKeithen’s appeasement of the Klan was the rule rather than the exception for white Louisiana politicians.
“I think there is blame on both sides….what about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right,’ do they have any semblance of guilt?…You had people that were very fine people on both sides,” said Donald Trump on August 15, 2017, in a press conference discussing the murder of Heather Heyer by white supremacist James Alex Fields.
And the KKK’s response? Hill explains:
“Most whites do not admit it,” wrote the New York Times after the Crowe shooting, “but the Deacons send a chill down their spines.” The truth of this was borne out in subsequent marches. In the days following the shooting the huge mobs of whites disappeared. The Crowe shooting-and an increased police presence-discouraged ordinary whites from attending the Klan’s counter demonstrations. The Klan could no longer organize mass attacks on black demonstrations in Bogalusa. This inability to organize mass direct action protests reduced the Klan to isolated terror tactics and diminished its influence over nonaffiliated segregationists in the mill town.
As members of the press like Petula Dvorak write pearl clutching think pieces decrying Antifa’s egg throwing and vehement demands to not be filmed against their wishes, they’re missing a huge historical connection.
Violent protest is an American tradition, and the work of those willing to take on its burden has long been the backbone of the success of the “love and unity” peaceful demonstrators — who often end up being the only ones credited when progress happens.
Though the July 8th march was not the first time the Deacons protected a CORE protest, it was the first time violence had occurred against a white man. The shooting made the white liberals who were funding CORE nervous, and while members of CORE were well aware that some of their activists were alive because of the protection of the Deacons, journalists were instead focused on whether or not CORE had strayed from its ideal of nonviolent action. Ultimately, CORE took the stance that their members would continue to practice nonviolent protest, but they would be potentially protected by private citizens who were armed.
The lesson learned by CORE was that the police couldn’t be trusted to equally enforce the law. In 2018, it isn’t up for debate that people still feel this way, and it’s a hard argument to make that everyone is treated equally. While the FBI is monitoring the home and Twitter account of BLM activist DeRay McKesson, the MPD is guarding white supremacists in front of the White House. Perhaps Dvorak’s cutesy attempt at cluelessness in her suggestion that the police and antifa came to a head on Sunday in front of an Au Bon Pain because they want to “bring back the Triple Cinnamon Scone” would be less disgusting if America’s legacy of trivializing the rights of minorities didn’t exist.