Deacons for Defense review

For sure, always a relevant review.

Dustin Langley in Workers reviews Deacons for Defense:

“My name is Charles Sims. I’m 43 years old and I fear no man. Some of
you may leave disappointed. I’m a fighter, not a speechmaker.”

These are the real words that the founder of Deacons of Defense used to
introduce himself in 1964 as he spoke about the struggle in Bogalusa,
La. These words, backed by weapons and the determination of the African
American community to defend themselves against racist attacks, won a
powerful victory over the status quo of the Jim Crow South in the mid-

As part of a series of film showings honoring Black History Month, the
People’s Video Network sponsored a Feb. 14 screening of the made-for-TV
movie “Deacons for Defense” in New York City. This film, starring Forest
Whitaker and Ossie Davis, chronicles the rise of the Deacons for Defense
and Justice, who stood up against the violence of the Klan.

The movie is set in Bogalusa in 1964. Relative to the population, the
KKK chapter in segregated Bogalusa was the biggest in the country.

Forest Whitaker stars as Marcus–a mill worker, World War II veteran and
church leader who is compelled by escalating Klan and police attacks to
organize his community to defend itself. Marcus is a composite
character, based on Charles Sims and other leaders of the Deacons.

The film clearly contrasts the futility of dogmatic non-violence, as
opposed to the effectiveness of armed self-defense, as a response to
Klan terror.

The two northern white organizers in the film are pacifists. “This
movement is nonviolent–that is the essence of the movement,” says one
of them, played by Jonathan Silverman.

“Don’t tell me about the essence of your summer vacation,” responds
Marcus. “Alive is better.”


In describing the actual struggle of his organization, Ernest Thomas,
the vice president and national organizer for the Deacons for Defense,
has stressed: “We teach that you have to meet force with force. The only
thing the Klan respects is force. It is also the only thing understood
by the others who battle Negroes, such as the John Birch Society, the
Minutemen, and the American Nazi Party.”

Many of the Black men who took up arms with the Deacons were military
veterans who had fought overseas in the name of “democracy,” but then
returned home to continued denial of basic civil rights and economic

Their determination to defend themselves put an end to night riding in
Bogalusa and inspired others to take up arms to defend themselves. By
1965, there were 62 chapters of the Deacons throughout the South, and
they helped to inspire the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

In the discussion after the Feb. 14 film showing, one of the viewers,
Kedar Phillips, said, “What struck me was the fact that the Deacons of
Defense have been widely forgotten and don’t get the recognition they

Other viewers agreed, noting the need to learn the lessons from the
Deacons’ struggle in these days of increasing violence against
immigrants and people of color, such as the recent killing of a young
Black man, Timothy Stansbury, by Brooklyn police.
(Copyright Workers World Service: Everyone is permitted to copy and
distribute verbatim copies of this document, but changing it is not
allowed. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY,
NY 10011)


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