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Honoring Famous Self-Defense Advocates in Black History

Black History Month 2023 Blog Cover

It’s February, which means it’s Black History Month! Last year we took some time to recognize some notable Black Americans who are currently making an impact in the firearms and defensive living space. We also touched on a few more prominent individuals in Black History, such as Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr. This year though, we want to dive deeper into the stories of the lesser-known historical figures who paved the way for the defensive living pioneers of the modern era.

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer
Activist Fannie Lou Hamer reportedly kept several loaded guns under her bed for her own self-protection throughout her life.

Voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in order to challenge efforts to block Black participation in elections. Hamer and several MFDP members went to the Democratic National Convention later that year to speak about the racial injustices she had seen and experienced firsthand. She also helped organize Freedom Summer, a rally that brought together hundreds of college students, both black and white, to help with African American voter registration in the South.



In addition, Hamer traveled extensively to give civil rights speeches, helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus, and became one of the first Black women to stand in the U.S. Congress to protest the Mississippi House election of 1964.

All this travel presented a risk for Hamer, especially as a Black woman in the segregated south. As a result, she became a gun owner for her own self-protection, once even confessing that she kept several loaded guns under her bed. While her gun ownership was not a defining part of her mark on history, it is still notable for the time period.

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells was a strong advocate during the Civil Rights Movement for African Americans to be able to protect themselves.

Ida B. Wells was an educator, activist, and journalist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her activism started when she was thrust into a legal battle regarding being removed from a segregated train car that she had a ticket for.

But she began strongly advocating for civil rights and self-defense for African Americans after a close friend of hers was lynched for using a firearm defensively. According to her memoir, Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, the lynching convinced her of her need for protection. She said “I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or rat in a trap.”

Her prediction of needing a firearm for self-protection ended up being correct, as many people were upset by her continued publishing of anti-lynching articles. In her publication Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, Wells pointed out “The only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense. The lesson this teaches… is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”

Later in life, Wells’ activism included being a (albeit uncredited) founding member of the NAACP and a women’s suffragist. She died in 1931, but her legacy lived on throughout the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, showing people the value of exercising both First and Second Amendment rights.

Hartman Turnbow

Hartman Turnbow famously defended himself and his family with a rifle, saying “I wasn’t being non-nonviolent, I was just protectin’ my family.”

Hartman Turnbow was a 20th century farmer, activist, and pro-gun advocate during the Civil Rights Movement. In April of 1963, he was one of the “First Fourteen,” a group of African Americans who tried to be the first to register to vote in Mississippi. Though the fourteen were not able to register at the time, Turnbow was called out in a local newspaper as being an “integration leader.”

As a result, his house was firebombed and shot at a few weeks later. Turnbow shot back at the attackers with his .22 rifle, stating that he had a right to defend himself and his wife and daughter. He explained, “I wasn’t being non-nonviolent, I was just protectin’ my family.” Turnbow’s wife held the same beliefs, as she reportedly carried a small pistol on her as well whenever she could.

Earnest Thomas & Frederick Douglas Kirkpatrick

Earnest Thomas & Frederick Douglas Kirkpatrick
Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas (left) and Frederick Douglas Kirkpatrick (right) founded The Deacons for Defense.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice was a group founded in Jonesboro, LA in 1964 by Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas and Frederick Douglas Kirkpatrick. The main goal of the group was to protect members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) against Ku Klux Klan violence. Many of the group’s members were veterans of World War II and the Korean War, so firearms and self-defense were familiar territory for them.

Over the next few years, The Deacons became the protection that civil rights needed on local levels, where the state and federal government fell short of protecting Black Americans fighting for their rights. It even spawned 21 affiliate chapters across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Eventually, The Deacons’ assertive use of self-defense against the Klan was crucial in causing the federal government to intervene on behalf of the Black community and enforce the Civil Rights Act more strictly.

Huey Newton & Bobby Seale

Huey Newton & Bobby Seale Black Panthers
Huey Newton (left) and Bobby Seale (right) founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP) in October 1966 with the help of longtime friends Elbert “Big Man” Howard, Sherman Forte, Reggie Forte, and Little Bobby Hutton.

The Black Panthers were heavily inspired by Malcolm X and his views. They believed in self defense through the use of firearms and their Second Amendment rights. They established armed patrols in Black communities with the intended mission of protecting residents from police brutality, which was seen as a dramatic action at the time.

Seale served as the Chairman of the Black Panthers and Newton was the Minister of Defense at the start of the organization. Under their leadership, the Party gained international support. Today it is one of the most recognized Black organizations in U.S. history from the Civil Rights Movement era due to its controversial belief that nonviolence was not always the right course of action in the fight for justice.

These individuals are just a few of the many in history who fought for the right of all people to be able to defend themselves. Here at Concealed Coalition, we want to help carry on their legacy by helping all Americans train to be guardians always and warriors when needed. You too can become a part of this mission by joining the Coalition today!

Sources: WomensHistory.org, NRA Women, AmmoLand, timeforanawakening.com, National African American Gun Association (NAAGA), National Archives

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