Uncle Tom. Lawn jockey. Traitor. Sellout. Handkerchief-head.
Those are just a few of the terms black folks have used to describe Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. If Thomas is all those things, what exactly does that make the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who passed on information about civil rights leader Robert F. Williams to the FBI?
The word everyone is trying so hard not to say about Marshall is "fink." When USA Today revealed that recently released FBI files showed Marshall had a part-time job as a snitch, the entire "bash Thomas" brigade in the nation's black liberal leadership experienced en masse vocal-cord arrest. The few who dared speak out offered lame, pathetic excuses for Marshall finking on Williams.
And also a fink, Kweisi. Say the word with me: fink, fink, fink.
Syndicated columnist Carl Rowan feels Marshall's snitching was "innocuous." Too bad Bob Williams isn't around to give a comment. I'm sure he wouldn't feel that way. And I wonder how Williams would react to the suggestion, posed by Marshall's defenders, that the future Supreme Court justice was only snitching to keep communists out of the civil rights movement. That just makes Marshall's finkdom worse, his own betrayal that much greater. It was nothing less than a pusillanimous back-stabbing of civil rights allies.
It was communists, socialists, Marxists, Trotskyites and leftists of every sort who opposed segregation, Jim Crow, racism and lynching back when opposing them meant putting your life on the line. Liberal Democrats hopped on the antidiscrimination bandwagon only when America's racial policies threatened to make us look bad abroad. Conservative Republicans hopped on the bandwagon much later, and only then to complain about discrimination against white males.
There was a time when anyone advocating racial equality was thought of as a communist or communist sympathizer. Thus we had the sorry spectacle of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among other civil right organizations, bending over backward to prove they weren't red and sacrificing Williams in the process.
Williams, you see, was considered a communist. He made three trips to Cuba shortly after Fidel Castro's forces booted Fulgencio Batista off the island. He praised the Cuban leader for ending racial discrimination on the island soon after the bearded one took power in 1959.
That wasn't the least of Williams' sins. As president of the Monroe, N.C., chapter of the NAACP, Williams took the position that black people should arm themselves and resist when the Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups went nightriding and shooting in the black community. The black liberals of the time -- not to mention white liberals and conservatives -- went into apoplectic seizures.
In the heyday of the civil rights movement, nonviolent and passive resistance was deemed the only acceptable strategy. Anyone deviating from this policy was regarded as persona non grata.
Williams rejected such nonsense. Nonviolence, he insisted, was a tactic, nothing more. When white racists gathered and armed themselves to go on one of their celebrated Negro hunts, Williams reasoned, it was time for blacks to trust in God and keep their guns cleaned. He wrote to the National Rifle Association for a charter to start a rifle club. He got it. When racist yahoos shot up the house of the vice president of the Monroe NAACP in 1957, Williams and his cohorts had an unpleasant surprise in store for them: They shot back.
"Since the city officials wouldn't stop the Klan, we decided to stop the Klan ourselves," Williams wrote in his book "Negroes With Guns." "We started this action out of the need for defense, because law and order had completely vanished; because there was no such thing as a 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution in Monroe, N.C." Williams appealed first to local and then to state and federal officials for help in ending racist violence. When none was forthcoming, he and the other blacks in Monroe decided to take matters into their own hands.
That's why Williams has long been one of my heroes. He was a do-it-yourself kind of guy, which is why, even in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was considered a threat to traditional black liberal civil rights leadership -- whose philosophy is that if the federal government can't do it for blacks, it can't and shouldn't be done.
We needed Robert Williams' voice back in 1961, when he fled the country to escape what he swore to his death were trumped-up kidnapping charges. Thurgood Marshall aided and abetted those forces that sought to drive Williams out of the country, simply because the guy espoused views Marshall didn't like.
Anybody see any similarity between the way Williams was treated and the way black liberal leadership has reacted to Clarence Thomas?
Pub Date: 12/15/96