• View author and book videos on our YouTube channel.

  • This Nonviolent Stuff′ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible

    Author(s): Charles  E. Cobb
    Published: 2015
    Pages: 328
    Illustrations: 12 illustrations
    Sales/Territorial Rights: World
  • Paperback: $24.95 - In Stock
    978-0-8223-6123-7
  • Quantity
  • Add To Bag
  • Author's Note  xi

    Preface to the Paperback Edition: More Than a Gun Story  xv

    Introduction  1

    Prologue: I Come to Get My Gun  19

    1. "Over My Head I See Freedom in the Air"  27

    2. "The Day of Camouflage Is Past"  55

    3. "Fighting for What We Didn't Have"  83

    4. "I Wasn't Being Non-Nonviolent"  114

    5. Which Cheek you Gonna Turn?  149

    6. Standing Our Ground  187

    Epilogue: "The King of Love Is Dead"  227

    Afterword: Understanding History  239

    Acknowledgments  251

    Notes  253

    Index  283
  • "A frank look at the complexities and contradictions of the civil rights movement, particularly with regard to the intertwined issues of nonviolence and self-defense. . . . Thought-provoking and studded with piercing ironies."   — Kirkus Reviews

    "[A] bracing and engrossing celebration of black armed resistance."  — Publishers Weekly

    "Powerfully and with great depth, Charles Cobb examines the organizing tradition of the southern Freedom Movement, drawing on both his own experiences as a field secretary with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) working in the rural Black-Belt South and contemporary conversations with his former co-workers. While Cobb challenges the orthodox narrative of the ‘nonviolent’ movement, this is much more than a book about guns. It is essential reading."  — Julian Bond, NAACP Chairman Emeritus

    "When night riders attacked his home, twentieth-century Mississippi civil rights leader Hartman Turnbow 'stood his ground' and lit up the night to protect his family. Charles Cobb’s 'stand your ground' book, timely, controversial, and well documented, contravenes a history as old as George Washington and Andrew Jackson and as new as George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn. Don’t miss it." 
    — Bob Moses, former director of SNCC's Mississippi voter registration program and founder and president of the Al

    "[A] richly detailed memoir."  — New York Times Book Review

    "Cobb's long-essay format brings the Freedom Movement to life in an unexpected way, shaking up conventional historical views and changing the conversation about individual freedom and personal protection that continues today. . . . A nuanced exploration of the complex relationship between nonviolent civil disobedience and the threat of armed retaliation."  — Shelf Awareness for Readers

    "Cobb . . . reviews the long tradition of self-protection among African Americans, who knew they could not rely on local law enforcement for protection. . . . Understanding how the use of guns makes this history of the civil rights movement more compelling to readers, Cobb is nonetheless focused on the determination of ordinary citizens, women included, to win their rights, even if that meant packing a pistol in a pocket or purse."  — Booklist

    "This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed is a powerful mixture of history and memoir, a scholarly and emotionally engaging account of a dark time in our recent history. This is one of those books that is going to have people from across the political spectrum buying it for different reasons. One can hope that those on both left and right can learn from this book." — Clayton E. Cramer, author of, Armed America: The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie

    "[A] brilliant book. . . . A serious analytical work of the African-American southern Freedom Struggle, Cobb’s book…deserves a prominent place on everyone’s reading list." — Against the Current

    "This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed jostles us outside the ho-hum frame of 'pick up a gun' vs. 'turn the other cheek.' Charles Cobb’s graceful prose and electrifying history throw down a gauntlet: can we understand any part of the freedom struggle apart from America’s unique romanticization of violence and gun culture? This absorbing investigation shows how guns are often necessary, but not sufficient, to live out political democracy." — Wesley Hogan, Director, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University

    "In this challenging book, Charles Cobb, a former organizer, examines the role of guns in the civil rights movement." — Mother Jones

    "Cobb brilliantly situates the civil rights movement in the context of Southern life and gun culture, with a thesis that is unpacked by way of firsthand and personal accounts." — Library Journal

    "[A] revelatory new history of armed self-defense and the civil rights movement." — Reason

    "Charles Cobb’s This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed is a marvelous contribution to our understanding the modern black freedom struggle. With wonderful storytelling skills and drawing on his unparalleled access to movement participants, he situates armed self-defense in the context of a complex movement and in conversation with both nonviolence and community organizing. Cobb writes from personal experience on the frontlines of SNCC’s voter registration work while also using the skills of journalist, historian, and teacher. The result is a compelling and wonderfully nuanced book that will appeal to specialists and, more importantly, anyone interested in human rights and the freedom struggle." — Emilye Crosby, author of, A Little Taste of Freedom: The Black Freedom Struggle in Claiborne County, Mississippi

    "What most of us think we know about the central role of nonviolence in the long freedom struggle in the South is not so much wrong as blinkered. Or so Charles Cobb says in this passionate, intellectually disciplined reordering of the conventional narrative to include armed self-defense as a central component of the black movement's success. Read it and be reminded that history is not a record etched in stone by journalists and academics, but a living stream, fed and redirected by the bottom-up witness of its participants." — Hodding Carter III, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    "This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed is the most important movement book in many years. Charles Cobb uses long-standing confusion over the distinction between violence and nonviolence as an entrée to rethinking many fundamental misconceptions about what the civil rights movement was and why it was so powerful. This level of nuance requires a disciplined observer, an engaged participant, and a lyrical writer. Cobb is all these." — Charles M. Payne, author of, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle

    "This book will have readers who might have nothing else in common politically reaching for a copy." — PJ Media

    “This long overdue book revises the image of black people in the South as docile and frightened. It tells our story demonstrating that black people have always been willing to stand their ground and do whatever was necessary to free themselves from bondage and to defend their families and communities. This is a must-read for understanding the southern Freedom Movement.” — David Dennis, former Mississippi Director, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Director, Southern Initiative of the Algebra Project

    "Popular culture washes the complexity out of so many things. Charles Cobb works mightily against that torrent. This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed shows that the simplistic popular understanding of the black freedom movement obscures a far richer story. Cobb defies the popular narrative with accounts of the grit and courage of armed stalwarts of the modern movement who invoked the ancient right of self-defense under circumstances where we should expect nothing less. This book is an important contribution to a story that is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore." — Nicholas Johnson author of, Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms

    "Any book that has as its central thesis that armed self-defense was essential both to the existence and the success of the Civil Rights Movement is bound to stir up controversy. But Charles Cobb, combining the rigor of a scholar with the experience (and passion) of a community organizer, has made his case. This book is a major contribution to the historiography of the black freedom struggle. More than that, it adds a new chapter to the story of the local people who, often armed, protected the organizers and their communities during the turbulent civil rights years." — John Dittmer author of, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi

    "In accepting each civil rights worker, and indeed each black southerner, as an individual free to act as they saw fit in each and every situation they were faced with, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed invites a more detailed analysis of the role of the individual in the movement and the often-blurry distinctions between non-violence and self-defence." — Megan Hunt, History

    Reviews

  • "A frank look at the complexities and contradictions of the civil rights movement, particularly with regard to the intertwined issues of nonviolence and self-defense. . . . Thought-provoking and studded with piercing ironies."   — Kirkus Reviews

    "[A] bracing and engrossing celebration of black armed resistance."  — Publishers Weekly

    "Powerfully and with great depth, Charles Cobb examines the organizing tradition of the southern Freedom Movement, drawing on both his own experiences as a field secretary with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) working in the rural Black-Belt South and contemporary conversations with his former co-workers. While Cobb challenges the orthodox narrative of the ‘nonviolent’ movement, this is much more than a book about guns. It is essential reading."  — Julian Bond, NAACP Chairman Emeritus

    "When night riders attacked his home, twentieth-century Mississippi civil rights leader Hartman Turnbow 'stood his ground' and lit up the night to protect his family. Charles Cobb’s 'stand your ground' book, timely, controversial, and well documented, contravenes a history as old as George Washington and Andrew Jackson and as new as George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn. Don’t miss it." 
    — Bob Moses, former director of SNCC's Mississippi voter registration program and founder and president of the Al

    "[A] richly detailed memoir."  — New York Times Book Review

    "Cobb's long-essay format brings the Freedom Movement to life in an unexpected way, shaking up conventional historical views and changing the conversation about individual freedom and personal protection that continues today. . . . A nuanced exploration of the complex relationship between nonviolent civil disobedience and the threat of armed retaliation."  — Shelf Awareness for Readers

    "Cobb . . . reviews the long tradition of self-protection among African Americans, who knew they could not rely on local law enforcement for protection. . . . Understanding how the use of guns makes this history of the civil rights movement more compelling to readers, Cobb is nonetheless focused on the determination of ordinary citizens, women included, to win their rights, even if that meant packing a pistol in a pocket or purse."  — Booklist

    "This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed is a powerful mixture of history and memoir, a scholarly and emotionally engaging account of a dark time in our recent history. This is one of those books that is going to have people from across the political spectrum buying it for different reasons. One can hope that those on both left and right can learn from this book." — Clayton E. Cramer, author of, Armed America: The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie

    "[A] brilliant book. . . . A serious analytical work of the African-American southern Freedom Struggle, Cobb’s book…deserves a prominent place on everyone’s reading list." — Against the Current

    "This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed jostles us outside the ho-hum frame of 'pick up a gun' vs. 'turn the other cheek.' Charles Cobb’s graceful prose and electrifying history throw down a gauntlet: can we understand any part of the freedom struggle apart from America’s unique romanticization of violence and gun culture? This absorbing investigation shows how guns are often necessary, but not sufficient, to live out political democracy." — Wesley Hogan, Director, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University

    "In this challenging book, Charles Cobb, a former organizer, examines the role of guns in the civil rights movement." — Mother Jones

    "Cobb brilliantly situates the civil rights movement in the context of Southern life and gun culture, with a thesis that is unpacked by way of firsthand and personal accounts." — Library Journal

    "[A] revelatory new history of armed self-defense and the civil rights movement." — Reason

    "Charles Cobb’s This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed is a marvelous contribution to our understanding the modern black freedom struggle. With wonderful storytelling skills and drawing on his unparalleled access to movement participants, he situates armed self-defense in the context of a complex movement and in conversation with both nonviolence and community organizing. Cobb writes from personal experience on the frontlines of SNCC’s voter registration work while also using the skills of journalist, historian, and teacher. The result is a compelling and wonderfully nuanced book that will appeal to specialists and, more importantly, anyone interested in human rights and the freedom struggle." — Emilye Crosby, author of, A Little Taste of Freedom: The Black Freedom Struggle in Claiborne County, Mississippi

    "What most of us think we know about the central role of nonviolence in the long freedom struggle in the South is not so much wrong as blinkered. Or so Charles Cobb says in this passionate, intellectually disciplined reordering of the conventional narrative to include armed self-defense as a central component of the black movement's success. Read it and be reminded that history is not a record etched in stone by journalists and academics, but a living stream, fed and redirected by the bottom-up witness of its participants." — Hodding Carter III, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    "This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed is the most important movement book in many years. Charles Cobb uses long-standing confusion over the distinction between violence and nonviolence as an entrée to rethinking many fundamental misconceptions about what the civil rights movement was and why it was so powerful. This level of nuance requires a disciplined observer, an engaged participant, and a lyrical writer. Cobb is all these." — Charles M. Payne, author of, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle

    "This book will have readers who might have nothing else in common politically reaching for a copy." — PJ Media

    “This long overdue book revises the image of black people in the South as docile and frightened. It tells our story demonstrating that black people have always been willing to stand their ground and do whatever was necessary to free themselves from bondage and to defend their families and communities. This is a must-read for understanding the southern Freedom Movement.” — David Dennis, former Mississippi Director, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Director, Southern Initiative of the Algebra Project

    "Popular culture washes the complexity out of so many things. Charles Cobb works mightily against that torrent. This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed shows that the simplistic popular understanding of the black freedom movement obscures a far richer story. Cobb defies the popular narrative with accounts of the grit and courage of armed stalwarts of the modern movement who invoked the ancient right of self-defense under circumstances where we should expect nothing less. This book is an important contribution to a story that is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore." — Nicholas Johnson author of, Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms

    "Any book that has as its central thesis that armed self-defense was essential both to the existence and the success of the Civil Rights Movement is bound to stir up controversy. But Charles Cobb, combining the rigor of a scholar with the experience (and passion) of a community organizer, has made his case. This book is a major contribution to the historiography of the black freedom struggle. More than that, it adds a new chapter to the story of the local people who, often armed, protected the organizers and their communities during the turbulent civil rights years." — John Dittmer author of, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi

    "In accepting each civil rights worker, and indeed each black southerner, as an individual free to act as they saw fit in each and every situation they were faced with, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed invites a more detailed analysis of the role of the individual in the movement and the often-blurry distinctions between non-violence and self-defence." — Megan Hunt, History

  • "Blending compelling experience with first-rate scholarship, Charles Cobb traces the way that armed self-defense and nonviolent direct action worked sometimes in tension but mostly in tandem in the African American freedom struggle. Crafted with powerful clarity and engaging prose, Cobb’s book deploys the intellectual insights of both everyday people and excellent historians to make the case that it wasn’t necessarily 'non-nonviolent' to pack a pistol or tote a shotgun in the civil rights–era South—but grassroots activists often found it necessary. This is easily the best, most accessible, and most comprehensive book on the subject."  — Timothy B. Tyson, author of Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power

  • Permission to Photocopy (coursepacks)

    If you are requesting permission to photocopy material for classroom use, please contact the Copyright Clearance Center at copyright.com;

    If the Copyright Clearance Center cannot grant permission, you may request permission from our Copyrights & Permissions Manager (use Contact Information listed below).

    Permission to Reprint

    If you are requesting permission to reprint DUP material (journal or book selection) in another book or in any other format, contact our Copyrights & Permissions Manager (use Contact Information listed below).

    Images/Art

    Many images/art used in material copyrighted by Duke University Press are controlled, not by the Press, but by the owner of the image. Please check the credit line adjacent to the illustration, as well as the front and back matter of the book for a list of credits. You must obtain permission directly from the owner of the image. Occasionally, Duke University Press controls the rights to maps or other drawings. Please direct permission requests for these images to permissions@dukeupress.edu.
    For book covers to accompany reviews, please contact the publicity department.

    Subsidiary Rights/Foreign Translations

    If you're interested in a Duke University Press book for subsidiary rights/translations, please contact permissions@dukeupress.edu. Include the book title/author, rights sought, and estimated print run.

    Disability Requests

    Instructions for requesting an electronic text on behalf of a student with disabilities are available here.

    Rights & Permissions Contact Information

    Email: permissions@dukeupress.edu
    Email contact for coursepacks: asstpermissions@dukeupress.edu
    Fax: 919-688-4574
    Mail:
    Duke University Press
    Rights and Permissions
    905 W. Main Street
    Suite 18B
    Durham, NC 27701

    For all requests please include:
    1. Author's name. If book has an editor that is different from the article author, include editor's name also.
    2. Title of the journal article or book chapter and title of journal or title of book
    3. Page numbers (if excerpting, provide specifics)
    For coursepacks, please also note: The number of copies requested, the school and professor requesting
    For reprints and subsidiary rights, please also note: Your volume title, publication date, publisher, print run, page count, rights sought
  • Description

    Visiting Martin Luther King Jr. during the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, journalist William Worthy almost sat on a loaded pistol. "Just for self-defense," King assured him. It was not the only weapon King kept for such a purpose; one of his advisors remembered the reverend’s Montgomery, Alabama, home as "an arsenal." Like King, many ostensibly "nonviolent" civil rights activists embraced their constitutional right to self-protection—yet this crucial dimension of the Afro-American freedom struggle has been long ignored by history. In This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed, Charles E. Cobb Jr. recovers this history, describing the vital role that armed self-defense has played in the survival and liberation of black communities.  Drawing on his experiences in the civil rights movement and giving voice to its participants, Cobb lays bare the paradoxical relationship between the nonviolent civil rights struggle and the long history and importance of African Americans taking up arms to defend themselves against white supremacist violence. 
     
     

    About The Author(s)

    Charles E. Cobb Jr. is a former field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and has taught at Brown University. An award-winning journalist, he is an inductee of the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame. Cobb lives in Jacksonville, Florida.
     
     
Explore More
Share

Create a reading list or add to an existing list. Sign-in or register now to continue.


Contact Us

  • Duke University Press
  • 905 W. Main St. Ste 18-B
  • Durham, NC 27701
  • U.S. phone (toll-free): 888-651-0122
  • International: 1-919-688-5134
  • orders@dukeupress.edu