The Deacons for Defense and Justice

Usually you only see stories about the Deacons for Defense and Justice during February, which is African-American History Month. It is rare even then, because their story contradicts some of the MLK legend of non-violence. In Bogalusa, the Deacons fought violence with violence.

The cops in the South were often aligned with (or members of) the Klan. So eventually, people decided that they needed to defend themselves.

During a mob scene, where the whites were trying to stop a black woman from getting medical care, the Deacons intervened.

The warning shot did not deter the mob, and by then, according to newspaper accounts, a white man identified as 26-year-old Alton Crowe of Pearl River began pounding Johnson in his face with his fists. Austan fired a second time, this time with the bullet landing in the chest of Crowe, the married father of five children, who, Austan thought, was trying to enter the vehicle.

The two Deacons were arrested but not prosecuted. Self-defense is a thing, after all. And once the Klan realized that they too could be shot, things changed a bit.

“Once they realized that we were serious about shooting, it became basically a standoff between us and them,” [Deacon Henry Austan] said.

“It was not like the old days where you could just drive in the neighborhood and everybody start hiding from you and you drag whoever you want out,” he said. “It was not like anymore, and they realized that.”

He added: “When there’s some opposition, it’s not any fun anymore.”

The myth contradiction? Well once when the Klan was ready to attack a Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) group, a spokesperson for the Deacons stepped up, and told the Klan-affiliated-sheriff, that they were prepared to meet violence with violence. The attack never took place.

I suppose that the media is bringing this up now in hopes of justifying the “Dismantle the Police” or something similar. Still there is one more important lesson that can be learned from the Deacons…

“We were effective. Not heroic, effective,” Austan said, thinking back on his time with the Deacons. “That’s what we were. We came into existence when the situation demanded it. We went out of existence when we were no longer needed.”

How many organizations disband when they meet their goals? Almost none. They move the goalposts and keep on going.

3 thoughts on “The Deacons for Defense and Justice

  1. I wonder how many just moved on to other more aggressive and violent groups, Like stokley Carmachiaels group or the black panthers.

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