The Deacons for Defense and Justice
were an armed African American civil rights
organization in the U.S. Southern states
during the 1960s.
A group of African American men in Jonesboro, Louisiana
led by Earnest "Chilly Willy" Thomas and Frederick Douglas Kirkpatrick founded the group in November of 1964
to protect civil rights workers against the violence of the Ku Klux Klan
. Most of them were war veterans with combat experience from the Korean War
and World War II
. The Jonesboro chapter later organized a Deacons chapter in Bogalusa, Louisiana
led by Charles Sims, A.Z. Young and Robert Hicks. The Jonesboro chapter initiated a regional organizing campaign and eventually formed 21 chapters in Louisiana, Mississippi
, and Alabama
. The militant Deacons confrontation with the Klan in Bogalusa was instrumental in forcing the federal government to invervene on behalf of the black community and enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act
and neutralize the Klan.
The tactics of the Deacons attracted the attention and concern of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which commenced an investigation of the group. However, with the advent of the militant Black Power Movement, the involvement of the Deacons in the civil rights movement declined, with the presence of the Deacons all but vanishing by 1968.
The work of the Deacons is the subject of a 2003 Television movie, Deacons for Defense.
In some cases, the Deacons had a relationship with other civil rights groups that advocated and practiced non-violence
: the willingness of the Deacons to provide low-key armed guards facilitated the ability of groups such as the NAACP
to stay, at least formally, within their own parameters of non-violence.
Nonetheless, their willingness to respond to violence with violence, led to tension between the Deacons and the nonviolent civil rights workers whom they sought to protect.
Roy Innis has said of the Deacons that they "forced the Klan to re-evaluate their actions and often change their undergarments", according to Ken Blackwell.