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Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms [Kindle Edition]

Nicholas Johnson
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Chronicling the underappreciated black tradition of bearing arms for self-defense, this book presents an array of examples reaching back to the pre—Civil War era that demonstrate a willingness of African American men and women to use firearms when necessary to defend their families and communities. From Frederick Douglass’s advice to keep “a good revolver” handy as defense against slave catchers to the armed self-protection of Monroe, North Carolina, blacks against the KKK chronicled in Robert Williams’s Negroes with Guns, it is clear that owning firearms was commonplace in the black community.

     Nicholas Johnson points out that this story has been submerged because it is hard to reconcile with the dominant narrative of nonviolence during the civil rights era. His book, however, resolves that tension by showing how the black tradition of arms maintained and demanded a critical distinction between private self-defense and political violence. 

     Johnson also addresses the unavoidable issue of young black men with guns and the toll that gun violence takes on many in the inner city. He shows how complicated this issue is by highlighting the surprising diversity of views on gun ownership in the black community. In fact, recent Supreme Court affirmations of the right to bear arms resulted from cases led by black plaintiffs.

     Surprising and informative, this well-researched book strips away many stock assumptions of conventional wisdom on the issue of guns and the black freedom struggle.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews


“America’s gun culture is often thought to be lily white. In this groundbreaking book, Nicholas Johnson shows how African Americans, from the abolitionists to the Deacons for Defense and Justice, have taken up arms time and again to fight for their rights and their lives. You’ll never look at guns and the Second Amendment in the same way again.”
—Adam Winkler, professor of law, UCLA School of Law, author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America

“Race has always been part of the unspoken motive for gun control in the United States. Johnson provides the best, most thorough history of the topic, telling the story mainly from the perspective and voices of blacks themselves. Shattering the myth of black passivity in the face of violent racism, the book is full of inspiring stories of genuine American heroes—some of them famous and many who were not—who used their Second Amendment rights to defend the civil rights of their people. Never shying away from the hardest questions, Johnson addresses the moral and practical complexities of armed self-defense, past and present. A major contribution to cultural studies and to the history of race in America.”

—David B. Kopel, research director, Independence Institute, Denver, Colorado

About the Author

Nicholas Johnson (New York, NY) is professor of Law at Fordham Law School, where he has taught since 1993. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is the lead author of Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights and Policy (Aspen 2012).

Product Details

  • File Size: 3057 KB
  • Print Length: 382 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 161614839X
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (January 14, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #206,680 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good scholarly book February 9, 2014
By ab
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is headed for college classrooms everywhere. It is a fairly progressive author’s trip down memory lane and how the facts of violent self-defense have been scrubbed from the anti-Slavery and Civil Rights movement. As a lawyer he documents the book exhaustively and as far as I can tell completely. He documents, time after, time how enslaved Africans, how fugitive Africans would fight their way to freedom with guns. How they had an underground market (gun shows) to buy, and or steal these guns. How these guns and their willingness to use them allowed many enslaved Africans to get to Free States. And once there, how many fugitive Africans would arm themselves with guns against those sent to re-captured them.

I love the picture of Harriet Tubman one of the "conductors" of the underground railroad which helped enslaved Africans get to Canada (primarily) standing with a rifle. People claim she never used the rifle she was always pictured with, however the woman scouted for the Union army invading the south.

This book appears to mainly for liberals, progressives and those active in, or study about the Civil Rights struggle, thus its language is in their nomenclature. It is a useful book for conservatives to read and understand for discussion with liberals, progressives and people who have a deep respect for the civil rights era. The history of the fight against slavery and the civil rights struggle has been modified and right of self-defense, political violence has been minimized. The truth is (as you would expect) there were people who used violence and there were many more people who used non-violence. Both were useful at times and under difference circumstances.

"The True Remedy for the Fugitive Slave Bill is a good revolver, a steady hand, and a determination to shoot down any man attempting to kidnap." - Frederick Douglass, 1854
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An enjoyable and thought provoking romp through the Black Tradition of Arms. Wonderful, with comprehensively researched stories, told in a fluid style. The final final chapter will hopefully provoke meaningful discussions about the right to gun ownership in our inner cities.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! March 5, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
How can I begin? This book shows how Black Americans used firearms for personal self defense and to get their freedom. The civil rights movement has been taken over by EXTREMELY left wing social justice people who are more interested in carrying a narrative than giving students a truthful all around honest look at history from the good to the bad.

I doubt this book will be given much attention at most colleges but I hope it will. Everyone might not respect your ethnic heritage but everyone respects a gun.

I would like to thank Professor Johnson for writing this much needed and eye opening book which tells our stories as Americans of African descent.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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This book really is quite illuminating. Self-Defense is seen to be an innate human characteristic common to all societies. Blacks have always engaged in self-defense. The gun was a means that allowed many blacks either to avoid mobs and extra-judicial lynching as well as personally directed violence. This book highlights the value of this gun possession to support the civil rights movements in the fifties and sixties. The book also highlights the futility of using the gun to elicit social and political change, especially considering the minority status of blacks. "Non-Violence" was a tactical and philosophical choice of the Civil Rights and not incompatible with self-defense. The book shows that our current thinking about the development of the civil rights movement is incomplete and filled with more complexities than was previously appreciated.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars African Americans & the 2nd Amendment… May 21, 2014
By dwood78
Format:Kindle Edition
Today when one pictures a Black man with a gun, one often pictures a thug terrorizing an inter city neighborhood. Yet as it turns out historically, people of color used their 2nd Amendment rights to protect them & their loved ones from White mobs during the Jim Crow Era.

This book has historical accounts of Black people using guns to protect themselves from racist mobs & such. Not surprisingly the 1st gun controls (dating back to colonial times) limit the rights people of color to bear arms- after all, it’s easier to control & terrorize a group of people if they can’t protect themselves. Sadly, this is largely forgotten today esp. among Black Americans who often support gun control despite the fact that areas with the strictest gun laws have the highest rates of homicide from them since all the laws is encourage a Black market for them.

Overall, this is a great read. A real page turner. This is great book for either Black History or for a the study on the 2nd Amendment.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Is a Must Read for Anyone Interested in Civil Rights February 22, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Throughout much of the nineteenth century and all of the twentieth century, landmark civil rights decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) have mostly involved Black defendants. These decisions established voting rights, equal opportunity, equal access, desegregation of schools and a host of other rights that Blacks had been denied since the beginnings of the republic.

In 2008 and again in 2010 two more Black plaintiffs brought cases involving another enumerated civil right, the right to keep and bear arms, to SCOTUS where these rights were upheld and the Second Amendment clarified to state that self defense with arms was a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.

One of the ironic parts of these decisions and subsequent arguments for and against the ownership of guns is that the ends of the political spectrum that oppose and promote civil rights for Black seem to have switched sides - Northern liberals are against while Southern conservatives have clasped it to their bosoms. It wasn't always this way.

Nicholas Johnson is a Harvard educated Professor of Law at Fordham University who has been a primary scholar of the Second Amendment. He has numerous publications on the subject with special emphasis on the Black community and the history of Black gun ownership from the times of slavery, through the terror attacks of the hundred years following the Civil War and up till today's extraordinary high rate of murder and armed mayhem that plagues many inner city communities.

His book, Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms, is a well documented history of the use of arms by Black people throughout US history, especially in the South.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars All the history you should have learned when you were in school.
I'll say right up front that I like history. If it's an engaging read then even better. This book is both and I would highly recommend to anyone who is interested in learning about... Read more
Published 1 month ago by A. McCreary
5.0 out of 5 stars Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms
Like "Negroes With Guns," this book exposes the racist myth that only white males enjoyed and employed firearms in their lives. Read more
Published 1 month ago by warlord
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book for both sides of the debate
It has a great bit of the civil rights struggle and armed Blacks driving off the Klan, with concerted effort. Read more
Published 1 month ago by ARES/Races/guy
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a "Must read " for anyone who wants to know the truth...
2nd Amendment rights are one thing. Also the truth about why gun control is so popular.

Shame on our failed politician's, they are not being truthful. Read more
Published 2 months ago by One who cares.
5.0 out of 5 stars Black Americans and the Second Amendment
"I am," she answered crisply, "a Second Amendment absolutist." Growing up in Birmingham, Ala., in the early 1960s, when racial tensions rose, there were, she said, occasions when... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Gary Mauser
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
I would say that this book is recommended reading for any person of color (white is also a color last I checked). Read more
Published 2 months ago by craz4gunz
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening and must read
Yes it is an eye opening and must read book for anyone interested in US history, Black history, or gun control. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Michael E. Murray
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read
Found this book to be very informative. It spread facts and shed light on a peiece of American History I had now idea extisted.
Published 3 months ago by Tony
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally
I have a Bachelors degree in history. While in college we had a lecture on American black history. During the lecture I asked the professor if African American we anything besides... Read more
Published 3 months ago by William K.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great American History Book
This book has expanded and "un-whitewashed" my understanding of the underground railroad, the abolitionist movement, the reconstruction, the post-reconstruction, and the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jacob Graham
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More About the Author

Nicholas J. Johnson is Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law. He is a 1984 graduate of Harvard Law School. He is author of two books, NEGROES AND THE GUN: THE BLACK TRADITION OF ARMS and FIREARMS LAW AND THE SECOND AMENDMENT, Regulation Rights and Policy. His scholarship includes, Firearms Policy and the Black Community: An Assessment of the Modern Orthodoxy, Connecticut Law Review; The Statutory UCC, Catholic Law Review; Rights Versus Duties, History Department Lawyering and the Incoherence of Justice Stevens' Heller Dissent, Fordham ULJ; Supply Restrictions at the Margins of Heller and the Abortion Analogue: Stenberg Principles, Assault Weapons, and the Attitudinalist Critique , Hastings Law Journal; Imagining Gun Control in America: Understanding the Remainder Problem, Wake Forest Law Review; Taking this Right Seriously, National Law Journal; Self- Defense? George Mason Journal of Law Economics and Policy; A Second Amendment Moment: The Constitutional Politics of Gun Rights, Brooklyn Law Review; Showdown Between Federal Environmental Closure of Firing Ranges and Protective State Legislation, Indiana Law Review; The Boundaries of Extra-compensatory Relief for Abusive Breach of Contract, Connecticut Law Review; Principles and Passions: The Intersection of Abortion and Gun Rights, Rutgers Law Review; Plenary Power and Constitutional Outcasts: Federal Power, Critical Race Theory and the Second, Ninth and Tenth Amendments, Ohio State Law Journal; Regulatory Takings and Environmental Regulatory Evolution: Fordham Environmental Law Review; Shots Across No Man's Land: A response to Richard Aborn, Fordham Urban Law Journal; EPCRA'S Collision with Federalism, Indiana Law Review; Beyond the Second Amendment: An Individual Right to Arms Viewed Through the Ninth Amendment. Rutgers Law Journal; Cracks in the Foundation: Legislative Review of Agency Rule-making, Dickinson Law Review.
His papers are available at this link


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