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Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power [Paperback]

by Timothy B. Tyson
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 3, 2001 0807849235 978-0807849231 New edition
This book tells the remarkable story of Robert F. Williams--one of the most influential black activists of the generation that toppled Jim Crow and forever altered the arc of American history. In the late 1950s, as president of the Monroe, North Carolina, branch of the NAACP, Williams and his followers used machine guns, dynamite, and Molotov cocktails to confront Klan terrorists. Advocating "armed self-reliance" by blacks, Williams challenged not only white supremacists but also Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights establishment. Forced to flee during the 1960s to Cuba--where he broadcast "Radio Free Dixie," a program of black politics and music that could be heard as far away as Los Angeles and New York City--and then China, Williams remained a controversial figure for the rest of his life.

Historians have customarily portrayed the civil rights movement as a nonviolent call on America's conscience--and the subsequent rise of Black Power as a violent repudiation of the civil rights dream. But Radio Free Dixie reveals that both movements grew out of the same soil, confronted the same predicaments, and reflected the same quest for African American freedom. As Robert Williams's story demonstrates, independent black political action, black cultural pride, and armed self-reliance operated in the South in tension and in tandem with legal efforts and nonviolent protest.


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Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power + At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power (Vintage) + I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

To some, the civil rights radical Robert Williams's philosophy of armed self-defense was the very antithesis of Martin Luther King's nonviolent resistance. However, each man represented a wing of the growing civil rights movement, and both grasped and skillfully wielded the political leverage that the dynamics of the Cold War afforded the civil rights cause. After a stint in the army during WWII, Williams returned to his hometown in Monroe, N.C., where he built a uniquely militant NAACP chapter and attracted international attention to racist hypocrisy. When eventually forced by Ku Klux Klan vigilantes and an FBI dragnet to abandon his activities and flee the U.S. with his family in 1961, he found safe harbor in revolutionary Cuba, where he produced Radio Free Dixie, a program of politics and music broadcast to America. Written with the cooperation of Williams and his family, Tyson's firecracker text crackles with brilliant and lasting images of black life in the Carolinas and across the South in the '40s, '50s and '60s. Liberally peppered with quotes from Williams, many taken from his unpublished autobiography, While God Lay Sleeping, as well as from interviews and radio tapes, the book is imbued with the man's voice and his indefatigable spirit. An assistant professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the co-editor of Democracy Betrayed, Tyson successfully portrays Williams as a troubled visionary, a strong, stubborn and imperfect man, one who greatly influenced what became the Black Power Movement and its young leaders. Photos. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Tyson (Afro-American studies, Univ. of Wisconsin) has transformed his graduate research into an important study of a forgotten Civil Rights leader. After helping to organize one of 1950s America's most militant NAACP chapters (in Monroe, NC), Robert F. Williams found himself at odds with the national Civil Rights leadership. Rejecting King's nonviolent approach, he began calling for black self-determination and armed self-reliance. In 1962, when his radical ideas got him into trouble with the KKK and the FBI, Williams took his family to Cuba, where he began beaming his influential "Radio Free Dixie" over Radio Havana's wires. Using a wide variety of primary sourcesAespecially oral-history interviewsATyson resuscitates Williams as an important forefather of Black Power. Moreover, Tyson concludes that Williams's life shows how Black Power "emerged from the same soil, confronted the same predicaments, and reflected the same quest for African American freedom" as the nonviolent Civil Rights movement. This groundbreaking, skillfully written revisionist monograph (the first full-length study of Williams ever published) is intended primarily for an academic audience.ACharles C. Hay, Eastern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Richmond
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; New edition edition (January 3, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807849235
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807849231
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Timothy B. Tyson is Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Visiting Professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture at Duke Divinity School, and adjunct professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina. Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (1999) won the James Rawley Prize for best book on race and the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for best first book in U.S. History from the Organization of American Historians. Blood Done Sign My Name (2004) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, won the Southern Book Award for Nonfiction and the Grawemeyer Award in Religion, among others. He serves on the executive board of the North Carolina NAACP.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real civil rights struggle, and BEAUTIFULLY written December 23, 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This is the best book on the civil rights movement that I have ever read. A gripping story of one man's battle for freedom, its lyrical prose and haunting images gave me a whole new understanding of the struggle for interracial democracy in America. Most of the other histories I have read focus on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the familiar story that runs from Montgomery to Memphis. Here we see how it really was on the local level, and the politically complex and perilous situation that black activists faced in the South. I was there, and this book really captures it. The writing, too, is poetic, riveting, and sometimes quite beautiful. Line by line, this is one of the best books on any subject that I have ever read--it reads like a great novel, but it persuades because the research is so compelling. If this book doesn't win the National Book Award for history, I don't know who they are going to give it to--it's that good.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars two photos December 19, 1999
Format:Hardcover
Two Images move the reader throughout Radio Free Dixie - the book cover with the young Robert Williams, cigar in mouth and gun in hand, ready for what comes and the picture of him and his wife a few years before he died, looking like Frederick Douglass in his old age, if not serene, then banking the fire of his anger at the history of black America in his lifetime with the experience of 30 years of seeing the world as an outsider and understanding the world and himself better. Tyson's book is a tour de force, written compellingly and with a passion borne from seeing the armed aspect of the American civil rights movement and what it could mean for change. William's journey is like some made-up pilgramage from rural North Carolina to the centers of third world socialism and then, amazingly for a man on the FBI's most wanted list, quietly returning to the US and living his life out in rural quiet with his family. It is a book for all those of us who were there in those days to read and for all of those who weren't - to realize the effects of class, color, and social standing inside the civil rights movements. Think of what the country might have been with Robert Williams instead of Bayard Rustin as the most visible early leader of black civil rights.
A book that not only fills in missing history but changes your sense of what history really was.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic! Changes our understanding of Black Power. December 2, 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Tim Tyson's Radio Free Dixie is an exciting and important contribution to the ever-expanding literature on the civil rights movement, in general, and Black Power, in particular. This is no old-school yawner history text. The book, while meticulously researched and footnoted, is expertly written with a dramatic flair that is usually reserved for non-academic writing. I cannot recommend it higher.
Robert Williams, a WWII vet, organized a largely working-class chapter of the NAACP in Monroe, NC, during the mid-1950s. This chapter, which also advocated "armed self-reliance," went against the grain of the usually middle-class NAACP which preferred a measured march through established institutions to the confrontational politics of direct action. Behind Williams's leadership, the Monroe chapter challenged the local Jim Crow system with varying degrees of success. In 1961, Williams was forced to flee the country in the face of trumped up kidnapping charges. He headed South to Cuba with his family where he moved in the revolutionary circles of Castro and beamed a subversive radio show which detailed the injustices of American racism at the US mainland. Ultimately, Williams left Cuba and travelled to Maoist China where he mingled with another set of revolutionaries. Later, Williams would return to the USA to teach and live in Michigan where he died last year.
Besides elevating Williams to his rightful place in civil rights history alongside Martin, Malcolm, Ella, and others, Tyson's book challenges the notion that Black Power and armed self-defense emerged only after 1965. Rather, Tyson points out that the roots of Black Power stretch further back and often worked "in tandem and in tension" with non-violent direct action.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading in modern American history October 23, 2000
Format:Hardcover
Tyson's book focuses a long-overdue spotlight on the career of Robert F. Williams, an overlooked civil rights pioneer who indelibly stamped and shaped the movement during the '50s, '60s and beyond, but who has received precious little exposure, discussion or credit from the mainstream media. "Radio Free Dixie" goes a long way to setting the record straight.
The compelling thesis of "Radio Free Dixie" is that the civil rights struggle in the South featured a strong element of armed resistance against the forces of intimidation, led by the Klan, but legitimized by the legal structure of the southern states. Williams, from an early age, rejected the pacifist ideas and practices of Martin Luther King, arguing that blacks would never win their rights, much less any measure of respect until they were willing to demonstrate a willingness to defend themselves with arms. While most of the press and his supposed allies (King included) attempted to portray him as a violent revolutionary bent on overthrowing the government, Tyson convincingly shows that Williams was in fact a true believer in the U.S. constitution and that he never advocated initiating violence. Nor did his aggressive stance come from nowhere. Tyson shows that Williams' own family had a long history of determined and nonpacifist resistance, as did many other black families throughout the South.
This is also a stirring story of one community's fight against racism. The white community of Williams' Monroe, N.C. did everything it could to stop his efforts to integrate the town, but despite this, Williams built an extraordinary local chapter of the NAACP that relentlessly exposed the injustices daily heaped on blacks, even when the NAACP itself was refusing to recognize the activities of the chapter.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Biography of a Legendary Fighter for Black Rights
I got to see Robert F. Williams speak once--at a rally in Boston supporting school desegregation there in the mid-1970s (see Battle of Boston. To me, he was a legend. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Marc Lichtman
5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book
Great book and interesting insights into pirate radio. I would definitely use it in my American history undergraduate course at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Sekibakiba Peter Lekgoathi
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Very great book. This is the history that is untold in schools when it comes to African American history in this country.
Published 4 months ago by a8cvij
5.0 out of 5 stars Passionately written and exceptionally well told
The study is passionately written and exceptionally well told. I have read hundreds of books on American history. This is one of the very best.
Published 5 months ago by Thomas Grace
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting look into the civil rights movement in America
I had to read this for an American history class. It's a quick read and an interesting look into the civil rights movement in the U.S. Read more
Published 5 months ago by J. Mulnix
5.0 out of 5 stars NEGROES WITH GUNS
A well written biography that supports the notion that "Turning one's other cheek" does little to reduce suffering and killing of the innocent when radical racist decide to... Read more
Published 8 months ago by DR. HANK
3.0 out of 5 stars NOT primarily about the broadcasts
From 1961-1965 a radio station broadcast from Castro's communist regime, aiming its propaganda at the African-American population of the south. Read more
Published 10 months ago by James D. Crabtree
5.0 out of 5 stars One Of the Greatest, Least Known Americans of any Color
Essential reading for anyone that wants to understand the post-slavery "free" society racism and oppression suffered by African-Americans in the south and in America. Robt. F. Read more
Published on June 6, 2009 by Malcoln_Rodgers
5.0 out of 5 stars A must, also read is Blood Done Sign My Name
As one reviewer notes, Robert Williams name is not noted in other books about this era. This is a great loss to history. Read more
Published on May 26, 2008 by Eugene Barufkin
4.0 out of 5 stars still relevant
A compelling look at a fascinating figure of the modern American civil rights movement whose story continues to be relevant. Read more
Published on April 2, 2007 by Jean Moulin
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