Robert Williams and Civil Rights Protests in Monroe

Robert F. Williams. Image from the Office of Archives and History

On August 27, 1961, protests in Monroe escalated into a riot, leading to local NAACP leader Robert Williams being charged with kidnapping and fleeing across state lines.

In late August 1961, a group of Freedom Riders, along with members of other civil rights organizations, traveled to Monroe where they hoped to assist Williams. He aimed to press charges against a Ku Klux Klansman who had assaulted him the previous year. They planned to carry out peaceful demonstrations.

Despite the group’s nonviolent discipline, confrontations escalated. On August 27, as the crowd at the courthouse grew unruly, the police line collapsed and a white mob attacked some of the activists. The remaining picketers were loaded into cars and taken into custody. Gunfire was heard around Monroe for hours, and a policeman was wounded.

Shortly thereafter, a white couple made a wrong turn onto Williams’ street. Williams’ supporters forcibly removed the couple from their car and took them to Williams’ house where they were held by armed individuals for a while. They later were released unharmed. Before learning of the kidnapping charges against him, Williams escaped with his family to Cuba where, by 1963 he, was broadcasting a radio program called Radio Free Dixie.

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