The Deacons for Defense

Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement

By Lance Hill

400 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 21 illus., 1 map, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5702-1
    Published: February 2006
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6360-2
    Published: December 2005
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7209-8
    Published: December 2005

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Awards & distinctions

Honorable Mention, 2005 Outstanding Book Award, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights

In 1964 a small group of African American men in Jonesboro, Louisiana, defied the nonviolence policy of the mainstream civil rights movement and formed an armed self-defense organization--the Deacons for Defense and Justice--to protect movement workers from vigilante and police violence. With their largest and most famous chapter at the center of a bloody campaign in the Ku Klux Klan stronghold of Bogalusa, Louisiana, the Deacons became a popular symbol of the growing frustration with Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent strategy and a rallying point for a militant working-class movement in the South.

Lance Hill offers the first detailed history of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, who grew to several hundred members and twenty-one chapters in the Deep South and led some of the most successful local campaigns in the civil rights movement. In his analysis of this important yet long-overlooked organization, Hill challenges what he calls "the myth of nonviolence"--the idea that a united civil rights movement achieved its goals through nonviolent direct action led by middle-class and religious leaders. In contrast, Hill constructs a compelling historical narrative of a working-class armed self-defense movement that defied the entrenched nonviolent leadership and played a crucial role in compelling the federal government to neutralize the Klan and uphold civil rights and liberties.

About the Author

Lance Hill is adjunct professor of history at Tulane University. Contact the author by email at
For more information about Lance Hill, visit the Author Page.


"An engrossing, well-written study."--Journal of American Studies

"Grapples with a topic of great importance. . . . Challenges historians to continue to rethink black freedom movements in relationship to gender and manhood; the divergent strategies of civil rights organizations; the role of indigenous working-class blacks; the importance of our collective memory or amnesia as well as how we choose to remember those civil rights movements themselves."--Journal of Social History

"[A] ground-breaking, historical narrative. . . . [Hill's] scholarly reconstruction adds not only to Southern historiography, but to that of the United States as well."--Louisiana History

"Hill has written a bold and provocative book challenging the prevailing civil rights narrative. . . . This reviewer recommends this book highly and welcomes the debate it will generate."--Historian

"The book both demands and rewards contemplative consideration of its author's views on the differences between cultural and political resistance, on the degree to which nonviolence and black power shared core values and goals, and on the historical continuity of an African American radical tradition. This well-argued revisionist text should spur useful debate and encourage others to recast traditional civil rights-era narratives."--The Journal of American History

"Hill's ground-breaking, historical narrative is exhaustively researched. . . . His scholarly reconstruction adds not only to Southern historiography, but to that of the United States as well."--Louisiana History