Mabel and Robert Williams: A Legacy of Revolutionary Struggle and Community Service

Mabel Robinson Williams, (1931-2014), Leaves a Legacy of Revolutionary Struggle and Community Service
Along with husband Robert F. Williams they led a campaign for self-defense that shaped the 1960s

Robert and Mabel Williams during the 1960s.
Robert and Mabel Williams during the 1960s.

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Libya 360°

Funeral services were held in Detroit on April 25 for Mrs. Mabel Robinson Williams, the widow of African American revolutionary Robert F. Williams. The couple had settled in Lake County, Michigan, in the western region of the state, after returning to the United States from exile in the People’s Republic of China in late 1969.

The Williams served as leaders of the Monroe, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP during the 1950s until early 1961, when they were targeted by local authorities and the FBI. The civil rights organizers became advocates of armed self-defense against racist violence perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and law-enforcement personnel in the city.

Under the leadership of the Williams, the NAACP in Monroe was able to break down segregation in some public places and mount a successful appeal for two African American boys imprisoned after being falsely accused of assaulting a white female playmate. Williams gained national notoriety for forming rifle clubs that met racist violence with armed self-defense.

In 1961, during efforts to defend the African American community in Monroe from racist attacks, Robert Williams was falsely charged with kidnapping and fled into exile where he and his family spent the rest of the decade as a guests of the Cuban and later Chinese governments. Although he was expelled from the NAACP for purportedly violating their guidelines on nonviolent resistance, the Williams gained support from other militant forces within the U.S. and internationally.

During this period they also traveled to various African and Asian countries including North Vietnam where he met with liberation movement and communist leader Ho Chi Minh. They would open the way for other African American revolutionaries to visit China and Vietnam including members of SNCC and the Black Panther Party.

In Cuba the Williams continued to publish their newsletter, the Crusader, which was widely read by an emerging generation of revolutionaries who would lead the urban rebellions and form organizations such as the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), the Black Panther Party and the Republic of New Africa. His influence would also spread into the Civil Rights Movement particularly within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Deacons for Defense based in Louisiana.

Also in Cuba, they hosted Radio Free Dixie, a shortwave radio program that could be heard throughout the southern U.S. The program broadcast from Radio Havana, the official voice of the Cuban Revolution.

Later the Williams along with their children traveled to the People’s Republic of China where through their work, compelled deeper solidarity between the Communist Party, then under Mao Tse-tung, and the African American revolutionary movement. In April 1968, Chairman Mao issued a statement in solidarity with the urban rebellions that swept the U.S. in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

After returning to the U.S. in late 1969, Robert Williams was appointed as President of the newly-formed Republic of New Africa. Efforts to extradite him to North Carolina to stand trial on the bogus kidnapping charges was resisted and the-then Gov. William G. Milliken refused to honor the request noting that he could not receive a fair trial.

Community Leaders, Officials Pay Tribute

During the funeral held at St. Paul AME Church on the city’s eastside, a number of community activists paid tribute to her life and work. These speakers included Elaine Steele of the Raymond and Rosa Parks Institute, Charles Ferrell of the Dr. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, former City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson and Cong. John Conyers, all of Detroit.

Williams was eulogized by the church Pastor Andre L. Spivey who is also a member of the Detroit City Council. Other clergy from Lake County, Fathers Joe Fix and Ron Schneider also made remarks.

Williams survived her husband who passed away in 1996. During their time in Lake County they engaged in community activism and Mabel continued to work tirelessly in the areas of human services related to nutritional concerns and support for seniors.

In an obituary distributed to those who attended the memorial it states in part that:

“Through their advocacy and educational efforts, many foreign friends and world leaders became sympathizers and supporters of the African American struggle. In 1969 Mabel and Robert returned to the U.S. from three years in the People’s Republic of China. The two of them have been acknowledged for their contribution towards the thawing of relations between the United States and China during the Nixon administration which led to normalized relations with China. A museum was dedicated in 1999 to Robert, Mabel and other international fighters who had resided in China.

“Mabel and Robert worked tirelessly together as one, in their contribution to the struggle to uplift black people and marginalized humanity. It is impossible to speak of Rob Williams accomplishments and exploits in the civil and human rights struggle without simultaneously discussing the significant role this warrior woman played by his side, at his back, out in front, and behind closed doors as she followed Rob all around the world advocating and sounding the alarm for our people.

“Throughout her life Mabel enjoyed greatly family interactions and many lifelong friendships. She was often described as a ‘people person’ by those who knew her and experienced her contagious smile.

“She leaves behind to grieve her passing her son John Chalmers Williams (wife Lisa) step-son Franklin Williams, and grandsons Robert F. III, and Benjamin Paul Williams, and great-grand daughters Cali and Sasha Williams, brother-in-law John H. Williams and a host of relatives and friends.”

Additional information on the life and legacy of Robert and Mabel Williams can be found at the following sources as well as many others: The Black Scholar, (Spring, 2013, vol. 43, Number ½) Negroes With Guns, by Robert F. Williams; a documentary film and book entitled Radio Free Dixie, The Roots of Black Power, by Tim Tyson. There are also documents stored at the Robert F. Williams Collection at the University of Michigan in the Bentley Historical Library.

Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire and host of the
Pan-African Journal worldwide radio broadcast.

For Immediate Release
Media Advisory
Tues. April 29, 2014

To listen to this special broadcast of the Pan-African Journal featuring guest Norman Otis Richmond in a tribute to Mabel Robinson Williams, Robert F. Williams and Rubin Hurricane Carter, just click on the website below:

This special broadcast features a tribute to the late Mabel Robinson Williams, the widow of Robert Franklin Williams, who made her transition on April 19, 2014. The funeral services for Mrs. Williams was held on Friday April 25 and was covered by Pan-African News Wire editor Abayomi Azikiwe, also the host of the Pan-African Journal.

Mabel Williams was very much involved in the struggle for Civil Rights and self-determination in Union County, North Carolina during the 1950s and early 1960s. The Williams organized a militant local chapter of the NAACP and an armed self-defense unit called the Black Guard.

The Black Guard mobilized hundreds of African Americans to defend their community against the racist violence of the Ku Klux Klan and the police. Williams was expelled from the NAACP in 1959 after saying that African Americans should meet violence with violence.

In 1961 they were forced to flee North Carolina and the United States to Canada seeking political asylum. After the RCMP took up their case, they went into exile in Cuba for five years and then the People’s Republic of China for three additional years.

The program features a classic interview with Robert F. Williams by U.S. journalist Robert Cohen in Tanzania during late 1968. Later in the program we then bring on Norman Otis Richmond, the bluesologist and broadcaster from Toronto who met Williams during the period when he returned to the U.S. in late 1969.

Mabel Williams on Armed Self-Defense and the Klan

Mabel Williams on the Beginnings of Radio Free Dixie

Mabel Williams Recounts the Story of Her Family’s Flight from Monroe to Cuba

Mabel Williams on Being in the Shadow of her Husband

Amina and Amiri Baraka, Bobby Seale,
Mabel and John Williams – Oakland – 2007

While she often downplayed her role, Mabel, among many other activities, illustrated and wrote articles for their influential newsletter The Crusader, narrated and selected music for their radio program from Cuba, “Radio Free Dixie,” collaborated on the famous book, Negroes with Guns, was a strong voice for her people in Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Moscow, China, Japan, Vietnam, Europe, and Africa, and met with revolutionary leaders, such as Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao Zedong,

There could be no more fitting tribute than to highlight this woman whose militant anti-racist internationalism is powerfully expressed in her lifetime of dedicated energy around the world, then returning again to the Empire from which they had been exiled, and where she continued her social activism. We hope these selections from programs of the Freedom Archives and from an interview by Walter Turner on his radio program “Africa Today” provide insight into the lasting liberation legacy of Mabel Williams.


Mabel Williams on the Beginnings of Radio Free Dixie
from Freedom Archives on Vimeo.

Mabel Williams on Armed Self-Defense and the Klan
from Freedom Archives on Vimeo.

Mabel Williams Recounts the Story of Her Family’s Flight from Monroe to Cuba
from Freedom Archives on Vimeo.

Mabel Williams on Being in the Shadow of Her Husband
from Freedom Archives on Vimeo.

Self Respect, Self Defense & Self Determination – Full Program
from Freedom Archives on Vimeo.

You can listen by clicking on the track title.

The Story of the Crusader
from an interview with Walter Turner – 2004

Membership of the Monroe NAACP
from an interview with Walter Turner – 2004

Mabel’s Experience in Cuba
from an interview with Walter Turner – 2004

Are You Proud of Your Efforts
from an interview with Walter Turner – 2004

Mabel’s Advice to Young People
from an interview with Walter Turner – 2004

Robert F. Williams

Self Respect

Self Defense &

Self Determination

An Audio Documentary as told by

Mabel Williams

Robert F. Williams marches in the company of Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Kwame Ture, Martin Luther King, Jr.,Ella Baker and other leading voices of Black liberation. He was one of the most important and controversial leaders of the freedom movement. Yet his work, words, and profound influence are absent in most historical accounts.

With this CD, the Freedom Archives contributes to a growing body of recent scholarship, telling the story of Robert Williams through an exclusive interview with Mabel Williams, his widow, who was with him every step of the way. The program traces their journey from NAACP leadership and armed self-defense against the Klan in Monroe, North Carolina through exile and internationalist solidarity in Cuba, China, Africa, and back to the United States. It features rare speeches, interviews, and radio broadcasts of Radio Free Dixie, the short wave radio series Robert and Mabel broadcast from Cuba.

The story of Robert Williams and Mabel Williams is an important chapter in the history of African-American people. It is much more than the history of a black man who fought against segregation and apartheid in the South. It is the story of a man and a woman united in struggle, it is the story of a family who fought together, struggled together and stayed together, united and strong in the face of racism and oppression. Their story traces their political and ideological growth from being participants in the civil rights struggle, and the human rights struggle inside the United States, to being participants in the world struggle against imperialism and exploitation. It is a story of human dignity, and courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Their story is truly a story of love and of commitment to the struggle of African Peoples and oppressed peoples around the world.
—Assata Shakur, Black liberation fighter in exile

This very human story told by Mabel R. Williams, a deeply admired and respected icon of the Civil Rights movement, will help young people of all backgrounds understand the people and their struggles…
—Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, African Heritage Studies Society

Robert Williams is one of the most important figures in the history of the Black freedom movement…Thanks to the Freedom Archives and the work of his widow Mabel Williams, his story will be ‘heard’ by many more people. And in these political times, we need to remember Rob Williams’s courage, his unyielding internationalism, and the movement he helped to build.
—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

With this CD, the Freedom Archives makes an important contribution to American history and politics. Countering superficial readings of U.S. democracy and Black freedom struggles, this narrative by Robert and Mabel Williams brings a deeper and newer perspective on 20th century civil rights and self-defense in Black liberation movements. This is a significant gift—-a story that should be taught and debated in school and on the street.
—Joy James, editor of Imprisoned Intellectuals

This Freedom Archives CD is a find of rare importance…This is the kind of material that must be woven into the US education system…
—Amiri Baraka

Robert Williams was an extraordinary man, who has been largely lost in the history books. His story is dramatic and compelling and this audio record of his life is an important contribution to contemporary history.
—Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States


Far Side of Here; Fishing Song of the East China Sea, The Black Nation Suite by Fred Ho and the Brooklyn Saxophone Quartet

O, Freedom; We Shall Overcome, Free New Afrika!; Boogaloo; Song for a United Socialist Pan Africa by Fred Ho – Omnitone 2005

Black Widow Spider by Philip Serrano – Uncle Fudge Music 2002

Women of the City by Omar Sosa and Greg Landau – Round World Music 2004

The Williams’ Beginnings
American Tradition of Freedom
Organizing the NAACP
Armed Self-Defense as a Right
The Rifle Club & 10-Point Program
Crusader Newsletter
Racism, Blackness & the Kissing Case
Relationship with Malcolm X
The Cuban Revolution
Swimming Pool Desegregation
KKK Mobilizes – Attacks Monroe
Klan Attempts to Kill Robert
Freedom Riders Come to Monroe
So-called Kidnapping – Leaving Monroe
To Cuba – Crusader in Exile
Radio Free Dixie
Burmingham Church Bombing
Age of Revolution & Urban Rebellion
China, The Soviet Union & Transition
Black Power Speech
Vietnam War & Black Liberation
Tanzania & Repatriation
The Struggle Continues

Abayomi Azikiwe
is the editor of Pan-African News Wire , an international electronic press service designed to foster intelligent discussion on the affairs of African people throughout the continent and the world. The press agency was founded in January of 1998 and has published thousands of articles and dispatches in newspapers, magazines, journals, research reports, blogs and websites throughout the world. The PANW represents the only daily international news source on pan-african and global affairs. To contact him, click on this link >> Email