Everybody is familiar with the pure evil that was and is the Ku Klux Klan, but how many know about the organization known as The Deacons for Defense and Justice? This was an organization founded in Louisiana in 1964 in response to the ultimate thumbing of the nose of the idea that the police in the South was a force meant to protect all citizens. In most towns that simply was not the case; in fact, many members of the police force moonlighted at night as hooded cowards of the KKK. The Deacons for Defense and Justice was the answer to the absolutely amazing sight of the police escorting a Ku Klux Klan order right down the streets of a black neighborhood in Jonesboro, LA. Black churches as usual were the supporting foundation against the inability of white Christians to adhere to Jesus Christ’s proclamation to love one’s neighbor as you would love yourself. Then again, maybe that it is exactly what the KKK members were doing. I happen to know some people who were probably associated with the Klan—I can’t say for sure—and I know that these people probably loathe themselves as much as they ever loathed any black person.
The Deacons for Defense and Justice was run primarily out of the multitude of black churches throughout the South and their greatest weapon against unexplained hatred directed toward them was in arming themselves and patrolling their own neighborhoods in search of suspicious behavior. Vigilante tactics? Perhaps, but certainly no different from the institutionalized profiling taking place against people who appear to be of Middle Eastern descent today by the FBI. Although the Deacons began as a small unit in Louisiana it wasn’t long before they claimed over sixty different chapters up and down the south and even in Chicago, IL. Interestingly, the membership of the Deacons for Defense and Justice were made up largely of war veterans who had seen action in either the Second World War, Korea or both. The explicit mission of the Deacons was to fight back against the violent tactics against civil rights activists that were used by the Ku Klux Klan and endorsed by most local and state governments. Voter registration was the center of this battlefield; Reconstruction had given blacks the right to vote, but Jim Crow laws had made it all but impossible to exercise that right. The Civil Rights Movement was largely about restoring not just the right but the ability for blacks to vote. If you’ve been fortunate enough to never be in the presence of either a KKK member or a like-minded individual when they talk about blacks enjoying such freedom, say an extra prayer tonight. White racists knew that the real battle in the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t about sharing drinking water, it was about keeping blacks away from the polls. (Just take a look at the 2000 Presidential election in Florida to see how real this fear could be.) The Deacons didn’t engage in the kind of mindless and fear-inspired violence that the KKK did; they typically did nothing more than lend protection to residents of neighborhoods and at meetings of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
The greatest power of the Deacons may have been in propaganda. With so many alleged chapters throughout Dixie the scared white men of the KKK quite naturally assumed there must be hundreds if not thousands of armed black men just waiting to jump them. After all, that is how they would have handled it. Such was the success of this propaganda that it even led to an official FBI investigation. Why not? In addition to dressing up in flouncy nighties, J. Edgar Hoover also enjoyed punishing black men for no other reason than being black. The investigation revealed that the true extent of the membership of the Deacons had been wildly inflated. The Deacons were not nearly as radical as the Nation of Islam or the Black Panthers and desperate times often call for desperate measures. As a result by the late 1960s the Deacons for Defense and Justice rapidly declined and eventually disappeared.