Just 30 minutes down the road, over four decades ago, a group of black men decided to put an end to the violence of the Ku Klux Klan against civil rights workers. The group was known as Deacons for Defense and Justice and their sole mission was to protect civil rights workers from the hands of the enemy known as the KKK. The Deacons for Defense began in Jonesboro back in November of 1964, led by Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas and Frederick Douglas Kirkpatrick. Most of the members of Deacons for Defense had combat experience from their days as soldiers in the Korean War and World War II.
The duties of the Deacons for Defense included patrolling black neighborhoods and protecting massive civil rights meetings from the ire of the Klan.
The Deacons for Defense watched over the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) headquarters and civil rights workers who were entering and leaving town. The Deacons also accompanied marchers from Memphis, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., in the summer of 1966.
Deacons for Defense decided to extend their mission to Bogalusa and develop another chapter there as well. There was no stopping the Deacons for Defense. They eventually formed 21 chapters in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Because of The Deacons valiant efforts, they were able to draw the attention of the federal government.
The federal government was forced to intervene on behalf of the black community and enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act and nullify the Klan. The Deacons’ cleverness and effectiveness in protecting the civil rights workers also drew the attention and concern of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Therefore the Bureau performed an investigation of the group.
Eventually, Deacons for Defense – a nonviolent group – butted heads with the very organizations they were trying to protect like the NAACP and CORE. These groups sought to respond to the brutal racial injustices with violence while the Deacons for Defense remained consistent with their nonviolent approach.
Meanwhile, with the arrival of the Black Power Movement, the Deacons for Defense’s involvement in the civil rights movement virtually disappeared in 1968.