The Deacons for Defense and Justice: A look at its impact on the civil rights movement

Posted at 4:29 PM, Feb 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 18:25:42-05

(WXYZ) — Revisiting the past can be painful, but it can also be a powerful way to educate ourselves and others. As part of our Black History Month series, we're celebrating people, positivity, and progress.

Our Andrea Isom talked with three Metro Detroit women; all of them have their own story to tell about the Civil Rights Movement and the pivotal part, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, played in it.

Juanita Howard, 80, and her sister 69-year-old Wyanette Huff often think about monumental moments from the past.

The times when they were sweet and innocent little girls growing up in Louisiana. Little girls, who witnessed some frightening things.

It was the 1960s and the civil rights movement was marching on.

As the violence and torture perpetrated against Black people, and those standing along side them, like the Congress of Racial Equality, the dangers they all faced from the Ku Klux Klan was abominable. No one was doing anything about it. No one was trying to stop it. Until one day:

“A group of Black men who gathered together July 10 of 1964 at a church in Jonesboro, Louisiana. They were formed to protect the civil rights groups that was coming to town. They selected people who were familiar with guns, people that was from the Korean War, World War II. They gathered them together and they started the group. And they were the first Civil Rights group to carry guns openly," says Howard.

Their father, Otis Martin Sr., was one of them. Mr. Martin was one of the founding members of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, and his great-daughter Tyesha Vinson is a Producer at WXYZ.

Tyesha shared this part of her history, the story of her great-grandfather Otis Martin Sr. with the news team. So, we wanted to share it with all of you.

“It’s always been important for me to know where I come from. For me it’s always been about having the knowledge and being able to share it with others. I hope that at some point in my career I’ll be able to say that I made a difference. I want to be able to contribute just as much as my ancestors did. I have to make their sacrifices worth it, otherwise it was for nothing”, say Vinson.

We are all so lucky to have Tyesha Vinson at WXYZ. And she’s already carving out her place in Black History, which is American History.