As I read in the Huffington Post:
Most people think [Martin Luther King, JR] would be the last person to own a gun. Yet in the mid-1950s, as the civil rights movement heated up, King kept firearms for self-protection. In fact, he even applied for a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
A recipient of constant death threats, King had armed supporters take turns guarding his home and family. He had good reason to fear that the Klan in Alabama was targeting him for assassination.
William Worthy, a journalist who covered the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, reported that once, during a visit to King’s parsonage, he went to sit down on an armchair in the living room and, to his surprise, almost sat on a loaded gun. Glenn Smiley, an adviser to King, described King’s home as “an arsenal.”
As I found researching my new book, Gunfight, in 1956, after King’s house was bombed, King applied for a concealed carry permit in Alabama. The local police had discretion to determine who was a suitable person to carry firearms. King, a clergyman whose life was threatened daily, surely met the requirements of the law, but he was rejected nevertheless. At the time, the police used any wiggle room in the law to discriminate against African Americans.
Ironically, the concealed carry permit law in Alabama was promoted by the National Rifle Association thirty years earlier. [30 years earlier… to help blacks defend themselves!] Today, the gun rights hardliners fight to eliminate permits for concealed carry, as Arizona has done.
Eventually, King gave up any hope of armed self-defense and embraced nonviolence more completely. Others in the civil rights movement, however, embraced the gun.