We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement

We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement

We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement

We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement

Synopsis

Winner of the 2014 Anna Julia Cooper-CLR James Book Award presented by the National Council of Black Studies "Ranging from Reconstruction to the Black Power period, this thoroughly and creatively researched book effectively challenges long-held beliefs about the Black Freedom Struggle. It should make it abundantly clear that the violence/nonviolence dichotomy is too simple to capture the thinking of Black Southerners about the forms of effective resistance." - Charles M. Payne, University of Chicago The notion that the civil rights movement in the southern United States was a nonviolent movement remains a dominant theme of civil rights memory and representation in popular culture. Yet in dozens of southern communities, Black people picked up arms to defend their leaders, communities, and lives. In particular, Black people relied on armed self-defense in communities where federal government officials failed to safeguard activists and supporters from the violence of racists and segregationists, who were often supported by local law enforcement. In We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement, Akinyele Omowale Umoja argues that armed resistance was critical to the efficacy of the southern freedom struggle and the dismantling of segregation and Black disenfranchisement. Intimidation and fear were central to the system of oppression in Mississippi and most of the Deep South. To overcome the system of segregation, Black people had to overcome fear to present a significant challenge to White domination. Armed self-defense was a major tool of survival in allowing some Black southern communities to maintain their integrity and existence in the face of White supremacist terror. By 1965, armed resistance, particularly self-defense, was a significant factor in the challenge of the descendants of enslaved Africans to overturning fear and intimidation and developing different political and social relationships between Black and White Mississippians. This riveting historical narrative relies upon oral history, archival material, and scholarly literature to reconstruct the use of armed resistance by Black activists and supporters in Mississippi to challenge racist terrorism, segregation, and fight for human rights and political empowerment from the early 1950s through the late 1970s. Akinyele Omowale Umoja is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University, where he teaches courses on the history of the Civil Rights, Black Power, and other social movements.

Excerpt

My father was born in 1915 to a sharecropping family in the Bolivar County village of Alligator in the Mississippi Delta. Dad told me stories about Mississippi when I was growing up in Compton, California. These stories were full of examples of White terrorism and intimidation. One story I heard invoked mixed feelings of fear and pride. My father remembered seeing a Black man hanging from a Delta water tower, apparently after being lynched by White supremacists. Angered by this visible assault on Black humanity, my grandfather grabbed a rifle and intended to shoot the first White man he saw. My father, his siblings, and his stepmother tackled my grandfather and disarmed him. After hearing this story, I was proud that my grandfather wanted to fight back against the terrorists who lynched one of our people. On the other hand, I understood the fear in the hearts and minds of my father, uncles, and grandmother as they visualized the retaliation that would have been inflicted on the family if my grandfather had carried out his plans.

Fear and intimidation were essential elements of the system of subordination of Black people and the maintenance of White power in Mississippi and the South during the times of racial slavery and segregation. White supremacist violence was the primary cause of fear and intimidation. The primary social function of this violence was to maintain White political and economic power and the color line during segregation. My grandfather would have most likely been a lone warrior on the day he was disarmed by his loved ones. His anger overcame his fear and motivated him to fight back to confront the perpetrators of this lynching. This book is about Black people in Mississippi who picked up guns or other weapons and decided to use force to fight back against those who would deny their human rights and dignity. Ultimately, the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi and the South was a fight to overcome fear. Blacks overcame fear and asserted their humanity through a variety of tactics. This story documents the role that . . .

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