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We Will Shoot Back

Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement

Akinyele Omowale Umoja

Publication Year: 2013

"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. 

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-10

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...

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1. Terror and Resistance: Foundations of the Civil Rights Insurgency

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pp. 11-26

In the beginning of the nineteenth century, Mississippi, a territory of the United States (acquired in the Louisiana Purchase), consisted of only a few thousand White settlers and captive Africans, as well as the indigenous population. In 1817, Mississippi was granted the status of a state in the U.S...

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2. “I’m Here, Not Backing Up”: Emergence of Grassroots Militancy and Armed Self-Defense in the 1950s

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pp. 27-49

Something new was happening in Mississippi. Although White terror was still formidable, Black people were willing to rally in the thousands for their freedom and human rights. Accommodationist Black leadership still had significant control over Black institutions, but they were being challenged by new...

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3. “Can’t Give Up My Stuff”: Nonviolent Organizations and Armed Resistance

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pp. 50-95

The NAACP never overtly promoted armed resistance. The organization’s national leadership also never advocated nonviolent direct action as a primary method of struggle. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which began organizing in Mississippi in 1961, became the...

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4. “Local People Carry the Day”: Freedom Summer and Challenges to Nonviolence in Mississippi

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pp. 96-120

By 1964, CORE and SNCC organizers in Mississippi were confronted with the dilemma of continuing their voter registration efforts in the face of increasing violence from White supremacists against the activists and communities they organized. SNCC’s and CORE’s initial years in Mississippi...

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5. “Ready to Die and Defend”: Natchez and the Advocacy and Emergence of Armed Resistance in Mississippi

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pp. 121-144

The years following the Freedom Summer of 1964 represent a significant shift in the tactics of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. The COFO coalition was unable to maintain its momentum in terms of providing statewide direction and coordination for the Mississippi Movement...

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6. “We Didn’t Turn No Jaws”: Black Power, Boycotts, and the Growing Debate on Armed Resistance

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pp. 145-172

On June 6, 1966, Movement activist James Meredith was shot one day after he initiated his “March against Fear.” His one-man march was a challenge to the intimidation from White supremacist terror that Blacks had had to endure for centuries. The Mississippi-born activist stated that the march’s...

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7. “Black Revolution Has Come”: Armed Insurgency, Black Power, and Revolutionary Nationalism in the Mississippi Freedom Struggle

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pp. 173-210

One NAACP lawyer told author Willie Morris, “Rudy Shields is one of the few Black radicals left who still believe in integration.” While Shields led Mississippi Black communities in local campaigns to pursue civil rights and desegregation, his rhetoric and perspective began to reflect the insurgent...

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8. “No Longer Afraid”: The United League, Activist Litigation, Armed Self-Defense, and Insurgent Resilience in Northern Mississippi

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pp. 211-253

The 1970s saw a resurgence of Ku Klux Klan and other White supremacist activity in the South and throughout the United States. The Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith identified the late 1970s as a “minor renaissance” for the Klan, which “almost tripled its national membership” in...

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Conclusion: Looking Back So We Can Move Forward

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pp. 254-260

I grew up in Compton, Watts, and South Central Los Angeles, California. I embraced the Black Power Movement as a teenager. Malcolm X, George Jackson, Robert Williams, Max Stanford, and the Black Panthers were my heroes. I was recruited into the African Peoples Party and the House of Umoja, two successor organizations of the Revolutionary Action Movement...


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pp. 261-304


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pp. 305-338

About the Author

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pp. 339-352

E-ISBN-13: 9780814725474
E-ISBN-10: 0814725244
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814725245
Print-ISBN-10: 0814725244

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2013