Akinyele Omowale Umoja
We Will Shoot Back
Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement
NYU Press 2013
The historiography of the southern Civil Rights Movement has long focused on the tactic of non-violence. With only a few notable exceptions, most scholarship locates the use of armed self-defense and other forms of armed resistance in northern cities while temporally, we usually think of these strategies as rising to prominence only later in the movement. Akinyele Omowale Umoja, Professor and Chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University, tells us this common narrative omits a long and rich history of armed resistance in the southern Black Freedom Struggle. His new book, We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement (New York University Press, 2013), traces the roots of this armed resistance in Mississippi. His book shows black Mississippians had a long tradition of armed self-defense extending well before the iconic Civil Rights campaigns in the state. Moreover, when the movement came, self-defense remained. The book shows armed self-defense co-existed with non-violence–sometimes cooperatively, sometimes uneasily, and often both–throughout the period usually strongly associated with non-violence, such as during Freedom Summer. We Will Shoot Back goes on to examine the growing prominence of armed resistance in the mid to late 1960s. He shows the many different forms armed resistance took. Some of those forms were advocated by small groups or were short-lived, while others were quite successful.
In this episode of the podcast, Umoja discusses how he came to study this topic and his research process, including many oral histories. He also explains the importance of broadening our understanding of Civil Rights activism to include this longer history of armed resistance.