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



Winner of the 2014 Anna Julia Cooper-CLR James Book Award presented by the National Council of Black Studies

Winner of the 2014 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature

In We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement, Akinyele Omowale Umoja argues that armed resistance was critical to the Southern freedom struggle and the dismantling of segregation and Black disenfranchisement. Intimidation and fear were central to the system of oppression in 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. As the civil rights movement developed, armed self-defense and resistance became a significant means by which the descendants of enslaved Africans overturned fear and intimidation and developed different political and social relationships between Black and White Mississippians.

This riveting historical narrative reconstructs the armed resistance of Black activists, their challenge of racist terrorism, and their fight for human rights.

Product Details

New York University Press
Publish Date
August 22, 2014
5.9 X 0.9 X 8.9 inches | 1.05 pounds

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About the Author

Akinyele Omowale Umoja is 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 and Black Power movements and other social movements. He is the author of We Will Shoot Back: Amed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement (NYU Press 2013). He has been a community activist for over 40 years.


"Timely and timeless. . . . Expands our understanding of the hidden narratives of Mississippi's black armed resistance groups scattered through generations."--Kathleen Cleaver, Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow, Emory Law School
"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 1970's."--Mark Anthony Neal
"Umoja has contributed to a more complex and less romanticized understanding of the civil rights movement by documenting civil rights tactics difficult to hail in & beloved community tones: the deployment of coercion toward the very people the movement meant to free from coercion."--American Quarterly
"Umoja follows confrontation in communities across the state through the ends of the 1970s, demonstrating how black Mississippians were ultimately able to overcome intimidation by mainstream society, defeat legal segregation, and claim a measure of political control of their state."--The Clarion-Ledger
"[B]y extending the narrative of armed resistance through the late 1970s and emphasizing grassroots activism, this well-researched and beautifully written book succeeds in pushing historiographical boundaries. It will undoubtedly be of interest to scholars and students alike."--Journal of American History
"[Umoja] asserts that armed resistance played a significant role in the Mississippi Black Freedom Struggle, providing a useful corrective to the assumption that southern blacks were passive in response to white terror and the Ku Klux Klan. . . . Umoja's greatest contribution is to tell the stories of the less well-known black Mississippians who had the courage to confront White racism and fight back. . . . Their stories and legacy provide an essential correction to the stereotype of indigenous southern black passivity perpetuated by such popular Hollywood fare as Mississippi Burning (1988)."--Journal of American Culture
"Umoja (Georgia State Univ.) challenges the notion that the classic civil rights movement in the southern US was always a nonviolent movement. He provides new information and interpretations, which are a welcome contribution to knowledge of this period in the 1960s and an appreciated addition to the history of the civil rights movement."--Choice
"Umoja's eye-opening work is a powerful and provocative addition to the literature of the civil rights movement."--Publishers Weekly
"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, Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor, University of Chicago
"In We Will Shoot Back, historian Akinyele Omowale Umoja adds his voice to the flurry of recent scholarship that examines the relationship between armed self-defense and nonviolent protest in the black freedom struggle. Umoja Succeeds in his quest to enshrine a tradition of militant self-defense within Mississippi's black freedom struggle."--Journal of African American History
"In We Will Shoot Back, Umoja presents a compelling and important argument for the role of armed resistance played in the Mississippi freedom struggle. . . . He successfully challenges the often silent narrative on the importance and prevalence of armed resistance in Mississippi and, in doing so, We Will Shoot Back underscores the importance of reexamining the Mississippi movement in all of its complexities."--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
"The book is meticulously researched and easily accessible. Part of a wider trend toward understanding social movements through targeted community studies and oral histories, Umoja's scholarship has contributed to a deeper, richer, and ultimately more accurate understanding of the civil rights/black power movement(s). The stereotype of cowering black sharecroppers, awaiting the intervention of well-meaning white do-gooders to rescue them from virulent Klansmen, cannot withstand the withering fire of We Will Shoot Back."--American Historical Review
"Akinyele Umoja's marvelously rich and exhaustive study of Mississippi will radically transform the debate about the role of nonviolence within the civil rights movement, proving that armed self-defense actually saved lives, reduced terrorist attacks on African American communities, and laid the foundation for unparalleled community solidarity. We Will Shoot Back is decidedly not a romantic celebration of gun culture, but a sometimes sobering, sometimes beautiful story of self-reliance and self-determination and a peoples capacity to sustain a movement against all odds."--Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
"[Nelson Mandela's] sister recalled when considering that thing in him; that courage and light in the world would eventually herald. . . . Akinyele Umoja, chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta and author of We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement concurs."--Ebony