Akinyele Umoja: Black Ambivalence About Gun Control

tags: guns, gun control, African American history, Chronicle of Higher Ed., civil rights movement, Akinyele Umoja, George State University



Akinyele Umoja is an associate professor and chair of the department of African-American studies at Georgia State University. He is the author of  We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement, to be published by New York University Press in April.

The gun-control debate is complex, particularly as it relates to African descendants in the United States. As with almost every other issue, the racial dimensions cannot be dismissed.

From the beginning, slave-holding society fought to block enslaved Africans’ access to weapons, to reduce the likelihood of insurrection. After emancipation, blacks sought arms not only to hunt but to protect themselves from white-supremacist terror. Since the “right to bear arms” was denied them during their enslavement, emancipated blacks associated gun ownership with citizenship and liberty. But segregationists continued trying to disarm blacks after emancipation.

In doing research into armed resistance during the Southern black freedom struggle in the 1950s and 60s, I found ample evidence—through interviews with movement participants and archival records, particularly those of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party—that blacks turned to armed self-defense to protect activist leadership and their communities from white-terrorist violence. It was a rite of passage for rural black families to teach children to use arms as a means of survival, for both food and protection. And black girls were trained to shoot to protect themselves from white rapists....



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