Akinyele Umoja


Material Information

Akinyele Umoja
Physical Description:
Oral history interview
Akinyele Umoja ( Interviewee )
Khama Weatherspoon and Nicole Cox ( Interviewer )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Oral history
Civil rights movement--Mississippi--History--20th century
Temporal Coverage:
1954 - 2010
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Mississippi


Dr. Akinyele Umoja, professor of African American Studies at Georgia State University talks about his family in Bolivar County, Mississippi and his father who went from sharecropping to a college education and graduate degree from Pepperdine University. Omoja also talks about being an activist and his graduate research on the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. People mentioned include: Walter Collins, Virginia Collins (Dara Abubakari), Joe Taylor, Robert Williams, Bob Moses, Marion Barry, Hollis Watkins, Curtis Hayes, T.R.M. Howard, Medgar Evers, Emmett Till, Amzie Moore, Ruby Hurley, Vernon Dahmer, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, Kathleen Cleaver, Geronimo Pratt (Geronimo ji-Jaga), Max Stafford (Mohammed Agmen), Assata Shakur, Gary Tyler, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, E. W. Steptoe, Myrlie Evers, Manning Maribel, C.O. Chan, Emilye Crosby, Chokwe Lumumba, Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Oscar Grant, and Muhammad Ali. Organizations include: the African People's Party, House of Umoja, Pacific Radio, National Black Students Association, SNCC, Southern Conference Education Fund, Marcus Garvey Movement, Deacons for Defense, Regional Council of Negro Leadership, Black Panther Party, Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), Black Liberation Party, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, CORE, and the NAACP. Locations mentioned include: Birmingham, Alabama; Compton and Los Angeles, California; Wewoka, Oklahoma; Atlanta and Lumpkin, Georgia; and Alligator, McComb, Jackson, Greenwood, Hattiesburg, Tylertown, Natchez, Port Gibson, and Tupelo, Mississippi.

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Source Institution:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Holding Location:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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All rights reserved by the submitter.
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spohp - MFP 070
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The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz 241 Pugh Hall Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor O ral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, re ligious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer t o both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview t ranscripts available on the UF D igital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to refl ect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit http://oral.histor y.ufl.edu or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013


MFP 0 70 Interviewee : Akinyele Umoja Interviewer: Khama Weatherspoon and Nicole Cox Date: September 23, 2010 W: Good morning. Today is Thursday, September 23, 2010. I am Khama Weatherspoon along here with Nicole Cox, and we are with the esteemed Dr. Akinyele Umoja, professor of African American Studies at Georgia State University. Thank you, Dr. Umoja, for allow ing us to interview you today. U: No problem. W: research, everything. U: Okay. Well, this is background. I mentioned to you, if you heard the presentation last night, I grew up in Compton, California. I was born in 1954. Actually, I was born in L.A. My family my father was a minister, so we moved to Arizona for about a year. Then we moved to Oklahoma, till I was about I finished kindergarten, and then we back to, we moved to C ompton, where I went to first grade through high school. Then, I went to UCLA for a year, dropped out of school. Really, dropped out of school, not because I was doing that well I did rom there, the rest of the other two quarters b ut I really had a passion to get active in the [19]73, I got very active in working around political prison ers and active in my Party, and the other one, now called House of Umoja name from. I went back to school in 1977. I, initially, was an accounting major, I went to Cal Stat e L.A. California State University, Los Angeles let me see.


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 2 I think one of the reasons I went back to school, now I think about it, was I got a job and they promised me they woul d pay me more money if I went back to college. So, I went back to college. C: U: I was working as a paraprofessional and they offered me more money. Then I started working on campus with a multicultural education program. B ut I really I put more into working the multicultural education program, and my college. In 1981, got married and, in 1983, my wife and I had our first child. We moved to it was different from Los Angeles. I was very well networked in L.A., so I could always find meaningful work that paid me what I thought was a fair wage, and it was work that I enjoye d doing, whether it was working at multicultural education program or I was working with a parenting program where I organized workshops with parents and got parents to organize at particular schools. I worked at Pacific Radio in Los Angeles and I did some radio programming. But it was always work that motivated me, and I got paid you know, a fair wage to contribute to my anymore, so it forced me to go back to school. And I end up when I looked at all the courses I take, even though I was an accounting major, it looked like African American studies was going to be my route. So, I graduated that way. I took classes in Georgia [inaudible 04:05] graduated, then I went back to get a


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 3 t eaching credential. I went to George State when I worked to get that teaching credential. [Laughter] That was the first time I went to school, and I was really just kind of focused, and my grades were you know, I was always on the ough t, well, maybe I can do this school thing. [Laughter] I decided, once I got my teaching credential particularly when I saw they were beginning to standardize curriculum that I wanted to back to graduate school. because I I decided that I would go back to school so I could write curriculum, particularly with my experience teaching high schoo l. I figured I knew in terms of the history and culture of black folk. So, I decided I wanted to do that t in an interdisciplinary program at Emory University in American Studies, and I went there, I decided to do a paper on in one of my classes on the role of armed self defens e in the c ivil rights m ovement in the South. One of my professors said, wow, that would be a great dissertation topic. So I began to focus on that. The professor who worked with me the most while I was there and this is at Emory University was Robin Kelley. H e was just starting his college teaching historians. So, he and I were discussing, and he was saying, Akinyele, if you just do


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 4 too big of a topic. So Mississippi and Louisiana. So I came down to Mississippi, to Jackson, to Tougaloo College, looked in the archives. And just looking in the archives on a couple trips, how that developed. Of course, I left, graduated from Emory, officially in 1997. Actually, finished my dissertation December [19]96, but they only have one graduation a year. I was hired at Georgia State, to my surprise, but even though I worked at Morehouse and Clark before that. I guess I could get a position in having people wanting me to work there but at the want to mess with me. But I guess a lot of people do. W: For clarification, you meant Clark Atlanta University U: Clark At lanta University. W: And Mo rehouse College U: And M orehouse College, yeah, t aught at both of those places. I taught at Mo rehouse from [19]91 to [19]95 and I taught at Clark Atlanta in [19]95 [19]96 at Clark not dissertation, thesis and dissertation committees. C: You had mentioned last night that you had some ties to the Delta. How did that shape your research in Mississippi? U: through it now. You know, as I mentioned, my father was born in Alligator, Mississippi,


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 5 which is Bolivar County. He used to always tell me sto ries about Mississippi. I think me stor ies a lot kind of influenced my desire to want to be a historian. We used to jus t sit and talk. He would lay out on the couch or whatever, and he would tell me all these stories about growing up and the Delta and talk about the levy and what would happen i f the levy you know, if there was damage to the levy and there w as a flood, and how that would a ffect because my father was a sharecropped till he was thirty. He was fortunate en ough to meet somebody who had a connection with a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, called the Nashville Christian Institute, which was a school for black kids. It must have took adults, too, because I knew other I met at least one other adult who went there. So, my father took that opportunity to leave the life of sharecropping. I think he was maybe the first person in his family to get a high school education. The first th at. But so, he finished at thirty, and then he went to Southwestern Christian College, which was affiliated with that denomination, which is a historically black college in T errel l Texas He finished there and then he went to graduate school at Pepperdine He was one of the first blacks to go to Pepperdine College at that met my mom. My mom had her history was, she was born in Wewok a Ok lahoma, which was a town founded by the B lack Seminoles, Seminole


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 6 some conflict with a white man in Houma Louisiana and he moved there. My mother was the first child in that family born there. My grandfather, also, w as a sharecropper and a bootlegger. Made you know, bootleg liquor to make ends meet. My mother went to Frederick Douglas High School there. She was a opportunities for black women, so she left Oklahoma and went upon graduating moved with a relative, where she went to L.A. Community College in the nursing program when she met my father. She got married to my father, she dropped out of school and was a civil servant. Both my parents w ere pretty much and they kind of encouraged that with us. You know, my father was a minister, advisory board for the library in my community in the neighborhood I grew up in library to see his name when I was in the library. That kept me in the library a lot. C: U: When I w as in elementary school. So all those things, I think, helped shape who I am in terms of my background. Now, my father and I mentioned this last night, too he told me a story that I never thought about. It stuck in the back of my mind. One time ll it in full last night, but his family saw a black man hanging from a water tower. And my grandfather, who was actually born in Lumpkin, Georgia, grabbed his rifle and he was just going to go out and shoot the first white man he saw. He was angry. But my father said the family tackled


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 7 my grandfather and disarmed him, because they realized if he had done that, then everybody was going to die. You know what I mean? It was going to be consequences for the whole family. So, oftentimes I thought about that fea r and living in that situation. On the other hand, I was kind of surprised, given my background of growing up in L.A. during the Black Power Movement and all that that, that people in the South had guns and were willing to use guns. So that was a difficult thing. But really what got me on my dissertation topic and to think about this whole armed self defense piece was, when I was in college and, as a student activist I was a part of a group called the National Black Students Association. We had a meeting in Atlanta. I had met a brother from New Orleans and contacted him and asked him, could I go back to New Orleans with him after the meeting? When he came to the meeting, he was with some other activists. One person was Walter Collins. Walter Collins was an i mportant draft resister If They Come in t he Morning I think he was affiliated with SNCC, and he also was affiliated with the Southern Conference Education Fund. He resisted the draft and was incarcerated should be fighting in Vietnam. Or in the military during that period of time. Then Collins also known as Dara Abubakar i and, if you Black Women in White America civil rights days, also associated with the Southern Conference Education Fund. She her parents were in the Garvey


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 8 Movement and she was also one of the leaders of the Republic of New Africa, particularly one of the primary leaders who was from the South. But they were both at the meeting. So, my friend whose name was Joe Taylor I rode back wi remember we went through Alabama sure it was Birmingham and they mentioned how, at some of the demonstrations, that, while people were nonvi olent in the demonstrations, before. They also talked about different places in the South where guns were buried, and then them being from Louisiana, they talked about D eacons for D efense A nd I never heard about this before, this aspect of the Southern Movement, s o that was something that always stuck with me. I heard about Robert Williams, I heard about Deacons for Defense but then hearing about all these other Southerners who I never heard of being involved in self defense and it being a tradition, I just never thought about it. But I still kind of thought it was exceptional until being in graduate school, I did the research and found out it was ust a few people, but it was part of the culture. If guns, and so it was pretty much a part of the culture. What I do think, from world is because the interconnectedness of families and maybe the distance and the struggle around that today. During that time, you had young people who were taught about weapons, taught about how dangerous they were, and talked about your life.


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 9 They usua lly taught about weapons from their families, their parents, and it was a part of surviving in terms of hunting, but then I know some black women who talked about their fathers taught them how to use guns to protect themselves from rapists. So I think it w as a different culture from the way kids get guns experience as a gun culture today and what know if that helps explain how the topic W: Yes, it does. How instrumental do you think the use of guns were in Mississippi? U: [Laughter] Well, I think W: In terms of civil rights U: se of guns than there was nonviolence. I think nonviolence becomes the exception, particularly in Mississippi. If you check campaigns. You see it in McComb during the first voter r egistration campaigns, remember if you study the history of SNCC, there was a split in SNCC over whether there should be emphasis on voter registration or if it should be emphasis o n direct action. And so, when Bob Moses came down here, he was part of the voter registration aspect of the Movement. Marion Barry and others came to McComb to teach people around nonviolence, and so you had Hollis Watkins, Curtis Hayes now, of course, Moh ammed and others who engage in these nonviolent direct action campaigns. That was one of the only places I


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 10 mean, you had some in Jackson, you had a little bit, sort of, in Greenwood when you had the demonstrations there in 1963, I believe it was. It was ei ther [19]62 or Going as far back as when you had the birth of what we might could say is the civil rights Movement here in Mississippi, right here in this county, which the Regio nal Council of Negro Leadership, and under the leadership of T.R.M. Howard, they always had guns. A reporter from Jet at that particular time his name escapes me comes down here and he writes a bo ok about the Movement in Mississippi. Really, about the black struggle in general. He has a couple chapters on the Movement in Mississippi. He argued that any c ivil r ights program in Mississippi had to involve guns, from what he observed, when he observed that organization. Of course, Medgar Evers, if you read biographies about him, always carried guns wherever he went. He had armed security. It was unfortunate, the night he was assassinated, the security had been relaxed, from what people who were close to him told me. So, it wa s from the birth of the modern c ivil rights m ovement here in Mississippi, you saw guns being involved from the inception of it. A lot of the SNCC workers told me, when they to these communities, whether it was McComb, whether it was Greenwood, whether it was Forrest County, Hattiesburg, they always had people in that community who were part of these informal self prior to that, during the Emmett Till case when Medgar Evers, Amzie Moore, and Ruby Hu rl e y are doing the investigation around the Till case. Ruby Hurley


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 11 mentions in Howell book how there were men with shotguns who were So, it was very much a part of the culture in the South to protect folk. What I argue in my book, that this self defense in the early part of the Movement is kind of more covert, informal networks of black folk. But you have self defense on some levels and, in other places, you have what I call retaliatory violence. So, for instance, in Wathaw County in Tylertown I believe this is around [19]61 you had some black folks who capture a night rider and kill him and sever his head from his body and put it on a bridge that separates the bla ck community and white community. That stops night riders coming in their community. So you have that extreme form defense, because if you capture a not to go into all my research right now. Of course, by 1965, you had the development of the Deacons for Defense in Louisiana really, it developed in [19]64 in 1965, you se same organization, even though you do have the Louisiana deacons coming over here from time to time, particularly in Hattiesburg after Vernon Da h mer was murdered in 1966. Of course, they come here dur ing the murder march, the Louisiana deacons come and provide security during that point. But in Natchez and Port Gibson and . Jefferson County, in what do you call it, Hattiesburg not Hattiesburg, Hazelhurst, and in Crystal Springs, you see different g roups or different people, units, calling themselves Deacons for Defense that exist here in


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 12 Mississippi. So, you see more of a paramilitary, formal organization taking place in that case. My study actually ends in the late 1970s, where you have a series of boycotts in the northern part of the state, where you see black people carrying guns to support those boycotts e ven having confrontations and standing down Movement, but what I a rgue in my book is that it plays an important role in breaking fear and intimidation. Because not the Mississippians by the time you get to the la te [19]70s, from the period of time of the 1950s. You have a lot of people carrying guns, and I think the white because they feel they have the capacity to defend themselves and to f ight back. that point. In certain communities, of course. You know, some places, you have change C: I wonder if you could talk a little more you kind of mentioned the activism that U: Well, like I said, when I was eighteen, the first thi ng grew up in a period where there was a lot of activism around me. From the time I I mean, I can even go, I remember my father taking me to go door to door,


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 13 even remember. I was a kid. But during the move from that to seeing the whites, seeing the whites uprising when I was a kid, and having people who went to church with me or school with me that were, like, saying that they were opposed t get involved in it A nd the whole thing about Muhammad the war. And the Olympic prote sts, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, all those things had an impact on me. So, by the time I remember I graduated from high school, I remember Kathleen Cleaver, who was one of the leaders of the Black Panther Party, came to speak in South Central L.A. She was coming to speak, but she was also coming from Algeria at that time, where her and her husband were in exile. And she was going to testify at the trial of G eronimo Pratt or, now know as Geronimo ji J ag a his case. I went to that rally, I tried to get involved in that, but a lot of the Panthers C: Sure. U: So I ended up going to college, as I mentioned, my freshman year, and I began to read about this other political prisoner by the name Max Stafford. Okay? Also known as Mohammed Agmen. He was captu red in 1972 and the defense committee was forming for him At the time, I was a freshman at UCLA, I was working on the black stude nt newspaper and I volunteered to go to the meeting. I became very much involved in his case, and people who are associated with in L A also, the H ouse of Umoja, which is, the H ouse of Umoja is a ver y little known organization. Both


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 14 these organizations were, what do you call it, successf ul organizations you ever heard of Revolutionary Action Movement? Revolutionary Action Movement, or what was called RAM, was established in Philadelphia and Ohio in 19 64. Philip Ode n, and they were also in Detroit, San Francisco. Other places, too. Cleveland. It came under a lot of attention from the government, so, by 1968, they st opped using that name. On the West coast, they started using the name House of Umoja, and then, throughout the country they became first, they were joined those organizations and was active in those organizations. In Los Angeles, where I was at, we had a community center first called the Umoja Center, then it became the Center for Black Survival. T here, we had certain activities. We had martial arts classes. W e had welfare rights advocacy from there. We also did consumer rights advocacy. I remember there was one tim e we had a campaign in South Central where we found a store that was selling meat that was you know, too old, and Similac that was too old. So, we did protests in front of that store and got media attention. Then they moved you know, they improved the cond itions of quality of produce in that store. So, we involved in things like that. We always worked around political prisoners, whether it was the case of Assata Shakur or the Republic of New Africa 11 or Gary Tyler, who was this young kid in Louisiana who w incarcerated, was sixteen years old. It looked like it was bogus circumstances. We worked on . we would work on trying to get unity with other organizations in our community. So that was a lot of the activism I was in volved in in that


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 15 period. Our organization kind of morphed into a group it formed in 1984 called toda six now. Whether you know, we were in the forefront of fighting around survival rights around Katrina, so we were very much involved in that struggle and still are. We have people still a chapter in New Orleans, now, that works around as recently, a l around solidarity with the people of Haiti As I mentioned last night, I just returned from Haiti. I was there from August 21 to August 27. First time I was there was in 2007. Because we were working in suppor t of Haiti long before the onsciousness just because of the earthquake. But s a crucial if that helps. C: Yeah. U: eighteen to fifty six. C: question that I had, too, you kind of mentioned what it was like, moving from L.A. or California, where you had this network and these contacts, and then moving to


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 16 Atlanta. Could you talk more about your perceptions of what it was like, moving to the South, sort of, where things are U: Okay. [Lau ghter ] When I was in college, I visited the South a lot. We always had this kind of perspective that black people have more potential for power in the well, black concentration, right? So, I always visited, had friends that went to school at Morehouse I would visit, as I mentioned before, Louisiana. I had a friend, one of my mentors, went to graduate school at UGA University of Georgia so I would go visit him. I always liked the South, you know? I liked the culture, I liked the food, the women were but I liked how the move from California Southern California I liked the change of seasons. I liked, especially, the fall and the spring. I loved that. there. So we formed organ ization. We volunteered to move to the South, and so that year we moved, 1984. I moved the year the Olympics started. I still love living in the South. It ooh. The hardest transition was the whole employment thing, which I described to you before. That was the hardest thing but, you know, I liked the people. Unlike some other folk who might have moved from the West or the North there, I seemed to fit in. Maybe it was because I was just the first generation person living o ut of the South, really You know what I


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 17 have a hard tim I make friends real easy, so that t, trying to get myself situated. But never be a Ph.D. now. Because, again, I was comfortable in L.A. I was very well networked, I could find employment I liked. Being a father, moving there, I felt responsible and I needed to find employment that would make the stabilize my family. That really motivated me, career wise and professionally, in that I never really was that I was really more motivated by my activism. So, that kind of motiv ated me in that part of my life. But, you know, moving back to Los Angeles. It would have to be a catastrophe or something of great benefit, like somebody promising me a whole lot of money to make me move back or move out of the Sou th. [Laughter] Because I feel very connected. My daughter was a year and a half when we moved there. I have grandchildren there now. I have, you know, my son was born there, grew up there. I have a Atlanta is very much i mportant. Then I have really want to be. If I left for any period, I would be back. It would just be a short period to make some money or something or achieve some task, and I would if that completes the circle for you. C: as somebody ut also at high school, and also spent a lot of time working on curriculum and things like that


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 18 U: When I was in L.A., I worked with kids, too, elementary school kids. C: coun try, p eople know so little about the m ovement in Mississippi and kind of what went on here. U: Well . why do I think? Hm . I think . much of the c ivil r ights m ovement and is through Dr. King. primarily through the follow up to the Me redith March So, if you looked at the c ivil r ights struggle from the bottom up and really, you think about it, in term s of the nat ional organizations Mississippi was the territory, really for SNCC and an element of CORE. T Roy Wilkins C: Right. It was more people lik e Ella Baker. U: Well, Ella Baker yeah, a nd really, if you think about, organizing here, really, but her influence is here, her orientation is here. But, you really think about people more like Fannie Lou Hamer when you think about Mis NAACP activist, right? Or, when you think about Medgar, who was a national really get the real Med gar Evers. If you read this recent book by Myrlie Evers and Manning Maribel T he A utobiography o f Medgar Evers You kind of get a different perspective when you hear about him. But usually, the Medgar we get is if you watched any of the movies that have been made about him or


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 19 believed in, his background. But, you know, Mississippi was a place of all these very important, powerful grassroots activists and leaders. We woul d get a whole different picture of the story. Like, I think I told you all the story last night of C.O. Chan, who was a bootlegger. You just get a whole different perspective when you looked at those folk. But I think, I agree with a lot of historians and a lot of activists who have more sensitivity to the struggle than Mississippi actually was c ivil r ights period of the Movement. And, really, when I say c ivil r share, what people talk about as Black Power, Mississippi is very significant. To here in West Point during that period, West Point, Mississippi. If you look at some of the activism that occurred in Yazoo County during the late [19]60s, early [19]70s, and the boycott movements that occurred in Southwest Mississippi. I think, that people are kind of missing. I think Emily e Crosby did a great job in her book, Common Courtesy in talking about that in her communities she grew up in in Cla i born e County and Port Gibson, Mississippi. So because people are cutting the stru ggle off at a certain period, and it was some activism, you know. Like I said, my study is going to go into 1979, where you had boycotts in the northern pa rt of the state ; towns like Tupe lo re that needs to be looked at. But, going back to your original question on this, I just


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 20 think much of our Movement history is superficial, anyway. I always well, I teach a class on social movements, and I tell my students that what social movements are, i political behavior class or government class in high school. Because no system is going to teach you or really reinforce how you change it. [Laughter] Right? Like, they want to maintain the s tatus quo. So you only going to get that, really, from people who want to go beyond just maintaining the order and seeing that it does need to be changed, continuously made in society. I think it is something that has to be continuous, until you have a mor e democratic society than what we have right now. I think we have democracy for everybody. Everybody can vote, but the way the system is parties, you know? [Laughter] C: W: That is a very good point. So, as someone with extensive research in social movements and community activism, do you believe that there is a modern civil rights m ovement in Mississippi? U: The thing I participated in most recently in Mississippi is, a friend of mine, Chok we Lum umba zation I belong to, he ran for City C ouncil in 2009, I believe it wa different about his campaign is


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 21 platform. Then, after winning an election whi ch he won, I think, about 63 percent of the vote or whatever . he won the most in a primary of about seven or eight candidates. Then, when it was a runoff, he won, I think, about 63 69 somewhere in this, below 70 percent of the vote. He maintained that assembly, that kind of gives him direction on how he should vote on issues. I thought that was sort of a different way to deal with politics, because one of the things we t erms o f black political power, b of the same system, right? place right chance to interview, okay? In South Mississippi. And I noticed you have black municipal prisoners doing work out in the street, right? Which you see in a lot of places. But then, I saw at the housing development which is owned by this politician black municipal prisoners cutting the grass there. I saw them wash still in order: black people, black polit icians, have just inherited now. What I liked about Chok we Lum we elect you, you go in there, you do whatever the hell you want to, and then you pay off a few of us from time elements in our communities; some preachers here, some preachers there. We


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 22 keep everybody in line. But we actually need to come up with a new form of There ar e others where you see Mississip pi folk fighting around issues. L ike last Wednesday, they had the demonstration around the Scott sisters in Jackson. You have people fighting around issues of police brutality, things of that nature here in the state. So, yo you know, the reason I hesitate, Mississippi is not in isolation from the rest of the country, right? And so the issues now are not as clear, particularly now that you have black people who are somewhat, or more, represented in the system, and I always, I have a colleague who told my students, what are yo u mad about now? He said, when I was a kid, we saw signs and stuff. When I lived in Oklahoma, as s there are a lot of distractions, and if you can look on T.V. and see, well, wow. person. They can necessarily fighting on systemic issues, you know? Shoot, now you can say, epitome of the c ivil r ights m ovement, on one l


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 23 perspective and I told you I was radical has to be a new social order. So, for instance, if you think the system we live in is oppressive like a black person being an overseer on a plantation. You know what I mean? and we did have black overseers, but slavery was still in effect. And now that You kn happy for everybody. I always think, you know, what would my father think about this now? You know what I mean? A black man being a president. He would say, a Negro being president? W hat would that do? How would he feel about it? I know my mother was very happy. I was happy. My kids were happy. But, at the same time, remember right after he was elected, you had Oscar Grant being shot by the police in Oakland, right? Right after you hap pened, you had another kid shot in New Orleans and a kid shot in Houston, days after the election. So something different about the social order that has to be change, beyond s more etting lynched, a fear of your house being burned down. At least in the majority of the


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 24 McComb, still, there were some fires and people suspected they were racially motivated. Bu argue. C: Building on that, what sort of lessons do you think that we can take from the civil rights movement ? U: s the important of having, being organized. You know, th e people have And there are places you can locate yourself, that can put pressure in the right what Mississippi shows us, more than any other pla ce, is that poor people with little formal education can be leaders. Okay? Model, in terms of grassroots leadership, I think . people ask, well, then, that? I think if you are an intellectual then you have access to information, and you have time or whatever to get infor mation that might not be readily available, I think you have to be a servant, to provide that information and lay out options for people. Unless people give you and say, look, you just go ahead and make that


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 25 something like that. But I think Mississippi clearly shows that, it show s the potential of people who are poor and who have limited formal education for leadership in a social movement. So, those are some of the things, I would think . that can be learned from the Mississippi Movement. It just showed Mississippi folk and s o much, when I go to Haiti now, reminds me of the same thing, that they were very resilient. They were very showed a lot of resistance, in spite of being repressed, and so much fear. Because, as I said in my statement last night, prior to the formal moveme nt being established when there was a lot of oppression here, people organized, but the organized quietly and they organized businesses and institutions and organizations that I think kind of provided the net when I talked about, there were informal self d efense networks, some of that stuff began decades prior to a formal movement jumping off. So, I think people showed that capacity, if we really looked back and looked beyond the surface of what was happening here. C: Sure. Thank you. U: All right. C: I th ink that was my last question. Khama, did you have anything? W: No organization that you were involved in? U: Mm hm. W: And your first name, Akinyele


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 26 U: Akinyele. W: Yes, where is it derived from? U: Akinyele is a Yoru ba name. It means a hero befits the house. When I was, I guess, about thirteen, fourteen, I read an autobiography of Malcolm X. He talked about, in a book, about how many of the names we had were connected to our slave masters, particularly our last names. And the whole thing about the [19]60s with Muhammad Ali and all that, I wanted to change my name. So, when I left high school and I met these people and they all had African names, I said, can I get an African name? They said, sure. And they told me they were going to look for a name for me. I remember the nigh t before I was going to find out what they had to come pick me up, take me to this part y When I got to the party, nd they told me what it meant. They picked that name for me. So a lot of people during the House of Umoja were taking Umoja as their last name, so I just decided to, too, which automatically gave me a family and other people with my name. It just so happen grandchildren have that last name. W: Beautiful.


M FP 0 70 ; Umoja ; Page 27 U: Well, yeah, her grandchildren, because my daughter married her great grandchildren have another last name, which in Ink onga. [Laughter] So, y eah, W: Okay. C: Did you have anything you wanted to add, or ? U: C: Yeah. Thank you, thank you again, so much for doing this. W: win ded. [End of interview] Transcribed by: Diana Dombrowski, August 6, 2013 Audit edited by: Sarah Blanc August 28, 2013 Final edited by: Diana Dombrowski, December 4, 2013