Excerpts from chapter one of We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement by Akinyele Omowale Umoja:
Terrorist violence disrupted [a state senate] election debate on September 4, 1875, in Clinton [Mississippi]…. The Democratic candidate spoke first with no incident, but after Caldwell [the Republican] began his speech, heckling and other disruptive behavior by Whites escalated into shooting at the predominantly Black and Republican audience, resulting in the death of four people (two Whites, two Blacks) and injury to nine others (four Whites, five Blacks). Blacks fled Clinton, seeking refuge in Jackson—a Republican stronghold—or the swamps and woods. Caldwell, along with others who retreated to Jackson, demanded that Governor Ames provide weapons so they could protect themselves . . .
In subsequent days, the terror continued, targeting Republicans, Black and White, in Clinton, with dozens of people killed. The reign of terror spread throughout Hinds County…. Mississippi Republican governor Adelbert Ames mobilized citizens loyal to the state Reconstruction government to form seven companies of the state militia. Recognizing the level of genocidal violence being waged on their leadership and communities, Black people answered the call for forming a militia for defense from the White supremacist onslaught. Recently emancipated Blacks were willing to defend their liberty, lives, and newly acquired political and human rights….
[T]he Black militias were not as well equipped or trained as the former Confederate, pro-Democratic paramilitary forces. However, they did possess the determination and will to maintain their newly won freedom. In an interview several decades later, Black Mississippi state senator and militia leader George Washington Albright remembered, “Our militia helped to fight off the Klan which was organized by the old slave owners to try and make us slaves again in all but name….”
While they did not defeat the Black militia on the battlefield, the Democrats were able to defeat them in the courts. One month prior to Caldwell’s march through Hinds County, Democratic lawyers filed motions to prevent the state from allocating resources for the organization of state-supported militias. The state supreme court ruled in favor of the Democrats, and on October 12, 1875, three days after Caldwell and his forces initiated their march, Governor Ames demobilized the state militias. The disbanding of the predominantly Black militias significantly weakened the defense and resources available to Mississippi’s Black communities ten years after the end of chattel slavery. A Reconstruction based upon democracy and radical reform was doomed to failure in the face of a White supremacist armed rebellion, insufficient federal intervention, and the decision not to provide “arms to the Black majority. White supremacy would be the order of the day in Mississippi for nearly a century. Within ten weeks of the decision to disarm Black militias, Caldwell was assassinated.