Assata Shakur:
Daughter of the Revolution, Grandmother of the Resistance

The women at Riker’s Island come there from places like Harlem, Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, South Bronx and South Jamaica. They come from places where dreams have been abandoned like the buildings. Where there is no more sense of community. Where neighborhoods are transient. Where isolated people run from one fire trap to another. [...]

Women can never be free in a country that is not free. We can never be liberated in a country where the institutions that control our lives are oppressive. We can never be free while our men are oppressed. Or while the amerikan government and amerikan capitalism remain intact.

But it is imperative to our struggle that we build a strong black women’s movement. It is imperative that we, as black women, talk about the experiences that shaped us; that we assess our strengths and weaknesses and define our own history. It is imperative that we discuss positive ways to teach and socialize our children.

The poison and pollution of capitalist cities is choking us. We need the strong medicine of our foremothers to make us well again. We need their medicines to give us strength to fight and the drive to win. Under the guidance of Harriet Tubman and Fannie Lou Hamer and all of our foremothers, let us rebuild a sense of community. Let us rebuild the culture of giving and carry on the tradition of fierce determination to move on closer to freedom.

Women in Prison, How It Is With Us

The above words were written by Assata Shakur while she was incarcerated on Rikers Island in 1978. Characterized by the media as the “godmother” of the Black Liberation Army, Assata had faced the standard repressive fare of trumped up charges and bogus arrests since shortly after she joined the Black Panther Party in. Long a target of J. Edgar Hoover's campaign to defame, infiltrate, and criminalize Black nationalist organizations and their leaders, Shakur had already been dogged by police accusations of criminal activities, although the cases against her were always dismissed due to the complete lack of evidence. The harassment and vilification continued, forcing her into the underground.

Assata was one of many members of the Black revolutionary left who had been forced underground by U.S. government repression in the seventies. When she and two comrades were pulled over by a couple of New Jersey State Troopers in a case of “driving while black”, a firefight ensued and police officer Werner Foerster and Black Liberation Army member Zayd Shakur both lost their lives.

Although Zayd Shakur was the only one on whom a weapon was found, Assata and Sundiata Acoli were both tried and convicted of murder in 1977. This despite the fact that three different neurologists each testified at the trial that her median nerve had been severed by gunshot wounds, rendering her unable to pull a trigger, and that her clavicle had been shattered by a shot that could only have been made while she was seated in the car with her hands raised. In other words, after being forced underground the State tried to kill Assata as she sat in a car with her hands in the air –  and as punishment for surviving this attempted execution, she was charged, tried and convicted of being a murdered herself!

In the rueful words of a right-wing New Jersey police website, what happened next is the kind of thing that should bring joy to the hearts of good people everywhere:

On November 2, 1979 in the daylight hours this convicted murderer was serving her time in Clinton when she was taken from her cell to the visitor’s area to meet with four people who had come to see her. It was a setup. The four visitors took a Corrections Officer hostage. They then took a prison driver hostage. Using the hostages, the visitors helped her escape.

She eluded capture for several years until 1986 when she made her way to Cuba.  There she was granted political asylum. She has been there ever since.

- NJLawman website

The jaibreak of Assata Shakur was one of the most wonderful and positive examples of what armed clandestine movements within the United States were able to carry out before they were finally wiped out by the government. And no matter what one thinks of the Cuban experiment, the fact that Assata and other refugees from America repression have had a safe area to which to seek sanctuary over the past decades underlines how we can find openings to survive even in the partial victories of past generations.

For years the US government has had a bounty on Assata's head –  $150,000 for the forcible return of this remarkable woman, this "twentieth century escaped slave". In May of 2005 the federal government upped the bounty, now offering one million dollars for anyone who might kidnap and her and return her to her to the US plantation. Bounty hunters and right-wing mercenaries now have an added incentive to target Assata, and the television show America's Most Wanted featured her in 2007, encouraging viewers to do what they could to apprehend her. All of which, it must be said, is as much about the broader trend towards repression within the United States and that country's war of attrition against Cuba as it is about Assata herself.

For more information about the campaign to oppose American attempts to have Assata extradietd or kidnapped, check out these two important websites. For a list of writings by Assata Shakur, keep on scrolling down!

Hands off Assata Afrocubaweb Assata Shakur Page

An Autobiography

Hundreds of revlutionaries from the Black Liberation movement lost their lives, and many more were incarcerated, as part of the (unfortunately unsuccessful) insurgency that swept the United States in the sixties and seventies. This is not something that gets a lot of play in the history books, something they're unlikely to have even mentioned in school but its part of the history of this continent nevertheless.

Assata Shakur is a survivor of this war America waged against the struggle for Black self-determination in he twentieth century. To fully understand what this means, it is not enough to know that she was Tupac Shakur's aunt, that she managed to escape from prison, or even just that she was a member of the Black Liberation Army and Black Panther Party. To truly grasp her story, and to understand what it meant to be a revolutionary in those times, you need to see her life as part of this larger picture.

That is why it truned out so well that this woman, who has led such an incredible life, also has an incredible talent for writing. In 1987 –  again, to the howls of dismay from the cops and the racists –  Assata Shakur's autobiography was published by Lawrence Hill Books.

This book is an excellent iontropduction to the context and substance of revolutionary Black politics in the 1960s and 70s, not to mention a personal account of racism and political repression in America.

artwork by Zolo Agona Azania; see Hope Breathing Life: Postcards for Liberation

Writings By Other People