In 1969, 21 members of the militant New York branch of the Black Panther Party were rounded up and indicted on multiple charges of violent acts and conspiracies. The membership of the NY 21, which includes the mother of Tupac Shakur, is largely forgotten and unknown. Their legacy, however—reflected upon here in this special edition—provides essential truths which have remained largely hidden.
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About the Author
Mumia Abu-Jamal is probably the best-known political prisoner in the Western world and author of Live from Death Row. Imam Jamil Al-Amin, also known as H. Rap Brown, is known for his autobiography, Die Nigger Die!. Living in both Ghana and the U.S., Dhoruba Bin Wahad writes and promotes Pan Africanism. Jamal Joseph is a writer, director, producer, poet, activist, and educator. déqui kioni-sadiki is a radio producer, and educator. Matt Meyer is an NYC–based educator, organizer and author. Sekou Odinga was a founding member of the New York chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Read an Excerpt
PANTHER 21 POETRY
NEWLY DISCOVERED ORRARELY SEEN
Malcolm woke up and saw what appeared to be the mountain of liberation — then he was murdered.
Martin started up that mountain and found there was beauty and lasting peace — he was murdered.
Huey went all the way up and came down again to speak to the world of the solidarity there — he was shot and kidnapped.
Eldridge saw my desire to go up and showed me the rugged path — he was forced into exile.
Bobby took my hand to lead me there and I found the way rough and exhilarating and of course he was gagged, beaten, and chained.
Fred overheard their directions and took to the hills for a closer look — what he saw made him go back down to share his happiness.
When he came back in the valley, all I could hear him say was — I am a Revolutionary.
But, it made no sense, and so I just sat and listened.
The next day I heard him repeat this melody as he prepared the morning meal for my child.
I heard the words — and still I was quiet; Fred didn't seem to mind — he just kept doing things and singing his song.
And then one day — the melody of his song was taken up by the evil winds of human destruction.
They heard its message and handed to him the salary of a people's servant
KA BOOM ...
The air that breathed his message to me was alive with urgency.
The mountains became a reality.
The tools became friends.
The curves became mere objects of jest!
I could sit still no longer.
I began to hum his song.
As I climbed, as I fell and got up and fell again — I Sang the song of liberation.
I AM A REVOLUTIONARY!
I AM A REVOLUTIONARY!
Truth Is a Virus
Guerrilla plague Brought from bastard tongues Blood from a burst blister Blood on the legs of a sister We are the fever that heals as it burns Our rage purifies Harbingers of chaos and construction.
Living virus running through your system Resurrecting those you hit at but missed 'em We are the war coming home The second coming of Rome Defeated abroad and destroyed from within Never to terrorize or rise again.
Revolutionaries birthed and homegrown Smeared on cheeks like ash He smiles at all his grandchildren He knows the inside of vaccination needles And sterilization pills His heart bursting with so much love And so much fear Hoping his strong arms Can build a shelter Against the coming epidemic.
He smiles at his grandchildren, loving them so,
Eyes so wide You can see the future in 'em And deep as a new york sewer drain This child has my eyes And they are too old for this polished apple face.
A pug nose And a wide grin mouth Eyes searching the landmarks for 95 south Think you can make it thru That's easy to do ...
You can not hope to understand Infinity But 33 years starts to stretch Farther than forever As the blood slows In our collective veins In stasis Mosquitoes in amber With the lifeblood Of ancestors Suspended inside us.
33 years and more is just a meatball compared to foreparents who did cradle to grave and still stood tall.
That same blood Yet courses our veins Their same message drumbeats Over and over again.
The solutions to a problem Lie in its origin.
So the call of the Ancients Who had the strength of 10
Kuwasi Balagoon Auburn Correctional Facility
They march in formation lock step in cadence so that their bodies don't betray their fear by jerky-hesitant motions.
WHIRLWINDS ALL AROUND US
The New York Panther 21 in 21st-Century Revolutionary Context
"It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win."
— Assata Shakur, member of the New York Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, and inspirational figure for the Movement for Black Lives
Historians and linguists like to remind us that "radical" means "back to the roots" — and this book seeks to serve contemporary people's movements by exploring the roots of an extraordinary part of modern history that has largely been hidden from view. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense certainly has had more than its share of attention, but the extremely active and influential New York branch — around which the essential case of the New York Panther 21 was centered — has received significantly less focus among activists or scholars. The Panther 21 case was essential in part because it served as the major launching point of the U.S. government attack on the modern Black Liberation Movement (the original, often underscored, "blm"). If we are to understand current government machinations, we must gain a deep understanding of the Panther 21. And we must do so in the context of contemporary events.
"It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win."
There can be little question that Black Lives Matter (BLM) has signified a burgeoning rebirth of the Black Liberation Movement (blm). With distinct chapters in close to forty locations and many, many more affiliated and connected groups and sympathetic individuals throughout the world, the naysayers have been shown that BLM is much more than just a hashtag. But it is also more than can be personified in a single organization — with related and parallel structures like the Movement for Black Lives, the Ferguson Truth Telling Project, and frontline activists, the Dream Defenders, Justice League and Gathering for Justice, and countless others. There are many clear and common goals, demands, experiences, and hopes, but one consistent thread is a militancy based in part on the mantra-like recitation of four sentences penned by Assata Shakur, who was once called "the soul of the Black Liberation Army (BLA)." Many now have heard of Assata and read her autobiography, and some wear T-shirts proclaiming, "Assata taught me."
Yet when questioned about vital historical markers — people and places barely one step away from Assata herself — confusion or ignorance too often abounds. Leaders have been asked: "Have you heard about Sundiata Acoli? Are you familiar with Sekou Odinga? Do you know the name Dhoruba Bin Wahad?" All three are closely connected to Assata both personally and politically, but their names and work — past and present — are practically unknown outside of a very small circle of mainly elder organizers. The first of these, Sundiata, remains in prison at age eighty, still doing hard time after more than forty years behind bars for activities he and Assata were involved in together. Sekou was finally paroled after more than thirty-three years in prison, convicted in part for being involved in the escape and freeing of Assata. Dhoruba, coauthor with Assata and Mumia Abu-Jamal of Still Black, Still Strong: Survivors of the War against Black Revolutionaries, was field secretary of the Black Panther Party in New York, the organization Assata joined in her early years. He remained a political prisoner for nineteen years until his release in 1990, after proving he was framed as part of the FBI's illegal Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO).
Sundiata, Sekou, and Dhoruba have more in common than their connection to Assata, more than the fact that they serve and served substantial prison time because of their political beliefs and actions, and more than the simple fact that they were members of the Black Panther Party and allegedly part of the Black Liberation Army.
Sundiata, Sekou, and Dhoruba were all members of the infamous case of the New York Panther 21.
"We must love each other and support each other."
Tupac Shakur is arguably the most influential overall artist of the late 20th century — rapper, emcee, vocalist, poet, actor — and is certainly one of the era's top-selling performers even years after his death. Tupac's mystique and legacy in the areas of culture, politics, community-based economics, prison life, and more continue to shape new generations. There can be no doubt that his extensive effect on people draws in part on his own upbringing, as the son of a prominent Panther surrounded by a street survival ethic, a social commitment, and a sense of possibility using bold, creative imagery to go up against systemic injustice. The video for Tupac's smash hit "Dear Mama" has over a hundred million views on YouTube — and it's impossible to listen to the song without some awareness that Afeni Shakur was a Black Panther. It should therefore also be no surprise that one of his most consistent and supportive "uncles"— Jamal Joseph — is now a professor and former chair of Columbia University's Graduate Film Division, nominated for an Academy Award for his own artistry. But Afeni is somehow more remembered for being a crack addict than for her successful defense — while on trial and pregnant with Tupac, and against the advice of many — of herself and her comrades, ultimately getting all charges dropped against the 21 targeted and hunted defendants. She was married, at the time, to Lumumba Shakur, a founder of the Panthers in Harlem, whose brother Zayd Malik was killed in the shootout where Assata and Sundiata were captured. Lumumba himself was assassinated in New Orleans just two days before the arrest of Tupac's stepfather Mutulu Shakur, himself a Black liberation militant who has always asserted both his own innocence and that Lumumba's death was politically motivated and based on the early 1980s roundup, incarceration, and murder of militants still committed to the struggle.
Everyone knows Tupac Shakur. But how many know the history of Lumumba or Afeni Shakur, or of Jamal Joseph?
Afeni Shakur, Lumumba Shakur, and Jamal Joseph were all part of the infamous case of the New York Panther 21.
"We have nothing to lose but our chains."
Some leading human rights advocates have asserted that 21st-century movements for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) liberation are the cutting edge political issues of our times. Others focus on the continuing struggles opposing militarized police violence — especially in light of heightened attacks on young people of African and Latino descent — as fundamental to understanding contemporary civil rights within the USA. On a broader scale, both LGBT and anti–police violence movements are increasingly understood within an international context, where deep-seated issues of patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism, and racism are interwoven for a holistic and "intersectional" approach toward individual and collective liberation. New organizational structures challenge old authoritarian or centrist models; consensus-informed approaches have been used in place of the leadership of a small and select group of mainly male charismatic decision-makers. But these "new" approaches have roots which can be found in attempts made during previous decades of uprising and revolt.
Kuwasi Balagoon is a little-known former Panther whose name may have been uttered once for every thousand times Huey Newton or Bobby Seale were praised during the 2016 celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Oakland-headquartered Panthers. Though he was clear to some colleagues about his fluidity of political and personal practice, uniquely blending both revolutionary nationalist and anarchist beliefs, and he died in prison in 1986 due to complications from AIDS, he is held up as an important figure only among a very select group of radicals. Balagoon, in addition to being one of the team responsible for the liberation of Assata, was a member of the New York Panther 21.
At age nineteen, Joan Bird was terrorized by New York police officers who were harassing two older men while the three were in a parked car. "They dragged me out," she later testified, "and began to beat and stomp on me with heavy blackjacks, and beat and kicked me in the stomach, lungs, back, and handcuffed me." Bird had just a few months earlier become a youthful recruit of Black Panther Party; a few months later she would be formally charged as a member of the New York Panther 21.
Michael "Cetewayo" Tabor and Larry Mack traveled to Algeria to help set up the International Office of the Black Panther Party. They were early practitioners of true Pan-African solidarity: meeting and sharing resources with those struggling to free their lands of colonialism and neocolonialism from Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Vietnam, Palestine, and elsewhere. Successful freedom fighters from Algeria, Cuba, and China discussed strategies and tactics across geographic and linguistic lines and even occasionally fought together to help liberate one another's territories. Cetewayo and Mack (along with Sekou Odinga, whose remembrances you will read about in this book) were not only part of the Panthers, they were members of the New York Panther 21.
Exiled in Cuba, on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List with a $2 million bounty on her head, Assata Shakur wrote the words which are repeated nightly as a call to renewed struggle: "It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains."
Excerpted from "Look For Me In The Whirlwind"
Copyright © 2017 Dhoruba bin Wahad.
Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Dedication to Sundiata Acoli,
Foreword: Look for Me in the World by Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin,
Look for Yourselves: An Introduction by Shaba Om,
Panther 21 Poetry: Newly Discovered or Rarely Seen,
Whirlwinds All Around Us: The New York Panther 21 in 21st-Century Revolutionary Context by Matt Meyer,
The Past Catches Up to the Present by déqui kioni-sadiki,
The Case of Sundiata Acoli,
Parole 2016: Ride and Denied by Sundiata Acoli,
An Updated History of the New Afrikan Prison Struggle by Sundiata Acoli,
A Brief History of the Black Panther Party and Its Place in the Black Liberation Movementby Sundiata Acoli,
Senses of Freedom by Sundiata Acoli,
Still Believing in Land and Independence by Sekou Odinga,
The Last of the Loud: New and Revised Commentary by Dhoruba Bin Wahad,
Urban Police Repression: Criminalizing Resistance and Unraveling the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program, Timeline of Empire, Racial Profiling, Police Violence, and Class compiled and written by Dhoruba Bin Wahad and Paul Wolf,
Assata Shakur, Excluding the Nightmare after the Dream: The "Terrorist" Label and the Criminalization of Revolutionary Black Movements in the USA by Dhoruba Bin Wahad,
New Age Imperialism: Killing Africa Softly, with Democracy by Dhoruba Bin Wahad,
Man-child in Revolution Land by Jamal Joseph,
Photo Section: Original Work by Stephen Shames,
Look for Me in the Whirlwind: The Collective Autobiography of the New York 21 (full text, from 1971 edition),
Photo Section: Original work by David Fenton,
Counting to 21, Part One: Remembrances, Corrections, Biographies, and Eulogies: Overview by Matt Meyer, with Cyril Innis Jr. (Brother Bullwhip),
Poem for Sundiata by Assata Shakur,
Counting to 21, Part Two: New Reflections on Members of the 21,
Photo Section: From the Archives,
Ready to Step Up: Lumumba Shakur and the Most Notorious Black,
Panthers by Bilal Sunni-Ali,
Consciousness, Community, and the Future by Ali Bey Hassan,
Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide (excerpt of the classic 1969 pamphlet) by Michael "Cetewayo" Tabor,
Building a Bridge to the 21st Century (excerpt from an unpublished letter) by Kuwasi Balagoon,
How Committed Are You? Excerpts of a Talk at Green for All's "Dream Reborn" Conference, Memphis, 2008 by Afeni Shakur,
Look for Me in the Whirlwind (poem-lyrics from the jazz interpretation) by Bilal Sunni-Ali,
Black Panther Party Platform and Program,
Afterword by Mumia Abu-Jamal,