I remember seeing the "Most Wanted" sign posted in the Oak Park Post Office of Joanne Deborah Chesimard a.k.a Assata Shakur when my store, Afriware Books, Co was located there. I thought to myself..." after all these years, they're still looking for her?" I didn't know much of anything about Cuba but wondered how on earth "Assata" managed to escape a maximum facility prison. The poster came out in 2013 though she escaped from The Clinton Correctional Facility for Women prison in 1979. She was the first woman to be named to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List and it happened during the Obama years. Here's a picture of one of the posters below.
Thankfully there are some resources online that we can explore to untangle the maze that has been created around the facts in her case. You can find a list of facts on one of her websites called http://assatashakur.com/facts.htm. I remembered hearing the accusation that she'd killed a police officer, but wasn't clear about the proof entered into record in her defense. You'll find the statements from a pathologist and a surgeon that gives details about how a bullet traveled through her armpit because her hands were up when she was shot. A simple question is how on earth could she shoot anyone when her hands were up? It goes on to state that there was no gun residue on her hands, nor on any gun found on site.
After the recent federal charges waged against the officers in Breonna Taylor's murder case in 2022, we have to wonder if Shakur has any chance of justice at a time when there were no body cameras and no cell phones. If officers are bold enough to allegedly cover up facts in 2022, do we think that in 1973 officers were above covering up "their unlawful conduct"? The officers in Breonna Taylor's case are accused of falsifying documents and lying to obtain a search warrant. It is sad that in 2022, the slither of hope we can barely hold onto is that it isn't as easy as it used to be to coverup a lie thanks to technology and the brave souls who record/share it.
But I digress...
Assata Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party. She is known and beloved by the community as a political activist who fought for social change in her time as well as today in her exile status. When travel was opened up in 2013 from the US to Cuba, her lawyer Lennox Hinds shared in a Youtube interview that allegations against Assata are "not only false but designed to inflame."
Who is Assata Shakur to Tupac?
Assata Shakur is Tupac's auntie. She is his mother's (Afeni Shakur) sister, and she was imprisoned for a crime she did not commit. Assata was a member of the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary and political prisoner who has been unjustly locked up behind bars by corrupt officials for decades.
In the late 1960s, Assata joined the Black Panther Party as one of its first members; she was only 18 years old at the time. Her work with them involved exposing police brutality against African Americans in both New York City and North Carolina. When she was arrested in 1973 after being shot multiple times by state troopers—a horrific experience that left her permanently disabled—she wasn't given treatment until days later when other inmates complained about her condition (which resulted from inadequate care).
When was Assata's Biography published?
Assata: An Autobiography was published in 1988. It was written by Assata Shakur, a former Black Panther, who was sentenced to life in prison for participating in the murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster during a shootout on May 2, 1973.
The book is a memoir of her life as an activist and member of the Black Liberation Army (BLA), as well as her escape from prison and exile in Cuba. The book also deals with what she calls "the nature of political repression."
Is Assata a Good Book?
Assata: An Autobiography is a good book that has become a classic and must-read for insight into some of the challenges of our youth. It's well-written, informative and emotionally stirring, and it tells the story of Assata Shakur—a woman who was wrongly convicted of murder before escaping prison only to be placed on the FBI's Most Wanted list for decades.
In addition to being an important part of Black history, this book also serves as an excellent example of how women can survive through adversity and thrive despite all odds stacked against them.
"Assata" is also an important book for young people in their late teens and early twenties to read because it represents a "symbol of freedom" as stated by on Youtuber Vic Slain Hope.
When I read "Assata" years ago, I must admit that when I barreled through the book looking for how she managed to escape from prison, I was initially disappointed not to find her exact blueprint... until recognizing, wait a minute, "This is America." That wouldn't have been a wise move for a true revolutionary, and that, she definitely is. Instead, "Assata" offers insight into day-to-day life's ups and downs in a society which too often responds as if "They Don't Really Care About Us."
In her riveting documentary, "Assata Shakur: Eyes of the Rainbow" (40min) I found an interesting musical pathway and connection into the African spiritual tradition of Yoruba. I give this documentary highest recommendations. I interpreted the Yoruba musical selections mixed with Negro Spirituals sang by Sweet Honey in the Rock as sources of her inspiration. It is most empowering to see the sparkle in her eyes as she shares her story. She made a way out of no way... with her grandmother and her strong Ancestral connection.
What is Assata About?
So, what is Assata Shakur's Autobiography about? It's a story about a girl who grew up in an economically challenged neighborhood in Flushing Queens, New York City and became an activist for human rights for Black people. She was involved in the Black Panther Party, but was also part of other groups that were working on improving conditions for people of color. In 1973, she was shot and arrested after being pulled over by police. There are many accusations of why she was arrested. This book tells both sides of this story—the side where she was convicted based on testimony from witnesses who said they saw her shoot two police officers, and the side where she claims she wasn't even at this scene when it happened. It also gets into some history surrounding black activism during these times.
To be clear, this book is about Assata Shakur in large part. However, it's not just another biography of an activist who was harassed/targetted by police. No, the true purpose of this memoir is to tell a story that has never been told before: how one Black woman evolved to champion activism for Black liberation. The fact that she then became one of the most controversial figures in American history only makes her story more interesting.
Want to Find out more?
As always, I appreciate that you have read through this blog post. I hope that you’ve become curious to read more books about Assata, The Black Panther Party, African Spirituality, and the Maroons. I invite you to read our related blog about "African Spirituality." We ask that you consider purchasing your books from our Black owned bookstore, Afriware Books, Co. If there is a title you’d like to purchase that is not mentioned here, or could not be found on the website, feel free to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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