We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party

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9780896087194: We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party

In his youth Mumia Abu-Jamal helped found the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party, wrote for the national newspaper, and began his life-long work of exposing the violence of the state as it manifests in entrenched poverty, endemic racism, and unending police brutality and celebrating a people’s unending quest for freedom. In We Want Freedom, Mumia combines personal experience with extensive research to provide a compelling history of the Black Panther Party—what it was, where it came from, and what rose from its ashes. Mumia also pays special attention to the U.S. government’s disruption of the organization through COINTELPRO and similar operations.

While Abu-Jamal is a prolific writer and probably the world’s most famous political prisoner, this book is unlike any of Mumia’s previous works. In We Want Freedom, Abu-Jamal applies his sharp critical faculties to an examination of one of the U.S.’s most revolutionary and most misrepresented groups. A subject previously explored by various historians and forever ripe for "insider" accounts, the Black Panther Party has not yet been addressed by a writer with the well-earned international acclaim of Abu-Jamal, nor with his unique combination of a powerful, even poetic, voice and an unsparing critical gaze. Abu-Jamal is able to make his own Black Panther Party days come alive as well as help situate the organization within its historical context, a context that included both great revolutionary fervor and hope, and great repression. In this era, when the US PATRIOT Act dismantles some of the same rights and freedoms violated by the FBI in their attack on the Black Panther Party, the story of how the Party grew and matured while combating such invasions is a welcome and essential lesson.

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From the Publisher:

On April 24, 2004, activists from across the globe will gather in Philadelphia and San Francisco to honor the 50th birthday of Mumia Abu-Jamal--his 22nd spent on death row. The world's most renowned political prisoner, Mumia was only 15 when he helped found the first Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party. Now in his latest and most political book to date, We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, this incisive social commentator reexamines his days in one of the most misunderstood revolutionary groups in U.S. history.

With a poetic voice and critical gaze, We Want Freedom combines memories of day-to-day life in the Party with rigorous analysis of the Black liberation struggle. Mumia challenges historians who claim that only the civil rights model was authentic, positioning the BPP as an ahistorical aberration. He brilliantly locates the Party in a centuries-long tradition of Black resistance, a legacy articulated in Kathleen Cleaver's sharp introduction as a "disfavored history." The roots of today's struggles are brought to the surface time and again as Mumia examines the long history of resistance to slavery, racial politics in Philadelphia, and the FBI's subversion of justice through COINTELPRO and earlier operations.

In an open, conversational style Mumia also remembers his personal experience as a Party member, placing the reader in the life of the average Black Panther. While many books on the BPP focus on the icons of the Party, We Want Freedom conveys the everyday grit, love, and dedication of the tens of thousands who called themselves Panthers.

An award-winning journalist, Mumia began his writing career as Lieutenant Minister of Information for the Philadelphia branch and for the Party's national newspaper. Speaking of Mumia, Alice Walker describes him as "a rare and courageous voice speaking from a place we fear to know." He is regularly heard on a network of over 150 radio stations and at Prisonradio.org. In 2003 Mumia was declared a Citizen of Paris, an award not accorded since the city bestowed it upon Pablo Picasso in 1971.

From the Author:

We Want Freedom was written because I had tried to read everything that was written by ex-Party members and even people who were not Party members and I found so much lacking. I found the experience that I lived tended to be lacking. And there were some good histories and some were quite extraordinarily written, but they didn't give people a taste of what it meant to be at the bottom, not at the top. I've been studying and reading what is called history from below and this is a history from the bottom of the Party, certainly not the top. It isn't written from the leadership, the central committee, or the ministries. It was written from the perspective of someone who spent hours everyday selling papers, or feeding kids in the morning, or doing security at night, or doing whatever needed to be done. This is what most Panthers did everyday. And these are average people who had a very deep level of commitment. You had to because there are a lot of people who joined who never walked away from that commitment, like Fred Hampton, like Mark Clark, like Little Bobby Hutton, and many, many others. When you see that your people are suffering or oppressed you feel compelled to do something to stop that kind of evil. There are many times when I slip from the voice of a historian and go straight to first person. I did this, I saw this, I remembered this, and I smelled this. And I think it will give people some insight into what it felt like to be a member of an extraordinary organization like the Black Panther Party.

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