……a movie I’ve heard about my whole life. It’s GREAT! Like “Casablanca,” it lives up to the hype!
I’ve been home doing a lot of “binge viewing” of the first five seasons of the revived “Doctor Who.” The not-completely shocking news of Matt Smith’s departure (will the Twelfth Doctor be a white woman? a Black man?) had led me to think about all the actors who played the part.
(By the way, as of early June 2013, I’ve never seen Matt Smith’s Doctor. I plan on watching his episodes soon, when WETA UK airs them.)
The documentary linked below seems to be made around the time of “The Five Doctors,” one of my all-time favorite “Doctor Who” stories, but it’s copyright 2008 and is narrated by Paul McGann, the Seventh Doctor.
And, finally, I enjoyed this fan mashup of all of the Doctor’s regenerations thus far…..
The recent death of Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), during the same month as Malcolm X’s 88th birthday (on May 19th), has brought the 20th century radical leader’s contributions, death and legacy back into current Black public consciousness.
Unfortunately, Manning Marable’s controversial, and Pulitzer Prize-winning, biography of the elder Shabazz, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” put Malcolm X into America’s public conversation two years ago in shallow ways. The book’s many, many flaws were ignored by supporters of Marable, who died days before the book was published in April 2011.
This essay—the Coda of the new book “A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X,” edited by Jared A. Ball and Todd Steven Burroughs and published by Black Classic Press—is a meditation on African-American historical memory in light of Marable’s monumental blunder.
One day when I was lost, I discovered a Black writer by the name of Manning Marable. I was studying journalism, in a private, predominantly White Catholic university in the midst of the Reagan era, with the clear goal of one day writing for the New York Times. I had just turned eighteen, a second-semester freshman working as a freelancer for the New Jersey edition of the Afro-American weekly newspaper chain. It was just a newspaper to me. I was a reporter, and we both (the newspaper and I) just happened to be Black.
The New Jersey Afro carried the national Afro’s opinion page, and I found there a column called “From the Grass Roots” and its weekly entry titled “Challenge to Black Journalists.” The author of the piece was Manning Marable. “The white media generally refuses to admit that virtually all journalism is a form of ‘propaganda’ in the interests of certain political, economic and social class interests—and that Blacks’ interests never surface on that agenda,” Marable wrote, directly contradicting the so-called objectivity I had been taught to entrench in my reporting. I read on:
When we read Le Monde, does anyone doubt that we are encountering the interpretations of French journalists, with all the historical, cultural, and political baggage of that tradition? When we read Pravda and Izvestia, no one doubts that the perspectives of Soviet writers advance a particular view on society and politics. And when one reads the New York Times, everything from the selection of stories to the orientation of the editorials represents a type of bias towards the white corporate establishment…
Not surprisingly, I had a hard time absorbing Marable’s perspective. I did not see how his kind of thinking was going to get me a job in White corporate America. But something kept tugging at me, so I kept reading.
What is the social responsibility of Black journalism in the period of colorblind racial discrimination? Black writers must see themselves part of a rich historical tradition, as the latest generation in the heritage of free, democratic-oriented journalists….What is a Black journalist? As writers, as part of this tradition of Afro-American critical thought, we have a responsibility to comprehend that racism still exists, and that we should never apologize for taking an uncompromising attitude against racial inequality in our work.
Poverty and hunger still exist, and are becoming worse. Unemployment, educational underdevelopment, and political underrepresentation have not yet been overcome. And our task and challenge, as Black writers, is to raise questions revealing these problems, and to write with a critical vision of social justice and human equality, the basic values which were embodied by the lives of previous generations of Black writers.
I clipped out the column and put it in a notebook. It took me a few years to agree with Marable’s positions, but eventually I came to terms with it and him. I even cited his work in my doctoral dissertation fifteen years later. And that is the Manning Marable I will always remember.
But that day, almost thirty years ago, has nothing to do with this day, at least not consciously, but I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. Let’s go back about a year…
So I’m getting out of a cab across the street from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. I had decided to attend the 2011 Harlem Book Fair in general and the panel at the Schomburg on Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention in particular. The panelists were poet Sonia Sanchez, one of the legends of the Black Arts Movement; Zaheer Ali, the Columbia University graduate student who had made the talk-show rounds after Marable’s death and the almost-simultaneous release of that book, for which he served as Marable’s head researcher; Peniel E. Joseph, the Tufts University history professor whose work chronicles aspects of the Black Power Movement; and Herb Boyd, the venerable journalist, historian, and activist (and a great friend and mentor of mine). The moderator was Yohuru Williams, associate professor of African American history at Fairfield University.
The panelists collectively praised Marable for what he did do in his life and work and were polite, not harsh, in their criticism of what he did not do. It was a scene that we journalists objectively term a “marked contrast” to the torrent of often public, often private criticism that emanated from left-of-center Black scholarly and activist circles after A Life of Reinvention’s publication. I looked around in vain for what newspaper reporters would term “the veteran Black activists” to literally get in line to blast A Life of Reinvention. When they did not appear, I began to feel a sense of tension that I could only partially identify as nervousness and some dread because I knew what had to come next.
When Williams asked for questions—not comments—from the audience, I got up, knowingly breaking the rules, and started talking about the book (the one you are reading) Jared Ball and I were planning. I was only barely able to mention that the book would be coming out soon and thanking both Black Classic Press and Third World Press for committing to publish their respective essay collections critical of A Life of Reinvention before Williams abruptly thanked me for my comments and moved on to the next person. Prior to Williams lowering the boom, however, Sanchez interrupted my flow, exhorting my coeditor and me to include as many women as possible in the volume. (We tried very hard, Sister Sonia!)
Strangely, that moment at the Harlem Book Fair felt like incidents I had read about in some of the media theory and criticism books I’ve read and tried to understand. In those books, left-of-center media scholars write about how “objectivity” limits the intellectual range of information given to the public. They argue that those who own and control the media only want an “acceptable” range of criticism aired and printed, with “acceptable” being defined by the owners and controllers themselves. Were the Harlem Book Fair organizers and these panelists essential “operators” of a pre-determined, live, public, televised presentation of ideas? Were they doing to me, an openly harsh critic of Marable’s Malcolm X, what African American political and cultural activists claim Whites in power have done historically, and still do, to them? (And just where, by the way, were the veteran Black scholar-activists who were critical of Marable’s Malcolm X biography that day? The ones whose powerful, hard-hitting reviews of the book I had read online? The ones who would have pushed me out of the way both that day as well as twenty years ago to critique an equally controversial biography of Malcolm by Bruce Perry, a White man?) Or, I wondered, were the organizers of the panel, which was being blasted live around the world on C-SPAN 2 and which would be forever embedded in its online archives, trying to protect a fellow New York City activist/scholar/author, now unable to defend himself?
Frankly, I remember thinking: I’m not even close to being important enough to be “censored,” and I couldn’t discern my censor’s motives or intent for only taking questions, not comments. I could recognize, however, the results of this one public session: that no one on the panel represented “the harsh critical wing” of the reviewers of A Life of Reinvention. No harsh criticism was allowed of Marable or his controversial book on a public, televised panel at a national book fair held in Harlem, known historically as a place where Black writers, artists, activists and their audiences often speak publicly, harshly, and freely.
It all felt very (intra-racially) “objective” to me. So much for public “dialogue”!
The panel’s commentary was nuanced and, admittedly—at least to this rule-breaking, sour-grapes audience member—often penetrating. For her part, Sanchez asserted that Malcolm did not reinvent himself because that would suggest an ulterior motive such as the need to package oneself for a market. Instead, she claimed, Malcolm re-imagined himself. She questioned the rationale behind and effectiveness of Marable’s oft-cited and so-called “humanization” of Malcolm, as manifested in A Life of Reinvention by the often-scandalous information inserted throughout on Malcolm’s personal life. She also questioned how that type of insertion benefited either the scholarship on Malcolm or the book’s readers, and she chided writers and historians for being too preoccupied with voyeurism. What readers should take away from the book, Sanchez concluded, is that Marable demystified Malcolm and showed how Malcolm demystified White America by dissecting its police force, White liberal class, government, and so on. She further noted that Marable’s book offers important insights about the language of survival and resistance used by Malcolm and other leaders of his time, language she encouraged those of us in the audience to pass along to our children—and especially to President Barack Obama.
Zaheer Ali’s comments confirmed something that I had originally suspected: that Marable’s book started out as a political biography. Normally political biographies do not contain the extensive research and interviews of a full biography. Upon reading A Life of Reinvention, that point makes sense to me on many levels. It explains, for instance, why Marable only interviewed a handful of people and why he apparently did not seem to worry about why he did not interview more.
As Ali noted, Marable taught that history is “a contestation of interpretations over fact.” This is a point with which I can wholeheartedly agree, but only if one actually has all the facts and has done all the research. History, Ali added, is also corroborative, and Marable (whom Ali admitted was “a little flippant” in some parts of the book) did too little of that. Ali also contended that biographers engage in a “certainty-versus-probability” contest, and again, I agree. However, they are not supposed to sacrifice the consistency of verifiable truth for a good yarn.
Nonetheless, Ali defended his mentor’s sourcing and documentation, claiming that Marable took pains to label anything circumstantial—including Malcolm’s alleged homosexual relationship with a White man—as just that. (Huh? That statement made me think of how a great Black biographer, Arnold Rampersad, once wrote about how he got in hot water with the gay community because he found no evidence to confirm that his biographical subject of over a thousand or so pages, Langston Hughes, ever had a homosexual or any other kind of romantic relationship—so he simplyconcluded that Hughes was probably asexual.) At the Harlem Book Fair event, however, Ali dismissed those folks who were upset about Marable’s book reporting of Malcolm’s alleged homosexual relationship as being believers in “a ‘one-drop’ rule of gayness.” He also asserted that every controversial allegation in the book had at least three sources. I don’t know if that’s true, but he may be correct—that is, if you consider secondhand sources as legitimate ones!
Peniel Joseph, a very talented writer who has described the Black Power movement in “new” and “innovative” ways, was the next panelist to speak. He described Malcolm X as a “local organizer who transformed the Black freedom struggle” and who, along with other Black civil rights activists, kept up a “long-running dialogue” with the idea of America and changed American democracy. (Joseph has been rewarded and praised in elite White circles for his portrayal of the Black Power movement in this fashion, with glowing reviews in mainstream media and interviews on public television.) He repeated the claims I have heard from Zaheer Ali, Michael Eric Dyson, and other friends of Manning Marable since the Malcolm biography’s publication: that many critics of A Life of Reinvention had only read the parts that address Malcolm’s personal life and not those addressing his political one.
Herb Boyd was, as always, his very polite self, willing to take both sides in the debate. (Those of us who are cursed to be around journalists for any length of time have gotten used to this!) He agreed with Sanchez about squashing Marable’s use of the term reinvention to describe Malcolm’s development, and stated that he preferred instead the term political evolution. He also urged the members of the audience to read the book in its entirety and to come to their own conclusions about it with the words: “You have that responsibility.”
Normally, I would have given some of the comments I heard at the Harlem Book Fair panel—even the ones I strongly disagree with—a pass. I would have put on my (still-trying-to-be) objective journalist’s hat and said, “Well, that’s their view. Others will have different opinions, but all will have to read the whole book and make up their own minds.” I would have taken my notes, written them up, penned an “objective” article, and moved on. However, since reading Manning Marable’s Malcolm X book in its entirety, other perspectives—ones that reveal clearly the numerous problems I personally found with the book as well as many, many others I did not find—have demanded my serious attention.
Those additional views are best captured in the exchange of ideas and perspectives that I imagine might have taken place had several of the current volume’s contributors come together to form a critical panel of their own focusing on A Life of Reinvention. This “invented” panel would serve as an apt and appropriate counterbalance to the “objectivity” of the Harlem Book Fair discussion. Given the comments excerpted below from their compiled essays, the exchange most likely would have gone as follows:
Mumia Abu-Jamal: Marable seems to go for the sensational rather than for that which he can substantiate.
Kali Akuno: It is the contemporary weaknesses of the Black Liberation Movement as a whole, and of its Black Nationalist wings more specifically—buttressed by imperialism’s hegemonic cooptation of Afrocentrism and other liberal variants of multiculturalism into the “postracial” politics of American nationalism that define the so-called “Age of Obama”—that co-enabled the production of this work.
Kamau Franklin: Marable’s work is the latest to attempt to remake or reinvent Malcolm X and turn him into a political football for political and moneyed interests….[Making Malcolm X] the embodiment of his own ideological viewpoints amounts to what I call an ivory tower assassination attempt on Malcolm X’s meaning as an ideological force for Black self-determination.
William Strickland: The problems…are many and multiple. They range from historical gaffes and endless nonsequitors to key historical omissions. Manning thus becomes his own authority, quoting himself as his evidentiary source!
Raymond Winbush: The arrogance of Marable oozes out in so many places throughout the book….Marable’s opinion mattered to him, just as the opinions of broadcast media journalists on Fox News and MSNBC matter to those individuals. Their listeners crave their opinions and speculations concerning contemporary political issues, and these commentators get paid, and paid well, to provide just that. Sadly, in the case of Manning Marable and his last work of speculative nonfiction on one of the great persons in the African world, opinion took precedence over originality and speculation superseded scholarship and a reliance on reliable sources and primary research.
Rosemari Mealy: This omission of women’s voices amplifies the concerns of African American womanist scholars that Marable’s book widens the gap in the existing literature about Malcolm X written by men because it fails to acknowledge the extraordinary contributions that African American women historically have made to constructing the leadership styles of progressive and revolutionary African American male leaders.
Greg Thomas: The noncritical discourse published under the name of Manning Marable amounts to simple PR for Marable’s name brand, his specific academic signature, and thus for Viking Books and its parent company, Penguin Group—not to mention his institution of employment, Columbia University. Under these mantles, Malcolm X is absolutely questionable, in every way, while the brand of Manning Marable (i.e., his writings, motives, methods, dogmata, etc.) is absolutely unquestionable.
Cha-Jua: On analytical grounds, the verdict on A Life of Reinvention is mixed. For the most part, its readers learn nothing new of significance; Marable merely provides greater detail of things already known.
Eugene Puryear: Putting aside Marable’s claims of having produced a definitive biography, A Life of Reinvention has raised more questions than answers. Some of these questions may be irresponsible and some may confuse matters that should be crystal clear, but Marable’s biography of Malcolm X has at least shown the need to study and debate Malcolm’s legacy and the movements from which he sprang.
Karl Evanzz: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention is an abomination. It is a cavalcade of innuendo and logical fallacy, and is largely “reinvented” from previous works on the subject.
Amiri Baraka: Some of the characterizations in the book are simply incorrect and suffer from its author only knowing about the movement on paper.
Thus, this fictitious panel might have concurred with Peniel Joseph, who stated at the Schomburg that we (meaning Black folks, I presume) “cannot have sacred cows” and that “Malcolm had no sacred cows”; and with Zaheer Ali, who maintained that “Malcolm was not a sacred cow, and neither was Manning Marable.” Might then Joseph and Ali, in turn, also agree with the overriding reason for this volume?
A year later, I have finally, fully identified the source of the tension I felt sitting in the Schomburg auditorium that summer afternoon. Part of it was the realization that, at every bit of age forty-four, I am now partly yet increasingly responsible for the present and future of Black history and for the propagation of commonsense and proper propaganda. When Herb Boyd asked the audience of about 150 people at the Harlem Book Fair panel, most of whom looked to be under forty years old, if they had read Marable’s book, less than a score of hands went up. Although the strength of this book’s contributors tells me that I am far from being ideologically stranded alone on an island somewhere, I recognized then how very different the second decade of the twenty-first century is going to be for many of us who were born in the later decades of the century past.
I keep thinking about how this book might not have been necessary if the media systems I grew up with in the New York tri-state area were still in play. If A Life of Reinvention had come out in, say, 1988, a Black news-talk radio station named WLIB-AM, 1190 on the New York City dial, would have featured numerous detailed discussions on the book. Other discussions would have aired on a late-night, national program called “Nighttalk with Bob Law” on WLIB’s rival, 1600 WWRL-AM, the flagship station of the National Black Network. Those programs would have been moderated by hosts who knew they would be speaking directly and almost exclusively to Black people, so they would not have bothered with “objectivity.”
I can imagine hearing John Henrik Clarke and many other Black scholars providing blistering on-air critiques of Marable’s Malcolm X biography, educating young listeners like me. I can also picture myself reading a bombastic Brooklyn weekly newspaper called The City Sun, which would have published a special section on this intellectual controversy. Those “unapologetically Black” media venues taught by example. They never had a problem criticizing Black public figures harshly and publicly if they failed Black people.
Back then there were also several local and national television shows in the New York area—Tony Brown’s Journal, Like It Is, Essence: The Television Program, Positively Black, and Black News/The McCreary Report, among others—that probably would have presented other balanced (read: critical) discussions and forums focusing on Manning Marable and his A Life of Reinvention, all for large audiences. They surely would have explored and explained the depth of Marable’s mistakes. All, however, are gone now, one way or another. (Ironically, that is why I think C-SPAN 2’s annual airing of the Harlem Book Fair on its “Book TV” program is so important. Like the fair itself, this broadcast event is one of the few mass forums left where Black perspectives can be heard and seen, live and unedited, by large numbers of people.)
In the 1980s, I would have depended on these forums and the activists who sponsored and participated in them, to do the work we, the editors and contributors to this volume, have done today. I would have remained pretty much silent, letting those elders, Black print journalists, and broadcasters take responsibility for finding and promoting my and our collective voice. I would not have even thought twice about breaking the “rules” much less about doing so in front of a national or international television audience on C-SPAN. But clearly too much time has passed. This century demands more of me. I now bear the responsibility for that collective voice.
The remaining source of my tension also became evident as I meditated about all that has occurred around Marable and A Life of Reinvention. Two diametrically opposed quotes, both previously scrolling along in a loop at the bottom of my mind’s television screen, began to assume prominence. The first was one stated quite plainly by a Presidential candidate in 2008. The candidate was making a great compromise address about some remarks made by his pastor. During the campaign, it was hailed as “The Race Speech” but now it is known as the “A More Perfect Union” address, presumably because it was crafted to allow the candidate to unify perfectly two audiences—the powerful and the powerless—at once. Here is the first quote:
The profound mistake of Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made [emphasis mine]; as if this country—a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of White and Black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old—is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know—what we have seen—is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope—the audacity to hope—for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
The second (and much shorter) quote, originating from the collective unconsciousness of struggle, contradicts the first more and more as that former candidate’s Presidency continues. It states simply the following: “All change is not progress, as all motion is not forward.” Upon reflection on that statement, how sadly appropriate it seems that Manning Marable’s creation of a presumably race-neutral Malcolm X shares the same space with the racially/culturally born-neutered, or self-neutered, Barack Obama. There are times in which cultural history and cultural reality trumps objectivity, and this is one such time. Manning Marable’s biography of Malcolm X occupies the space between the heralding of a new era of Black “progress” versus the ideas and beliefs of Malcolm’s expanding ideas, including those “scary” Black Nationalist-Leftist-Pan-Africanist ones. In the new era, if the latter ideas are brought up today, they must be dismissed as intellectually stunted or as belonging to history itself.
The scholarship on Malcolm X has moved as a result of Marable’s book, but in what direction? A new generation of Black writers and scholars is finding new ways to interpret old ideas, some of which expand people and movements into new places. However, the cost of moving into these newly gentrified intellectual neighborhoods, for some, may be too high. There are Blacks who may not know what has been lost by this gentrification, and those who understand all too well what has happened will probably be politely silent and “objective,” choosing not to remember, at least not publicly.
The late Gil Scott-Heron—a great writer who lived in Harlem as did his hero, Langston Hughes—passed away about two months before the 2011 Harlem Book Fair, but Scott-Heron was crystal clear forty years ago on this problem’s consequence. In the lyrics to his song, “Winter in America,” a post-revolution lament that still resonates, he sang about how “ain’t nobody fighting/‘cause nobody knows what to save.” Intellectually and historically, that time may be coming sooner than we think.
In many ways, this work’s contributors have chosen to argue about a book because it was a book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley, that intellectually birthed so many of us in the first place. The Autobiography was the book that allowed Malcolm to enter our minds, where he witnessed our rebirths. For many of us he is still there, advising ever since, like some sort of Race Man Sensei. It’s his legacy to us.
Manning Marable’s legacy is what it is, for good and ill, like every other human. He does not need our tribute; others will take care of that. History is more important than any biographer or biographical subject’s legacy, including El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X). The issue for us is the need to preserve accurate historical memory, and to do so in concrete words and strong deeds. As contributors to this volume, we agree that Marable made decisions that produced poor history—a history that is being absorbed by an anti-intellectual popular culture via snippets of articles, brief broadcast segments, and trending tweets—about a world-historical figure. Ultimately, the biography that Marable wrote can only be countered by another, more definitive one. For us, preserving memory is more important than preserving some sort of intellectual operational unity in deference to Manning Marable’s legacy or trying to figure out a way to use, or salvage, what he did with A Life of Reinvention for the larger Black liberation movement. The book you are reading is not that biography. Rather, we humbly offer this volume as a collection of notes for that future biography.
”A Lie of Reinvention” is harshly critical of Marable and his posthumously published work. Good! Harsh public criticism is the appropriate response to harsh public actions, harsh public cultural distortions, and harsh public accommodations to the first two. It is also necessary when there are too many voices, for whatever reason, that refuse to separate critique from tribute.
The undercurrent of what has been said, or not said, publicly about Manning Marable since his death and the publication of A Life of Reinvention has often times been predicated on the idea of not speaking ill of the dead. Bill Strickland reminds us of this in his essay in this collection, which contends that this idea was “a standard Manning did not adhere to himself.” Even if he did, however, that would be irrelevant. Still, and I have no empirical evidence to substantiate this, I believe that if Marable had been White, or if he had not been the esteemed Black pioneering scholar his Black defenders claim him to be, the public reaction of many of those defenders to our collective, harsh, public critique would be, to say the least, muted.
Manning Marable should be remembered—for all his contributions—and the quality of those contributions should be, and will continue to be, argued and debated. But it is important to note that many of the public defenders of Marable’s bad biography were in some way connected to him—personally, professionally, or both. Thus, it is important to note that the vast majority of the contributors to this volume—“as writers, as part of this tradition of Afro-American critical thought”—we did not go to high school or college with Marable, we were not taught by him, nor did we lecture under him at Columbia. So we do not owe him our silence or knee-jerk defense.
But we do owe history. We do owe Africana Studies. Our larger commitment to historical memory dwarfs any concerns about offending Manning Marable’s admirers, colleagues, friends, and students. History is our prime concern. Therefore, we actively and proudly choose to be intellectual squatters in the new historical neighborhoods, openly breaking the rules and happily accepting any consequences of being labeled trespassers.
From the book “A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X,” edited by Jared A. Ball and Todd Steven Burroughs. Copyright 2012, 2013 by Black Classic Press.
You know what peeps said what “42” said?
“I wonder if my son would have lived longer if I had given him another name.”
Jackie Robinson Jr. had problems
That he did not have time to solve before he died
at the age of 24.
And now, as Jack Bauer returns, more rerun drama
With the X’s?!? AGAIN?!? NO WAY
Malcolm Shabazz can’t die yet
He’s got a lot to live for (and make up for)
He was trying, and now you tell me he’s gone
Because of a bar tab?!?
Pop Pop is kept out of Paris in 1965
And Grand is bothered by the FBI for trying to go to Iran?!?
WHY? It can’t be the name
But why does it always sound the same
“He was lying right there,” says the echo
You know what Sharon Robinson, Jackie Jr.’s sister, said?
“Because of his name, there was no hiding place.”
Video and text from the May 3rd edition of “Democracy Now!”:
One day after the exiled former Black Panther Assata Shakur became the first woman named to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list, we’re joined by another legendary African-American activist, Angela Davis, as well as Shakur’s longtime attorney, Lennox Hinds. Davis, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is the subject of the recent film, “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners.” She argues that the FBI’s latest move, much like its initial targeting of Shakur and other Black Panthers four decades ago, is politically motivated. “It seems to me that this act incorporates or reflects the very logic of terrorism,” Davis says. “I can’t help but think that it’s designed to frighten people who are involved in struggles today. Forty years ago seems like it was a long time ago. In the beginning of the 21st century, we’re still fighting around the very same issues — police violence, healthcare, education, people in prison.” A professor of criminal justice at Rutgers University, Hinds has represented Shakur since 1973. “This is a political act pushed by the state of New Jersey, by some members of Congress from Miami, and with the intent of putting pressure on the Cuban government and to inflame public opinion,” Hinds says. “There is no way to appeal someone being put on the terrorists list.”
AMY GOODMAN: “A Song for Assata” by Common. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we continue to look at the case of Assata Shakur, legendary figure within both first the Black Panther Party and then the Black Liberation Army. On Thursday she became the first woman ever to make the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list. In addition, the FBI and the state and New Jersey doubled the reward for her capture to $2 million.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk about her case, we are joined by two people. Here in New York, Lennox Hinds, Assata Shakur’s longtime attorney, he has represented her since 1973. He’s a professor of criminal justice at Rutgers University. And in Chicago, we’re joined by the world-renowned author, activist, scholar, Angela Davis, also a professor at University of California, Santa Cruz. And she is the subject of a recent film, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners. Angela Davis and Lennox Hinds both wrote forewords to the book Assata: An Autobiography.
We invited the FBI to join us on today’s program, but they did not respond to our request. about Assata Shakur.
I wanted to start with you, Lennox Hinds. The significance of Assata Shakur being put on the FBI’s terrorists list, the first woman ever to be added to the most wanted list?
LENNOX HINDS: My view on this is that this is a disingenuous act on the part of—driven by the state of New Jersey and particularly the state police. As you know, for decades, the state police have wanted and demanded that the Cuban government extradite Assata Shakur to the United States. There is no extradition policy between Cuba and the United States. Just to deal with this in context, the Cuban government, pursuant to international law—that is, particularly the refugee convention—have granted Assata Shakur political asylum. Now, what is the basis for that? It is if an individual has a well-grounded fear that if they return to the country from which they left, they would either be persecuted or prosecuted based upon their political beliefs or/and their race or religion. Now, this is not a new concept. There have been numerous individuals who have left the United States and went to foreign countries, allies of the United States, where those countries have refused to extradite them. France, for example, in the 1970s, there were Black Panthers who hijacked planes and went to France. Now, both France and the United States have extradition treaties. Not only that, France signed the 1963 Tokyo Convention, the 1970 Hague Convention and the 1973 Montreal Convention, with the United States. All of these are international agreements that require countries, host countries, that are holding individuals—who have hijacked planes—to extradite them or try them. France, after conducting their own independent review of these Black Panthers, refused to extradite them to the United States based upon France’s assessment that if they would be returned, they would be subject to political and racial repression. So, I say that the Cubans’ position is well grounded in international law.
Now, why today is Assata Shakur now being branded a terrorist? If we look at the definition of terrorism, what is it? It is the use or the threat of use of force against a civilian population to achieve political ends. What happened in the case of Assata Shakur? You have heard, in her own words, this woman was a political activist. She was targeted by whom? J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI in a program that was called COINTELPRO. That program was unveiled by whom? Frank Church, Senator Frank Church, in the 1970s. He chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee. That committee determined that the FBI was using both legal, but mostly illegal, methods—to do what? In the FBI’s own words, they wanted to discredit, to stop the rise of a black messiah—that was the fear of the FBI—so that there would not be a Mau Mau, in their words, uprising in the United States. And they were, of course, referring to the liberation movement that occurred in Kenya, Africa. Now, the FBI carried out a campaign targeting not only the Black Panther Party. They targeted SCLC. They targeted Martin Luther King. They targeted Harry Belafonte. They targeted Eartha Kitt. They targeted anyone who supported the struggle for civil rights, that they considered to be dangerous.
It is in that context we need to look at what happened on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973. What they call Joanne Chesimard, what we know as Assata Shakur, she was targeted by the FBI, stopped. And the allegation that she was a cold-blooded killer is not supported by any of the forensic evidence. If we look at the trial, we’ll find that she was victimized, she was shot. She was shot in the back. The bullet exited and broke the clavicle in her shoulder. She could not raise a gun. She could not raise her hand to shoot. And she was shot while her hands were in the air. Now, that is the forensic evidence. There is not one scintilla of evidence placing a gun in her hand. No arsenic residue was found on her clothing or on her hands. So, the allegation by the state police that she took an officer’s gun and shot him, executed him in cold blood, is not only false, but it is designed to inflame.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Mr. Hinds, before we get into more of the details of the case, this whole issue of 40 years later—
LENNOX HINDS: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —suddenly branding her a terrorist and also insisting that she is a threat to the United States government at this time, could you talk about the significance—
LENNOX HINDS: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —of that declaration?
LENNOX HINDS: Well, I believe that we have to look at it in the context of what has just happened in Boston. I think that with the massacre that occurred there, the FBI and the state police are attempting to inflame the public opinion to characterize her as a terrorist, because the acts that she was convicted of has nothing to do with terrorism. The acts that she was convicted of, if you look at the evidence, she was convicted of aiding and abetting, and therefore was present during the shootout. The FBI and the state police’s theory was that Sundiata Acoli shot Officer Foerster. That was their theory during his trial.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of the people in the car with her, that—
LENNOX HINDS: One of the people in the car, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me read the FBI press release, and you can respond to how they describe it. And we want to bring Angela Davis in, as well. This was their press release yesterday describing the May 2nd, 1973, shooting. They said, “On May 2, 1973, Chesimard and a pair of accomplices were stopped by two troopers for a motor vehicle violation on the New Jersey Turnpike. At the time, Chesimard—a member of the violent revolutionary activist organization known as the Black Liberation Army—was wanted for her involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery.
“Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers. One officer was wounded, and his partner—Trooper Foerster—was shot and killed at point-blank range. One of Chesimard’s accomplices was killed in the shoot-out and the other was arrested and remains in jail.
“Chesimard fled but was apprehended.”
That’s their statement yesterday.
LENNOX HINDS: Right. Also in their statement that I read, the superintendent of state police claimed that Assata Shakur took the Officer Foerster’s weapon and shot him while he was on the ground. There is not one scintilla of evidence at the trial attesting to that. In fact, as I was saying before, she was incapable of lifting her hands, much less firing a weapon.
Now, you asked what is the reason for this allegation at this time. We have to remember that 10 years ago, a little over 10 years ago, the then-governor of the state of New Jersey, former Governor Christie Todd Whitman, she had issued and posted a $1 million bounty for Assata Shakur. Today it has been doubled. But we believe that putting Ms. Chesimard, putting Assata Shakur on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list is designed to inflame the public and to characterize her as a terrorist, when none of the acts alleged relates to terrorism. In fact, of all of the charges that have been leveled against her in New York, case after case, she was acquitted, or the charges were dismissed. There was insufficient evidence to support any of the charges.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s just—in 1971, armed robbery case was dismissed; 1971, she was acquitted of bank robbery; 1972, hung jury; 1972, kidnap of drug dealer, acquitted; and then several other cases dismissed. Angela Davis, you’re in Chicago right now to give a major address tonight at the University of Chicago. Can you talk about this news of Joanne Chesimard, Assata Shakur, being—now being put on the top 10 wanted terrorists list, the first woman ever to be put on this list?
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, first of all, it was a major shock to hear that Assata Shakur has become the first woman to be added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list and then to learn that they’re adding another million dollars to the reward, the bounty. Really, it seems to me that this act incorporates or reflects the very logic of terrorism. I can’t help but think that it’s designed to frighten people who are involved in struggles today. Forty years ago seems as if it were a long time ago, four decades; however, in the 21st century, at the beginning of the 21st century, we’re still fighting around the very same issues—police violence, healthcare, education, people in prison, and so forth. So I see this as an attack not so much on Assata herself, although of course she deserves to be brought home. She deserves to be able to live out her life, and with justice and peace. It was wonderful that you allowed people, through this program, to hear Assata’s words, because, 40 years later, people really don’t know the details of the case and are not aware of the extent to which she was targeted by the FBI by the COINTEL Program, as Lennox pointed out. And it’s amazing that in 2013, where she is living in Cuba as a political refugee, having given—having been given political asylum by Cuba, she is still pursued. And actually, this is an invitation for anyone to travel to Cuba illegally and to kidnap her and bring her back to the United States, if not shoot her dead. This is—as I said, was an extremely shocking revelation.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Angela Davis, the government statement that she remains a threat to the United States, the implication being that she’s somehow still trying to organize attacks on the country, it really is mind-boggling. It’s one thing to say, “We have a case here of someone who’s still wanted.” It’s another thing to say that they’re still a threat to the United States, when there’s been no indication over the last 30, 40 years that Assata Shakur has been involved in any type of movements or organizations directed against the United States government.
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, see, there’s always this slippage between what should be protected free speech—that is to say, the advocacy of revolution, the advocacy of radical change—and what the FBI represents as terrorism. You know, certainly, Assata continues to advocate radical transformation of this country, as many of us do. You know, I continue to say that we need revolutionary change. This is why it seems to me that the attack on her reflects the logic of terrorism, because it precisely is designed to frighten young people, especially today, who would be involved in the kind of radical activism that might lead to change.
But you’re absolutely right, Assata is not a threat. If anything, this is a—this is a vendetta. She is innocent, and many of us have looked at the evidence. And as Lennox pointed out, there’s no way that she could have possibly been the person who killed Foerster, because she had her hands up and was shot in the back with her hands in the air and could not have used a gun at that time. And so, to represent her as a person who continues to be a threat to the U.S. government in the way that is described is, it seems to me, an effort to strike fear in the hearts of young people who would be active in the struggles that are represented historically by Assata and struggles that continue today. Struggles against police violence, for example, continue. The fact—consider the fact that so many people have been killed by the police in recent years. And I’m thinking about Kimani Gray in New York. I’m thinking about Alan Blueford in Oakland, of course Oscar Grant in Oakland. I’m thinking about—there’s some 63 people who were killed last year in Chicago by the Chicago police.
AMY GOODMAN: Lennox Hinds, this issue of what this allows the U.S. government to do? To be on the Most Wanted Terrorists list, I mean, does this mean the government could move in, like they moved in on Osama bin Laden, for example? Could—
LENNOX HINDS: I think what Angela said was right on point. It is an open invitation, not only with respect to the United States government, but for anyone, in Cuba or elsewhere, to become a vigilante, to go there and to not only apprehend and bring her back, or to kill her. So it’s an open invitation. And, you know, when we—Cuba is accused of harboring terrorists. And when we look at the role of the United States and the United States government vis-à-vis Cuba, the United States government and the CIA have encouraged, trained, sent individuals to not only disrupt the Cuban economy by killing tourists, placing bombs in restaurants and hotels, but to assassinate Fidel Castro, and individuals who admitted that they were involved in the downing of a Cuban airliner in 1973. I’m talking about Posada Carriles. Here was a man who made the open admission, trained by the CIA, harbored by the United States. When he was found in the United States, did the United States prosecute him for those crimes? No. They, on a pretext, prosecuted him for lying to the FBI, all right? and acquitted him of that.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Assata Shakur when she was here, when she was imprisoned. This is a clip of a documentary, Eyes [of] the Rainbow: The Assata Shakur Documentary. In this, Assata Shakur talks about her experience in prison.
ASSATA SHAKUR: Prisons are big business in the United States, and the building, running and supplying of prisons has become the fastest-growing industry in the country. Factories are moving into the prisons, and prisoners are forced to work for slave wages. This super-exploitation of human beings has meant the institutionalization of a new form of slavery. Those who cannot find work on the streets are forced to work in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Assata Shakur in the film Eyes [of] the Rainbow: The Assata Shakur Documentary. Lennox Hinds, you went to court to change the prison conditions that Assata Shakur was in after she was arrested. Describe what happened to her after she was arrested. I mean, she was near death.
LENNOX HINDS: She was near death. She was chained to her hospital bed. After she recovered, she was placed in an all-male prison. She was under 24-hour surveillance by male prison guards who were watching and monitoring her very personal needs during that time period. We went into federal court and challenged the conditions of her confinement, where she was kept in solitary confinement for two years. We won that case. And they—that is, the Middlesex County Correctional Department were forced to place her in a women’s facility. But that was a horrible situation amounting to torture.
AMY GOODMAN: Your case went to the Supreme Court, how you were treated in the court?
LENNOX HINDS: Well, there’s the illusion—you know, I wrote a book called Illusions of Justice. There is the illusion that we have justice in the United States. I made the mistake of thinking that lawyers enjoyed a First Amendment right, and I called a press conference, and I criticized the trial judge at the trial and said that the case was a legalized lynching. And before you know it, I was facing disbarment. They attempted to disbar me by bringing charges against me. And they asked me to come and explain myself. I refused. I sued the judge. I sued the prosecutor. And I sued all of the members of the Ethics Committee, forced them to come to my office. I took their depositions. And the case went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. United States Supreme Court said, “Well, Hinds could not have understood the seriousness of the charges; otherwise, he would not have made that sort of statement.” They sent the case back to New Jersey. The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed and tossed it out.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re still a lawyer today, and you—
LENNOX HINDS: I’m still a lawyer today.
AMY GOODMAN: And you represented South African President Nelson Mandela?
LENNOX HINDS: That’s correct, yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the trial itself, the only trial for which Assata Shakur has ever been convicted.
LENNOX HINDS: Convicted, that’s correct.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In New Jersey. You write in the preface, “It had been and is my view that it was the racism in Middlesex County, fueled by biased, inflammatory publicity in the local press before and throughout the trial, fanned by the documented government lawlessness, that made it possible for the white jury to convict Assata on the uncorroborated, contradictory, and generally incredible testimony of trooper Harper, the only other witness to the events on the turnpike.” There was one other state trooper, Harper, who survived the confrontation and who was the main witness against Assata.
LENNOX HINDS: Yeah, but Harper ran away during the shootout, came back, and his story was conflicted and contradictory. And—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: He originally claimed that he had seen her pull out a gun.
LENNOX HINDS: That’s right, but there was no evidence to support that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right.
LENNOX HINDS: As I said, no fingerprints on any weapon. They claim that she fired a weapon. There were no arsenic powder marks or residue on her clothing or on her hands, etc. No forensic evidence.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And he later also admitted that the original reports and testimony that he had given was wrong on that.
LENNOX HINDS: Was wrong, that’s right. That’s right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet she was still convicted.
LENNOX HINDS: Yeah, she was convicted. And it was an all-white jury. The pretrial publicity was such that people in Middlesex County and people from the northern part of New Jersey believed then, and believe now, that she is guilty. The mere fact that she was in the car meant that she was guilty. And in fact, the instructions to the jury—because there was no evidence of her doing any shooting, the instructions to the jury was that if you find that she was present and supported the action of the people who did the shooting, she can be found guilty as a principal. And that is under the felony murder rule.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Angela Davis, I wanted to go to your own case years ago, because it’s coming up with a new film, your own history. I wanted to play a trailer to the new documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners.
REPORTER: Philosophy Professor Angela Davis admitted that she is a member of the Communist Party.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Hoover put her on the top 10. Everybody had a file on her.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Her first lecture drew 2,000 students.
FANIA DAVIS: Angela’s education is now being put into practice.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Angela Davis purchased four guns.
ANGELA DAVIS: There is a conspiracy in the land. It’s a conspiracy to wipe out the black community as a whole.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: Well, I think she’s trying to overthrow our system of government, and she admits that.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: The actions of the FBI in apprehending Angela Davis, a rather remarkable story.
REPORTER: The U.S. district court judge set bail at $100,000.
FANIA DAVIS: She knows that the movement to free all political prisoners is growing every day.
GOV. RONALD REAGAN: This entire incident was a deliberate provocation.
ANGELA DAVIS: They wanted to break me. They wanted me to respond.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: There was enormous feeling for Angela everywhere in the world.
SALLYE DAVIS: We know that she is innocent.
RALPH ABERNATHY: We want to tell that pharaoh in Washington to let Angela Davis go free.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 4: What they’re doing to her is an exaggerated form of what happens every day to black people in this country.
PROTESTERS: Free Angela! Free Angela! Free Angela!
ANGELA DAVIS: What does it mean to be a criminal in this society?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3: They are not going to kill her. They’re not going to imprison her. We’re going to free her. We’re going to win her freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been listening to an excerpt of a trailer, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, that has just been finished, quite an interesting film by Shola Lynch. Angela Davis, if you could share your own experience that you went through? It was right about the same time that Assata Shakur was going through what she was.
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, yes, it was. And I find it really interesting that the FBI decided to focus quite specifically on black women, because somehow they feared, it seems to me, that the movement would continue to grow and develop, particularly with the leadership and the involvement of black women. I was rendered a target, an ideological target, in the same way that Assata Shakur was called the “mother hen” of the Black Liberation Army. The way in which she was represented became an invitation for racists and everyone who assented to the repressive behavior of the U.S. government to focus very specifically on her, to focus their hate, to focus vendettas on her. And I really find it surprising that when the grandchildren of those who were active in the late ’60s and early ’70s are becoming involved in similar movements today, there is this effort to again terrorize young people by representing such an important figure as Assata Shakur as a terrorist.
And let me say that I was quite surprised that in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, where, before the Tsarnaev brothers were discovered to be the alleged perpetrators, there was an attempt to represent the person who planted the bombs as either a black man or a dark-skin man with a hoodie, I believe—this racialization of what is represented as terrorism is an attempt to bring the old-style racism into conversation with modes of repression in the 21st century.
And there’s one other point that I would like to make. And that is that at the same time that Assata Shakur is being designated the first woman ever on the 10 Most Wanted Terrorists list, the Cuban Five, Cuban citizens who attempted to prevent terrorist attacks on Cuba, continue to be held in prison in the United States.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Lennox, I’d like to ask you about this whole issue of the FBI and COINTELPRO that you mentioned earlier on the role that the FBI has historically played in terms of persecution of black activists and revolutionaries, beginning obviously with an incident that shaped Assata Shakur’s thinking: the murder of Fred Hampton.
LENNOX HINDS: That’s correct.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you talk about people who—everyone who was involved in an incident, there were many FBI and Chicago police folks involved in the murder of Fred Hampton. Could you talk about that?
LENNOX HINDS: No question about it, no question. There were literally hundreds of victims of the FBI COINTELPRO program. These are individuals who were killed, assassinated. The instructions that were given by the FBI to not only their field agents, but also to the local police, it was essentially shoot on sight. And the case of Fred Hampton was a clear case where the—again, the investigations that were conducted showed that of the dozens of bullets that were fired, at least 40 bullets that were fired, only one, if that many, were fired by the Panthers who were in the house.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, of course, Fred Hampton was the head of the Black Panther Party in Chicago.
LENNOX HINDS: Fred Hampton was in bed.
AMY GOODMAN: He in bed, he and Mark Clark killed on December 4th, 1969.
LENNOX HINDS: That’s right. They were killed. Fred Hampton was in bed, and he was shot while lying in bed. And so, again, the victims of the Counter Intelligence Program were individuals who were not only falsely accused, falsely arrested, but many of them were assassinated.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you are Assata Shakur’s lawyer. Is there anything you can do as a lawyer right now with her being named to the terrorism list? Is there any way to appeal this?
LENNOX HINDS: No, there is no way to appeal someone being put on the terrorists list. This is a political act, and this is an act that has been done by—being pushed by the state of New Jersey by some members of Congress from Miami, and with the intent of putting pressure on the Cuban government and to inflame public opinion.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Lennox Hinds, Assata Shakur’s attorney, he’s represented her since 1973, professor of criminal justice at Rutgers University. He also represented Nelson Mandela in the United States. And Angela Davis, joining us from Chicago, author, professor and activist, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, joining us from Chicago.