As he completes his magnum opus trilogy on the American empire, Abu-Jamal revisits two of his books
Commentary by Todd Steven Burroughs
On this Wednesday night commemorating the 50th anniversary of Panther blood spilled, Mumia Abu-Jamal awaits the spring publication of the third and final volume of Murder Incorporated: Empire, Genocide, Manifest Destiny. Meanwhile, he thinks and writes new thoughts about old works. Both reissued books–originally published in 1996 and 2004, respectively–are only considered “new” if the author’s new introductions are included.
But there are still spaces between the bars, an image behind the glass. And so….
In the 2020 Death Blossoms, 2020 Abu-Jamal writes: “It has been many long years and almost ten books since I lived in the crisp white pages of Death Blossoms. Around that time, I had come within thirteen days of an execution date, and would soon be given another exact date to die.” Abu-Jamal was still Live From Death Row back then, an outlaw journalist forbidden to use a typewriter. “I handwrote the pages of this book on three-ring-binder paper….” He did so after meeting members of the Bruderhof, the name for an alternative community in Pennsylvania. The MOVE Organization supporter discovered distant, white cousins of a sort: “I found them intriguing. We conversed together about ideas, and out of those conversations—and the sense that I might soon be killed by the state—grew Death Blossoms.” He talks about how although there is still darkness on the Row, he sees a ray of light from young activists who “have already run repressive district attorneys out of office in half a dozen cities across America.” He mentions that this is the book’s “third life,” which shows its staying power as a kind of Black radical spiritual reader.
In the 2016 issue of We Want Freedom, the author—who, as a teenage Panther 50 years ago this month, spoke at a Fred Hampton memorial in Philadelphia—roll calls as Donald Trump prepares to escort Barack Obama out of the White House. “We Want Freedom’s republication comes at a time that can only be considered serendipitous: the era of Black (and multi-toned) outrage at the brutality of the State. Ferguson was smoldering. Then Cleveland. Staten Island. The Bronx. Chicago. Baton Rouge. Falcon Heights. I thought of sisters and brothers now gone from us, soldiers of the Black revolution, like Zayid Malik Shakur; Safiya Bukfhari; Dr. Huey P. Newton, Fred Hampton….the list goes on. How would they have interpreted –and responded to—this ‘new’ age of protest to attacks on Black life? They would have perhaps started by pointing out how old this legacy of protest and resistance is.” The surviving Panther reminds the reader that “Black rebellion has deep roots in American soil; its seeds have now sprouted across the centuries.”
We now wait for Abu-Jamal—champion of anti-colonial words for a half-century, from young-and-fiery Black Panther newspaper agit-prop correspondent to the powerful, senior heir to multiple lettered legacies, containing the insights of Howard Zinn merged with the ideological clarity of George Jackson—to finish a Black radical intellectual journey a lifetime in the making, to add his name to the Black revolutionary roll call as subject and narrator, to have a permanent corner shelf devoted to him, but one buried deep in dark libraries, invisible to all but the most agitated.
Todd Steven Burroughs, Ph.D., is an independent researcher and writer based in Newark, N.J. He is the author of Warrior Princess: A People’s Biography of Ida B. Wells, and Marvel’s Black Panther: A Comic Book Biography, From Stan Lee to Ta-Nehisi Coates, both published by Diasporic Africa Press. His 2014 audiobook, Son-Shine On Cracked Sidewalks, deals with the first mayoral election of Ras Baraka, the son of the late activist and writer Amiri Baraka, in Newark. He is working on a journalistic, and, perhaps now, literary biography of Abu-Jamal.