Assata Shakur, like many of her contemporaries, is a product of her circumstances. As the hopeful and peaceful Civil Rights era gave way to the more ardent struggle for Black empowerment, Shakur was at a critical time in her life. Campuses and cities across the country were struggling with the Vietnam War and the continued struggle for equal rights for Blacks. Like many students, Shakur was riled by the war. She drew a parallel to her personal struggle to reconcile her sense of self with the inferiority forced on her by segregation in the South and culturally insensitive teachers in the North.
Theory without practice is just as incomplete as practice without theory. The two have to go together. I was determined to do both.
A trip to Oakland sparked her initial interest in the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. And she returned to New York City to coordinate the school breakfast program for the Harlem branch. However, Shakur grew disillusioned with the group, condemning its approach to political education.
They were reading the Red Book but didn’t know who Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, and Nat Turner were. They talked about intercommunalism but still really believed that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves. A whole lot of them barely understood any kind of history, Black, African or otherwise…
Her break with the Black Panther Party led her to join the Republic of New Afrika, rechristen herself Assata Shakur and eventually to join the Black Liberation Army. Her activities from this point on are shrouded in the mystery of the time she spent underground. Here is where I will leave her extraordinary story. And Common does a much better job of telling it than I ever could.
I personally believe that Assata’s struggle is better understood and appreciated when a person is able to read, research it and digest it on their own accord. And I do think it is important that we are all aware of it. So as I wish her a happy belated birthday, I encourage you all to learn more and share your thoughts.
She did her part. The rest was up to us. We had to make it real. Dreams and reality are opposites. Action synthesizes them.