We Want Freedom:
A Life in the Black Panther Party
introduction by kathleen cleaver
Mumia Abu Jamal, America’s most famous political prisoner, is internationally known for his radio broadcasts and books emerging “Live from Death Row.” 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. In We Want Freedom, Mumia combines his memories of day-to-day life in the Party with analysis of the history of Black liberation struggles. The result is a vivid and compelling picture of the Black Panther Party and its legacy.
Applying his poetic voice and unsparing critical gaze, Mumia examines one of the most revolutionary and most misrepresented groups in the US. As the calls that Black Lives Matter continue to grow louder, Mumia connects the historic dots in this revised/updated edition, observing that the Panthers had legal observers to monitor the police and demanded the “immediate end to police brutality and the murder of Black people.” By focusing on the men and women who were the Party, as much as on the leadership; by locating the Black Panthers in a struggle centuries old—and in the personal memories of a young man—Mumia Abu-Jamal helps us to understand freedom.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist and former Black Panther Party member, whose previous books include Live From Death Row, Death Blossoms, All Things Censored, Faith of our Fathers, Jailhouse Lawyers, and Writing on the Wall. He has been living in Pennsylvania prisons since 1982, the majority of those years spent on death row.
Kathleen Cleaver, an activist scholar, has taught at Emory University School of Law and Yale University’s African American Studies Department. She quit college in 1966 to join the Civil Rights movement, then served as the Black Panther Party’s Communications Secretary from 1967–1971. Cleaver coedited the essay collection Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party, and is author of the forthcoming Memories of Love and War.
Praise for We Want Freedom
Mumia Abu-Jamal has forged from the furnace of death row a moving, incisive and thorough history of the Black Panther Party. This book is required reading for any who would seek to understand race, revolution, and repression in the United States… [G]iven the resurgence of overt and covert government suppression of dissent, true accounts of the popular struggles of the late 60s and early 70s are needed now more than ever. Abu-Jamal carefully imparts the history as passionate participant, skilled journalist, and critical historian. That he was accomplished this without interruption to his prolific written and recorded commentaries, his continuing struggle against political persecution within an unjust criminal justice system, and despite the death penalty that hangs over his head daily, is further testimony to the need we all share to stop his planned execution.
— Amy Goodman, journalist and host of Democracy Now!, author of Democracy Now!: Twenty Years Covering the Movements Changing America
“Written from prison, this well-researched history of the Black Panther Party begins with a timely insight: why the black radical tradition matters if we are to win black freedom. Originally published in 2004, this is Mumia's greatest gift to today’s young activists who are reigniting the demand for black freedom. One of its most incisive chapters, on the women of the Party, argues compellingly that they were its life-blood. Mumia's close examination of COINTELPRO’s destructive strategies in the Party offers perspective on the policies of incarceration and police militarization that came later: the deployment of violent repression against black radicals in the Sixties emboldened state violence and broadened it to the black community. In this beautifully written political memoir, Mumia conveys the power that is unleashed when young black people in the US are mobilized with a mission and grounded in a revolutionary political platform.”
—Johanna Fernández, Department of History, Baruch College, editor of Writing on the Wall and author of the forthcoming When the World Was Their Stage: A History of the Young Lords Party, 1968-1974
Writing eloquently from his prison cell, Mumia Abu Jamal gives us a fascinating and unusual history of the Black Panther Party. His chapters ‘A Woman’s Party’ and ‘COINTELPRO’ would be enough to make this book an invaluable addition to anyone’s reading list.
—Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States
It is clear that Abu-Jamal has been irrevocably shaped by the past he writes about in We Want Freedom and that he is writing about the past as much as he is writing to the present. Dubbed ‘voice of the voiceless’ for his advocacy journalism in Philadelphia, Abu-Jamal has written a book which amplifies the voices and experiences of rank-and-file members and attempts to ground their stories in a local context. . . . We Want Freedom forces scholars to reframe their assumptions about the Panthers' internal political culture, bottom-up realities, gender politics, and organizational history. Considering the conditions under which the book was researched and written, this is no small accomplishment.
—Robyn C. Spencer, author of The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland, and Associate Professor of History at Lehman College, City University of New York
Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks in a voice as timeless as the resistance to oppression he personifies. His words, his mind—indeed, his life itself—stand as inspiration to all of us who yearn for liberation, exemplifying the continuities of struggle joining one generation to the next in our common effort to attain the dignity of human freedom. This book is as necessary as it is unavoidable. It simply must be read by everyone endowed with the least twinge of social conscience.
—Ward Churchill, the American Indian Movement and author of Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party.
This book amazed and delighted me. I’m still not sure how Mumia has managed—from a maximum-security prison cell—to encompass in one book the broad scope of US history, a global perspective, and many intimate, first-hand accounts of life, love and politics in the Black Panther Party. Mumia tells this story with such energy and passion that reading it, I felt I’d returned to the storefronts and battlefronts of the 60s and 70s. This is the Black Panther Party—and the social movements to which it was connected—in its historical context, its hopes and triumphs, as well as its tragedies and limitations. It is a story fundamental to understanding the US of the 20th and 21st centuries, and I am eternally grateful to Mumia Abu-Jamal for having written it.
—Laura Whitehorn, former political prisoner and editor of The War Before: The True Life Story of Becoming a Black Panther, Keeping the Faith in Prison, and Fighting for Those Left Behind by Safiya Bukhari
The republication of Mumia Abu Jamal’s We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party has come right on time. Mumia’s wonderful book is not only about the Black Panther Party and his experiences within it, but it is an urgent exposition of the long history of the Black Radical Tradition. Rich in historical detail and still attuned to ongoing contemporary discussions concerning Black liberation, We Want Freedom provides a new generation of activists, radicals, and revolutionaries with the politics and clarity necessary to sustain today’s movement. Mumia’s critical voice, experience, and analysis in We Want Freedom—written originally from death row—embody the courage and commitment necessary for any social movement to succeed.
—Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
An important and timely read, now as much as ever. In this new edition of We Want Freedom, Mumia provides with clarity and force the historical context for the Black Lives Matter movement—anchoring Black struggle in a long history of militant self-defense. This book is both a guide and a light: full of hope, lessons, challenges, and profound insight into our collective struggle for freedom. I encourage all organizers, new and seasoned, to read and discuss with your people.
—Page May, cofounder of Assata’s Daughters
We Want Freedom is a welcome addition to the Oakland centered accounts of the Black Panther Party. Mumia Abu-Jamal provides a provocative and insightful narrative of local Panther activism in Philadelphia. He presents a superb and thoughtful critique of a myriad of organization dynamics, including tensions between local Party affiliates and national headquarters, gender relations, and intrafactional conflict within the BPP. Mumia’s We Want Freedom enriches our understanding an appreciation of the Black Panther Party. His work will undoubtedly inspire his former Party comrades to document their experience of local Panther activism in the various communities across the United States.
—Charles E. Jones, chair of the Department of African American Studies, Georgia State University and editor of The Black Panther Party Reconsidered
Weaving his experience in the Black Panther Party into the tapestry of Africans’ history in America, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s book is essential reading for all of us involved in the struggle for freedom.
—George Katsiaficas, coeditor Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party with Kathleen Cleaver
We Want Freedom demonstrates once again Mumia Abu Jamal’s leadership and commitment to activism and social change. Abu Jamal’s accounts of the strengths and triumphs of the Black Panther Party give readers hope. However, for those who view the governments’ repression of the Black Panther Party as unique, the book also gives an opportunity to see what the USA PATRIOT Act portends for social justice activists of today.
— Tonya McClary, American Friends Service Committee National Criminal Justice Program
This gripping revelatory account of the valiant struggles and achievements of the Black Panther Party is a superb antidote to the defamatory “histories” put out by some earlier writers. Mumia fashions a multi-dimensional story with fine style, ideological clarity, and great humanity—as is his way.
— Michael Parenti, author of The Assassination of Julius Caesar and The Terrorism Trap
Mumia’s keen analysis of the Panthers provides readers with a unique understanding of an organization J. Edgar Hoover deemed the “greatest threat to internal security in the country.” Rewarding too is his fresh assessment of the role of women in the Party, which thoughtfully draws on the work of the late Safiya Bukhari.
—Herb Boyd, editor of Race and Resistance and Black Panthers for Beginners
Abu-Jamal, ‘the world’s most famous political prisoner’, offers a celebratory look at the origins and accomplishments of the Black Panther Party, of which he was a member in the 1970s…. He seeks to place the Panthers within the noble tradition of African-American armed resistance, invoking slave rebellions and the names of Nat Turner, John Brown and Frederick Douglass. The BPP was not criminal or sexist, he declares, but a positive force for change that fell victim to the ‘viciousness’ and ‘lawlessness’ of the FBI.
Praise for Mumia Abu-Jamal
A rare and courageous voice speaking from a place we fear to know: Mumia Abu-Jamal must be heard.
Mumia Abu-Jamal forces us to confront the burden of history.
—John Edgar Wideman
Mumia is a soldier in the war for the soul of America. He is fighting the good fight with the same weapons his ancestors fought with: words. He sings with his words; he sings with his heart; he sings with the truth. Mumia is a free man, no matter what his address because he is a man who knows who he is: a child of challenging God.
—Nikki Giovanni, Poet
Mumia Abu-Jamal is one of the most important public intellectuals of our time.
—Angela Y. Davis
Author: Mumia Abu-Jamal (Author), Kathleen Cleaver (Introduction)
Publisher: Common Notions
Published October 1, 2016
Size: 8 3/8 X 5 3/8
Page count: 336 Pages
Subjects: Social Movements/African American History/Memoir