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VIDEO: Steve Arrington Shares Video for ‘Make a Difference

Today, Steve Arrington shares a video for “Make a Difference,” from his new album Down to the Lowest Terms: The Soul Sessions out now via Stones Throw.


By Chairman Shaka Zulu

Lots of people aren’t familiar with the term “bourgeoisie” or for that matter with thinking in terms of the different classes—even though we live in a class-based society. Moreover, we live in an epoch of history that is based upon class exploitation  and class dictatorship. In this “Epoch of Exploitation,” there have been different ages each with their own distinctive class structures based upon the relationship each class had to the mode and means of production.

These can basically be defined as: Slavery, Feudalism, and Capitalism. In each of these periods, there was an exploiting ruling class, an exploited laboring class, and a middle class. Under slavery, there were Freemen as well as Slaves and Slave Owners. These might even be slave traders or hired men of the slave owners.

Under Feudalism, the lower class were the Serfs or poor peasants, and the ruling class were the landed nobility, the Lords, and Ladies. The middle class were the Burgers or Bourgeoisie, who lived in independent towns or burgs, which were centers of trade and manufacturing. These “freemen,” who governed their towns more or less democratically, waged a struggle with the Lords to maintain their independence and this culminated in a wave of Liberal Bourgeois Democratic Revolutions that overthrew Feudalism and replaced kingdoms with republics.

The bourgeoisie became the new ruling class and the petty bourgeoisie (little capitalists) became the new middle class, and a new class–the Proletariat—the urban wage workers and the poor peasants were the lower class. As the Industrial Revolution took off, the bourgeoisie got richer and the petty bourgeoisie more numerous, while the proletariat were formed into industrial armies to serve in the struggle with Nature to extract raw materials like coal and iron ore and transform them into steel and goods of all type.

In this Bourgeois Era, the bourgeoisie reconstructed society in their own image and interest. Under this Bourgeois Class Dictatorship, the state exists to maintain the inequality of the class relations and protect the property and interests of the ownership classes. Bourgeois Democracy is basically a charade to mask over the reality of class dictatorship. The masses may get to vote, but the ruling class calls the tune. Money talks and the government obeys.

The charade is for the benefit of the Petty Bourgeoisie who are the voters and hopers that the government can be made to serve their class interests. The dream that they will one day climb into the upper class and share in the privilege and opulence motivates them to subordinate their own class interests to those of the bourgeoisie. A greater challenge to the bourgeois class dictatorship is getting the working class to adopt its world view and politics that clearly do not serve their interests.

This is where the middle class are of use, and where some proletarians find their niche and a point of entry into the petty bourgeoisie as promoters of bourgeois ideology and politics. I’m talking about all manner of jobs and positions from union boss to preacher and news commentator to teacher. These hacks and hucksters sell us the illusion that this is the best of all possible systems and all is right with the world so long as we do as we are told.

They serve the ruling class by playing the game of “divide and rule” and throwing water on any sparks of resistance. They feed the masses disinformation and “fake news” and feed people’s idealism and false hopes to prevent them from identifying and thinking about their true class interests.

The job of our Party is to help the masses cut through this BS and to arm the people with an understanding of revolutionary science on which our political-ideological line is based. We call this Pantherism, and it is based on application of revolutionary science—dialectical materialism—to the concrete conditions we face in the 21st Century.

We make no bones about it, we are revolutionary socialists determined to bring the Epoch of Exploitation to and end and empower the common people. In other words to advance the evolution of human society to Communism.


Shaka Zulu is chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party’s prison chapter.


Six Questions and Answers, with Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

rashid-2013-self-portrait11. What can we learn from the history of revolutionary struggles about the transition from bourgeois forms of security and policing to proletarian forms of state security

As a class question, we must of course begin with distinguishing between bourgeois and proletarian forms of state power. The state is nothing but the organization of the armed force of one class over its rival class(es). The bourgeoisie, as a tiny oppressor class that exploits or marginalizes all other classes to its own benefit, organizes its institutions of state power (military, police, prisons), that exist outside and above all other classes, to enforce and preserve its dominance and rule over everyone else.

To seize and exercise state power the proletariat, as the social majority, must in turn arm itself and its class allies to enforce its own power over the bourgeoisie.

Which brings us to the substance of your question concerning what lessons we’ve learned about transitioning from bourgeois state power (the capitalist state) to proletarian state power (the socialist state). In any event it won’t be and has never been a ‘peaceful’ process, simply because the bourgeoisie will never relinquish its power without the most violent resistance; which is the very reason it maintains its armed forces.

Well, we’ve had both urban and rural models of such transition. Russia was the first urban model (although subsumed in a rural society), China was the first successful rural one. There were many other attempts, but few succeeded however.

What proved necessary in the successful cases is foremost there must be a vanguard party organized under the ideological and political line of the revolutionary proletariat. This party must work to educate and organize the masses to recognize the need, and actively take up the struggle, to seize power from the bourgeoisie.

In the urban context, (especially in the advanced capitalist countries), where the bourgeoisie’s armed forces are entrenched, this requires a protracted political approach focused on educating and organizing the masses and creating institutions of dual and alternative collective political and economic power, with armed struggle prepared for but projected into the distant future (likely as civil war).

But in the rural context, where revolutionary forces have room to maneuver because the bourgeoisie’s armed forces are much less concentrated, the masses may resort to relatively immediate armed struggle, with political work operating to keep the masses and the armed forces educated and organized, and revolutionary politics in command of the armed struggle. This was Mao Tse-tung’s contribution to revolutionary armed struggle called Peoples War, and with its mobile armed mass base areas these forces operated like a state on wheels.

But the advances of technology since the 1970s, have seen conditions change that require a reassessing of the earlier methods of revolutionary struggle and transition of state power.

The rural populations (peasantry) of the underdeveloped world who are best suited to Mao’s PW model have been shrinking, as agrobusiness has been steadily pushing them off the land and into urban areas as permanent unemployables and lumpen proletarians, where they must survive by any means possible. Then too, with their traditional role as manual laborers being increasingly replaced by machines, the proletariat in the capitalist countries in also shrinking, and they too are pushed into a mass of permanent unemployables and lumpen.

So the only class, or sub-class, whose numbers are on the rise today are this bulk of marginalized largely urban people who don’t factor into the traditional roles of past struggles, with one exception. That being the struggle waged here in US the urban centers under the leadership of the original BPP, which designated itself a lumpen vanguard party. As such the BPP brought something entirely new and decisive to the table.

As the BPP’s theoretical leader, Huey P. Newton explained this changing social economic reality and accurately predicted their present development in his 1970 theory of “Revolutionary Intercommunalism,” and met the challenge of creating the type of party formation suited to meeting the new challenges of educating and organizing this growing social force for revolutionary struggle.

The BPP was able to create a model for developing institutions of dual and alternative political and economic power through its Serve the People programs creating the basis for transition of power to the marginalized under a revolutionary intercommunalist model instead of the traditional national socialist model.

The challenge in this situation where such work has been met with the most violent repression by bourgeois state forces is developing effective security forces right under their noses to protect the masses and their programs.

This is the work we in the NABPP are building on and seek to advance.


2. What has your experience of being a hyper-surveilled, incarcerated revolutionary taught you that is broadly applicable to the secure practice of revolutionaries in general

For one, the masses are our best and only real protection against repression. So in all the work we do, we must rely on and actively seek and win the support of the people, which is the basic Maoist method of doing political work and is what the imperialists themselves admit makes it the most effective and feared model of revolutionary struggle.

I’ve also learned that a lot of very important work fails because many people just don’t attempt it, due to policing themselves. Many fear pig repression and think any work that is effective must necessarily be done hidden out of sight, fearing as they do being seen by the state.

Essentially, they don’t know how to do aboveground work, and don’t recognize the importance of it, especially in these advanced countries. They think for work to be ‘revolutionary’ it must be underground and focused on armed struggle. And even those who do political work they stifle it by using an underground style which largely isolates them from the masses.

I think Huey P. Newton summed it up aptly when he stated,

“Many would-be revolutionaries work under the fallacious notion that the vanguard party should be a secret organization which the power structure knows nothing about, and that the masses know nothing about except for occasional letters that come their homes in the night. Underground parties cannot distribute leaflets announcing an underground meeting. Such contradictions and inconsistencies are not recognized by these so-called revolutionaries. They are, in fact, afraid of the very danger they are asking the people to confront. These so-called revolutionaries want the people to say what they themselves are afraid to say, to do what they themselves are afraid to do. That kind of revolutionary is a coward and a hypocrite. A true revolutionary realizes if he is sincere, death is imminent. The things he is saying and doing are extremely dangerous. Without this … realization, it is pointless to proceed as a revolutionary.

“If these impostors would investigate the history of revolution they would see that the vanguard group always starts out aboveground and is driven underground by the oppressor.”

3. Do you see it as a vulnerability to have our leaders organizing from prison? Some comrades refuse to engage in party/mass organizational work if it is conducted from prison. Don’t we sacrifice our best leadership if we don’t work directly/organizationally with our incarcerated leaders?

It can be a disadvantage, because it slows down development. But it is also an advantage, and our party is an example of this.

Historically, most revolutionary parties began on the outside and ended up targeted with repression, which included imprisonment of its cadre and supporters — fear of repression served as a deterrent for many would be revolutionaries as it was intended to do. For the NABPP, we developed in exactly the opposite direction. We began inside the prisons and are now transitioning to the outside.

Our cadre are getting out and hitting the ground going directly to work for the people. Look at our HQ in Newark, NJ where our chairman got out and has in less than a year led in developing a number of community STP programs, organizing mass protests that have shut down a prison construction project, given publicity and support to the people facing a crisis with lead in the water systems, etc.

So unlike the hothouse flower we’re already used to and steeled against state repression. The threat of prison doesn’t shake us — we’ve been there and done that. Like Huey asked, “Prison Where is Thy Victory?,” and John Sinclair of the original White Panther Party said, “prison ain’t shit to be afraid of.” And it was Malcolm X who was himself transformed into the great leader that he was inside prison who called prisons, “universities of the oppressed.”

All of my own work has been done from behind prison walls, and I have the state’s own reports and reactions of kicking me out of multiple state prison systems to attest to the value of what I’ve been able to contribute.

So, I think that, yes, some of our best leadership is definitely behind these walls.

Consider too that some of our best leaders developed inside prison: Malcolm X, George Jackson and Atiba Shanna aka James Yaki Sayles, for example. Which is something our party has factored into its strategy from day one. We’ve recognized the prisons to be potential revolutionary universities. Since our founding the NABPP has actively advanced the strategy of “transforming the prisons into schools of liberation,” of converting the lumpen (criminal) mentality into a revolutionary mentality.

In fact we can’t overlook remolding prisoners, because if we don’t, the enemy will appeal to and use them as forces of reaction against the revolutionary forces. Lenin, Mao and especially Frantz Fanon and the original BPP recognized this. What’s more, with the opposition’s ongoing strategy of mass imprisonment, massive numbers of our people have been swept up in these modern concentration camps. We must reach them with the politics of liberation. They are in fact a large part of our Party’s mass base.


4. How do you vet leadership and cadre? On what criteria to you make your judgement? Organizationally and personally.

Ideally this is determined by their ideological and political development and practice. But we expect and give space for people to make mistakes, although we also expect them to improve as they go. So we must be patient but also observe closely the correlation between their stated principles and their practice.


5. How should underground work relate to aboveground? How can the masses identify with the work of underground revolutionaries without compromising the security of the clandestine network?

Underground work serves different purposes and needs. One of which being to protect political cadre and train cadre to replace the fallen. Also to create a protective network and infrastructure for political workers forced to go to ground in the face of violent repression.

In whatever case the above ground forces should actively educate the masses on the role, function and purpose of underground actions while ensuring that the clandestine forces consist of the most disciplined and politically grounded people. It must also be understood that these elements do not replace the masses in their role as the forces that must seize power.


6. In your assessment, has the balance of forces between the police and the potential of revolutionary mass action fundamentally shifted over the past 5 decades? How does this affect our ability to form organs of political power among the masses?

What shifted, but I don’t think is generally recognized by many, is the PW theory is today too simplistic. Today we must organize and create base areas under the nose of the bourgeoisie with the growing concentration of marginalized people in impoverished urban settings. As I noted earlier the traditional mass base of rural peasants who feature in the PW strategy is shrinking. And Maoist forces in rural areas have been pushed to the furthest margins of those areas unable to expand.

There is little opportunity for New Democratic revolution in these countries, which calls for alliances with the native national bourgeoisie who are now being rendered obsolete by the rise and normalization of neocolonialism and virtual elimination of nation states.



Matthew Cherry's Delightful 'Hair Love' Is Finally Online


After some much well-deserved anticipation, the Sony Pictures Animation short Hair Love has finally been released online. This comes after the short film’s initial theatrical run—which premiered before theatrical screenings of Angry Birds 2.


Never forget Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton speaks at a Chicago Black Panther Rally in 1969.

The long shadow of the Chicago race riot, Part 6

By 1960, Chicago’s Black community reached 813,000 people, nearly a quarter of the city’s total population. The Great Migration of African Americans continued until the mid-1970s’ capitalist economic crisis.

Northern industry needed Black labor. Tens of thousands of African Americans were employed in factories like U.S. Steel’s massive South Works and International Harvester.

The McCormick family fortune started with Cyrus McCormick’s harvester works. Old man McCormick supported slavery and during the Civil War gave $50,000 — worth over $1 million today — to pro-Confederate “copperhead” terrorists.

On May 3, 1886, Chicago police killed two striking workers at the McCormick works. Some reports say six were killed. The protest rally called the next day led to the frame-up and hanging of the Haymarket Martyrs.

The McCormick family bought the Chicago Tribune, which became the Midwest’s biggest newspaper. The Tribune allegedly wrote some of the speeches given by Joseph McCarthy for his anti-communist witch hunt. It was notorious for its racism and attacks on any progressive struggle. One example occurred in 1968.

By that time, 60 percent of the city’s bus operators were African American. These drivers paid dues to Local 241 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, yet they weren’t allowed to vote in union elections. Only 3,500 retired workers, all of whom were white, were permitted to do so.

This intolerable situation led to the formation of a Black caucus, called the Concerned Transit Workers. Two wildcat strikes were called by the CTW in the summer of 1968 that shut down most bus routes. (The second one began the day before the Democratic Convention opened.)

Local newspapers, like the Tribune, called this struggle for justice “a Black Power plot.” An injunction was issued not only against the CTW but also against sympathy strikes by workers on the elevated lines.

By September, the capitalist state — and the firing of 42 drivers — forced the CTW to call off its strike. But this struggle was crucial to eventually ending what a CTW leader called “the old plantation system” in Local 241.

Shoot to kill

Months before these bus strikes, African Americans on Chicago’s West Side rebelled after Dr. King’s assassination.  Mayor Daley’s response was to issue his infamous “shoot to kill” order to the police at a news conference.

Daley was so vicious that he repudiated his hand-picked police superintendent, James Conlisk, for not being bloodthirsty enough. Nine Black people were killed by the police.

For many African Americans, the “shoot to kill” order was the breaking point between themselves and the Daley machine. Even Daley felt the necessity to backtrack from his murderous statements. His press secretary then attacked the media for reporting what Daley had said, not what he later said he meant.

Black people knew very well what the pig in City Hall meant. Many responded by boycotting the November 1968 elections. Even though the number of African Americans had increased since 1964, the Black vote declined.

The Black P. Stone Nation helped this movement along and it was a reason that Abdul Malik Ka’bah — then known as Jeff Fort — was years later sentenced to 168 years in jail.

The Black Panthers

Like an awakening giant, Chicago’s Black community was resuming its position at the forefront of the African American struggle. The Black Panther Party filled the political vacuum that was created by the CIA-FBI-New York police assassination of Malcolm X.

One of the many reasons that the capitalist state was eager to silence Malcolm X was the escalating U.S. war against Vietnam. In 1965, African American GIs accounted for almost a quarter of U.S. combat deaths in Vietnam.

The Black Panther Party denounced this genocidal war. Hundreds of Vietnam veterans, like Geronimo Ji Jaga, joined the Panthers.

Under the leadership of Fred Hampton, the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party became the largest in the country. This writer remembers attending a Chicago Free Bobby Seale rally in 1969, where six buses of supporters came from Rockford, Ill.

Fred Hampton grew up in Maywood, a Black suburb just west of Chicago. His father worked at International Harvester.

A natural leader, Hampton was quarterback of his high school football team. He became a revolutionary and infused everyone around him with his revolutionary optimism. Like Hugo Chávez, Fred Hampton had an electric-like ability to connect with the masses.

The Chicago police busted him for handing out hundreds of ice cream bars to kids. While in jail, Hampton won over the leader of a Puerto Rican gang to revolutionary politics. The group was called the Young Lords.

Millions of children have free school breakfasts today because of the Panthers’ Free Breakfast for Children programs. In Chicago, the Black Panther Party also started a People’s Medical Care Center. Up to 200 people a week benefited from these programs.

“You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution,” was Hampton’s best known saying. On Dec. 4, 1969—fifty years after the “race riots”—Fred Hampton was murdered in his sleep by the cops. He was only 21 years old. A fellow Panther, Mark Clark, was also killed in the early morning raid at 2337 West Monroe St. conducted by the office of State Attorney Edward Hanrahan.

The police and the capitalist media lied about these assassinations and described them as a furious gun battle between the cops and the Panthers. The Chicago Tribune printed a large picture of a door that they claimed was riddled by bullet holes created by the Panthers’ gunfire.

The bullet holes were actually nails. The truth came out because the Panthers were able to conduct tours of the blood-soaked rooms on Monroe Street.

Thousands of people, including this writer, attended Fred Hampton’s funeral at the First Baptist Church in Melrose Park, Ill. Among the speakers was Claude Lightfoot of the Communist Party.

William O’Neal was an FBI informant within the Panthers who provided information to the pigs about the Panther house. Tormented by guilt, he committed suicide in 1990 by running onto the Eisenhower Expressway.

Besides Hampton and Clark, five other Panthers were killed by Chicago police. A quarter of all the Black Panther Party members who were gunned down across the country were members of its Illinois chapter.

The Daley machine and the FBI weren’t able to kill the revolution, but assassinating Fred Hampton helped delayed it.

Sources: “The Hidden Civil War, the Story of the Copperheads” by Wood Gray, “Organized Labor and the Black Worker 1619-1973” by Philip S. Foner and “Boss, Richard J. Daley of Chicago” by Mike Royko


The US Black Liberation Movement Has Always Been Internationalist


African Americans practiced an internationalist politics in their epic struggle against US white supremacism, said Paul Ortiz, professor of history at the University of Florida and author of the new book, “An African American and Latinx History of the United States.” Blacks looked for inspiration and support from Haiti and the anti-colonial struggles in Latin America and Africa. According to Ortiz, escaped US slaves “found sanctuary as much or more in Mexico as they did in Canada.

source: The US Black Liberation Movement Has Always Been Internationalist

‘Pantherism is for everyone!’

“Panther Power” – Art: Peter Kamau Mukuria (Comrade Pitt), 1197165, Red Onion Prison, P.O. Box 1900, Pound VA 24279

Interview with NABPP Chairman Shaka Zulu by Heather Warburton of New Jersey Revolution Radio

Heather Warburton: This is Wine Women and Revolution with your host Heather Warburton coming at you here on New Jersey Revolution Radio. You can find us online at Get us wherever you get your podcasts from and follow us on all the social media.

Today I am really excited about this interview. I have someone with me that the group he’s with is probably doing some of the best organizing I’m seeing in the state of New Jersey right now. And I do not say that lightly. They really are doing really impressive work up in the Newark area. Welcome to the show, Chairman Shaka Zulu of the New African Black Panther Party.

Chairman Zulu: All power to the people! Glad to be here and I’m glad to talk to your audience.

Heather Warburton: I’m so happy that New Jersey Revolution Radio was able to support you guys and help get your message out. And that’s one of the things I’m probably most proud of that we’re doing here on NJRR. Because like I said, you guys are doing amazing organizing. I’m just not seeing the kind of organizing you’re doing – that grassroots neighborhood empowerment organizing – by many other groups in the state.

So I wanted to take a little trip back to your origin story. How did you come to be a revolutionary? How did you get this thought, revolutionary thought, in you? And you’re going to start empowering communities? Where did that come from?

Chairman Zulu: Well, I think that how I became a revolutionary was my encounter with the criminal justice system. I think that the police encounters, the prison cell, that kind of kicked me into the revolutionary movement. When I initially went to prison, I was a common criminal. You know, I sold drugs. I robbed. I’d steal. I did all the things that people that are cut off from the economy do to survive.

But when I went to prison, that’s when I encountered a hardcore revolutionary idea – that with study with time and practice one can change their behavior, one could change their ethics and morals, their values, and join with the rest of humanity trying to make a better place for everybody. So I began to read books. I began to talk to political prisoners. I began to do a lot of writing. And in that process, I discovered the importance of ideas – what it meant, how can we apply it?

“All Power to the People” – Art: Peter Kamau Mukuria (Comrade Pitt), 1197165, Red Onion Prison, P.O. Box 1900, Pound VA 2427

And in essence, how can I relate to those ideas in a meaningful way? So I encountered books that I still read to this day, “Soledad Brother” by Comrade George Jackson, Huey P. Newton’s “Revolutionary Suicide” or “To Die for the People,” Bobby Seale’s “Seize The Time.” Obviously, I read Assata Shakur, I read Angela Davis’ “If They Come in the Morning.” So I read a lot of revolutionary books that dealt with the Black condition here in the United States.

But as I began to delve deeper into ideas, revolutionary ideas, I began to become familiar with Mao Tse-tung, Lenin and Marx, Che Guevara and their lifestyle, their ideas; the ideas match their action. So I said in order to be a true, genuine revolutionary, I had to marry theory with practice. And so I became a revolutionary within the enemy prison system.

Heather Warburton: And so obviously, you’re reading a lot of early, you know, the Black Panther movement stuff? And is that really … had you had any familiarity with the original Black Panther Party before you were in prison? Or did you really come to finding their ideology while you were in prison?

Chairman Zulu: Oh no. I think that the average Black person, whether they are part of the Black lumpen class or the Black working class or the Black petty bourgeois class, knows of the history of the Black Panther Party in a superficial way. Because our brothers, our sisters, our mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers had some kind of encounter with the Black Panther Party, whether they saw it growing up, or they experienced it by participating in the many programs that the Black Panther Party had.

So I always knew that the Black Panther Party existed. I didn’t know its ideology. I didn’t know its membership. I didn’t know its international reach. And I certainly didn’t know its theoretical practices. But I knew of the Black Panther Party name.

It’s similar to old folk tales that we have within the Black community. Especially during slavery, there will be periods where the African slaves would get together, and they would talk about Old Jack, or they would talk about Old Kennedy. These are Black slaves that rose up in rebellion. They escaped the plantation, and they raided the slavemaster’s house for the corn for the chicken. But they were never caught.

And so 10 years, 15 years, 20 years down the line, this tale is still being told to African slaves, about the behavior of Old Jack or Old Kennedy, who was able to outmaneuver the slavemaster, in fact, the slave state, but he was never discovered. And in some instances, it’s a fairy tale. Because with African culture, you want to inspire. You want to motivate. You want to put people in a position where they believe they can win.

So the Black Panther Party has that sort of mysticism, that sort of mystique within the Black community. Some of us don’t understand its ideology and think that all it is is a hate whitey party. You know, others, perhaps thought it was, or still think that it’s about kill police or guns, you know.

But it was only when I begin to read that I begin to understand that the most important aspect to the Black Panther Party was the social programs. Was this ability to empower people who were hopeless, who had no sense of what it means to be agents of change, and not depend on the enemy state, not depend on charity, not depend on handouts, but become proactive, transforming your conditions where you at right now.

You may not have all the resources, but you have something to start with, and that idea of the Black Panther Party, that you can empower yourself, empower the community, empower the nation, empower the world through a revolutionary thrust for freedom inspired me. And that’s where I became enamored with social programs as a prerequisite to the liberation of all oppressed people.

Heather Warburton: Well, I think that leads really well into my next question: We obviously know the problems with capitalism; we know the problems of imperialism; we know the problems of racism in this country right now. So what does a good functional society look like to you? We know what we’re struggling against, but what are we struggling for? What do you want to see reflected in society?

Chairman Zulu: Yeah, I think that one of the most beautiful things about being a communist is that we have over 150 years of solid practice to look back on to determine what kind of society we want. Obviously, the first socialist society in 1917 did not get the chance to fully develop as a socialist society, because it was constantly under attack. It was surrounded by imperialist enemies.

“Panther Love” – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 264847, Pendleton Correctional Facility, G-20-2C, 4490 W. Reformatory Road, Pendleton, IN 46064

And from 1917, really to 1953, we saw a microcosm of a world that we want today. We saw woman liberated from the household, and Russia’s situation, liberated from the peasant life, the peasantry, the backwardness of that kind of life, so they could become leaders of the society. We saw free healthcare. For the first time in history, we saw housing become a human right. The means of production, the resources under the earth, and on the earth, was put into the hands of the state, and the state used it to lift up the living conditions of its people.

So I think when we look at capitalism, and try to compare it to the kind of world that we envision today, the most important aspect that everybody can agree with is that all of the resources under the earth belong to all up the people on top of the earth. That these resources will give us a world that is free from militarism, racism, a world that is free of negative isms.

Because if you look at resources, resources are primarily responsible for the way that the world is constructed. Today, there’s uneven economic development, because there is a part of the world that hordes and monopolizes the resources and the Earth. So that gave birth to racism. That gave birth to wars. That gave birth to a sort of seeking refuge in a religious understanding.

So if the resources were in the hands of the people, we won’t have a Congo that has been at war essentially all of its life since Leopold invaded during a scramble for Africa. But I’m talking about since 1996, when Laurent Kabila assumed power in the Congo and was assassinated. Since the next year, there has been a low intensity war taking place in the Congo over the resources – the gold, the diamonds, the tantalum – that go into cell phones, airports, jets etc.

So if we can grab hold of the resources that are in the hands of the 1,670 billionaires, if we can grab hold of those resources, we can change the world that we live in, and we can start giving people housing as a human right. We could give them education as a human right. We can abolish prisons. We can abolish warfare as a means of resolving contradictions between nation states and individuals.

So I think that the kind of world we want is a socialist world; it is the only viable alternative to capitalism. There have been others who try a third way, you know, monarchies, and others who sort of mix capitalism and socialism. None of that stuff works.

“Panther Love” – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 264847, Pendleton Correctional Facility, G-20-2C, 4490 W. Reformatory Road, Pendleton, IN 46064

We know that socialism gives us the ability to put humanity on the right course and on the right foot. Capitalism, from the get go, put humanity on the wrong course. So I think [we can] envision a world that is free of pollution, free of sexism, patriarchy, a world that is free of militarism, a world that gives humanity the opportunity to live in peace and harmony and to enjoy the fruits of the earth in an equal way. So that’s the kind of world we want: We want a socialist world.

Heather Warburton: And I was really hoping that’s what you’d touch on. Because everything you said just makes sense. People don’t always understand what communism or socialism means. And they build things up in their head. But really everything that you said I think everyone can relate to.

I think everyone can see the contradictions of their current life, and how some other way of forming society just makes sense. That we’re actually living collectively as opposed to constantly in conflict with each other. And conflict comes out of capitalism or any class society really.

Chairman Zulu: Exactly, man, if you look at the earth, it’s been around a long time, almost a billion years. States, the modern construction of a state where you have people existing on top of one another, the working class, the ruling class – that is a new invention. And it came into existence as a result of dividing up the resources of the world.

Prior to that, for thousands of years, people lived in a kind of world where intercommunally everything was shared amongst the people. So if we wanted grapes, it wasn’t a grape store down the street that monopolizes the grapes. You know, if we wanted apples, we didn’t have to go to Chiquita and ask them, can we buy a pound of apples. You simply went and plucked some apples off the tree.

You got enough to make sure that the whole village got some apples when they wanted some. So this is the kind of world that we can only create. This is the kind of world that we can only create, through a revolutionary struggle of the working class, against those who seek to continue to hoard, control, dominate, monopolize the resources of this earth that belong to everybody.

Heather Warburton: And I think to that end is where you’re doing really amazing organizing work. And I’m hoping you can tell us a little bit about some of the work that you started doing. You’re building an actual base of revolutionary power in the city of Newark. So can you tell everybody a little bit about what you started doing there?

Chairman Zulu: Oh, that’s beautiful. I think. This base, this base area, this idea that there’s liberated territory, that revolutionaries here in the United States can go to and strategize, come up with tactics, come up with ways of clarifying theories, and values and ethics and more rules came out of my study.

It came out of the fact that the Black Panther Party created base areas in the country where all people who were struggling for justice could come and meet and talk. Sometimes, in these areas, discussions got heated, you know; they were intense, but they were meant to clarify the conditions that oppressed people were struggling with.

So what we want to do is rebuild that infrastructure of revolutionary thought, a revolutionary structure – revolutionary into communalism. We want to rebuild that because it gives us the opportunity to extend that revolution outwardly from a base area. I think that a lot of revolutionaries and progressives have moved away from the construction of a base area, because of the way that helter skelter politics is organized nowadays.

There is a need to respond to so many conditions of brutality and exploitation. And as a result, the painstaking work of doing what Antonio Gramsci called “building the organic leader in the community” working with the grassroots who have suffered.

Being a Black Panther meant working hard every day with and for the party. – Photo: Pirkle Jones

So we’re trying to re-institute that infrastructure. And we have been moving in that direction for the last few months. Our first campaign was to stop a prison that they was trying to build. Here in the City of Newark, they wanted to build a prison smack in the heart of the oppressed community. They wanted to tear down houses in that particular community in order to build the prison.

So we put together what we call a No Prison Friday Rally. And for nearly two months, we were on South Orange Avenue here in the city of Newark protesting and rallying every Friday. And we got the governor, the enemy governor, to state that there will be no prison built on South Orange here in the city of Newark. That was the work of the New African Black Panther Party and the United Panther Movement.

Others have come along, the Johnny-come-latelys, and claimed responsibility; that’s okay. But the community in which we stage these rebellions knows who put the groundwork down. Know who was there every week, to stand in solidarity with them. So that was one of our initial programs. And we still continue that program under a different set of work conditions.

We no longer focus strictly on the prison, per se. But now we incorporate mass incarceration, criminal justice, you know, there’s 2.5 million people in the enemy prison today. There’s 6.5 million people on some form of criminal justice supervision. There’s 500,000 people waiting right now in county jails across the country. So we exist, we live in a mass incarcerated state. And any revolutionary organization that truly wants to liberate the ground has to take on this ugly behemoth of mass incarceration.

So Fridays, we call it “No mass incarceration; we want liberation!” That’s our new project.

Our other project is Empower the Block. That is something that we put together two weeks ago – and a Saturday survival program. We go out into the community, not to bring charity, not as an act of pity.

But we do it as a way of empowering the people in the community. Letting them know that you don’t have to wait on the garbage truck to come. You don’t have to wait on the mayor to come. You don’t have to wait on the state to come.

You could simply get on your block, pick up a broom, and empower each other by cleaning the neighborhood. And then talk about why did you need to clean the neighborhood, because the resources that other communities have are not available in these poverty stricken communities that are left out of the national economy.

So it’s the means of revolutionizing the minds of the people. Let them know that we could start with something small and build that project into a mighty revolutionary force. And so that’s what Empower the Block does. It gives the people the opportunity to come out of their house to meet one another again, and to begin to talk to each other about why our blocks (are the way they are).

Why would communities of nations have to suffer the way they are suffering? It’s because of capitalism, white supremacy. It’s because of an idea that, in order for capitalism to maximize the rate of dollar, it must exploit the labor power of the masses of the people. We have to teach that.

They have to understand that economics is primarily responsible for their condition. It is not individual white men. It is an economic system that has privileged white society over Black society. So we get rid of capitalism; then we could sit down all of us – Black, white, Latino, Asian and the indigenous people – and talk about the kind of world we could build. But it starts with grassroots organizing.

Heather Warburton: What you were saying reminded me a lot of Thomas Sankara when he says, people who just give us food, you’re not helping our community really. [The ones] giving us fertilizer, giving us plows, so we can empower ourselves is who’s really helping us.

And you know this confusion of like, charity is great – you’re filling a temporary need – but you’re not really teaching people how to empower themselves and do it themselves. And that’s really where revolution comes from, is enabling people to know that they really hold the power. And you know, that’s your slogan, right? All power to the people.

Chairman Zulu: And that’s beautiful, that’s beautiful, because that’s the difference between a capitalist society; they individualize heroic acts. As a socialist society, we make heroic collective work.

So if there is a village or an urban setting that is suffering from a lack of resources and the state is unwilling or unable to provide those resources, then we have to come up with a methodology to pool what little we have to make sure that our brothers or sisters can eat or have access to health care or stop police brutality or get a decent education.

All Power to the People!

So Thomas Sankura was right. You know, giving us a bowl of rice, it’s not the same weight as teaching us how to plant rice in order to feed the whole community. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to hand out a bag of food and simply say, that’s the work of revolution.

We’re trying to build confidence in the idea that you could start a community garden, and plant your own vegetables, plant your own food, and utilize that as a way of empowering your community. So charity is an act of capitalism. Empowering people, allowing people to become agents of change, is an act of socialism.

Heather Warburton: I think you just said that beautifully. Really, I think that was perfectly stated. And I hope that’s going to resonate with some people.

One other thing that I did want to touch on with you is historically, when we think about revolutionaries, it kind of is more from a masculine viewpoint. You know, we think about some of the great revolutionaries throughout history, it’s always men. And I know you’re specifically working on empowering women as well in your community to make them revolutionary leaders. It’s not just a men’s only club for the New African Black Panther Party.

Chairman Zulu: You know what, Comrade? That is very important to us. We have we have a multiplicity of rules and regulations that prohibit discrimination or sexism or patriarchy against not just revolutionary women, but women in general. We find it a stamp of disapproval that we should subject the other half of humanity to psychological chains or to physical chains – to a tradition that denied them their full stature as human beings.

So we make it a case to put qualified, qualified sister comrades in leadership positions. And we have in place currently, within our various two organizations, sisters, revolutionary sisters, who are leading, who are making decisions, who are highly qualified to move this revolutionary struggle forward.

And all of the men within our organization respect, adhere to and push forward with this idea that half of humanity cannot be in chains, while the men sit, eat apples, drink water and talk about freedom. We can’t do that. So it would be reinforcing a kind of bourgeois tradition to say that only men can pick up rocks. Or only men can write a dissertation. Or only men can speak eloquently to move the masses.

I know that history shows us definitely and we have those examples that we teach to one another on a day to day basis. So some of our comrades lead these particular study groups; female, woman comrades lead study groups. You know, they lead the protest rallies that we organize.

So it’s a wonderful opportunity to show the rest of the country – and by extension the world – what mighty power lies dormant in a woman when they’re given an opportunity to lead revolutionary movements and to express revolutionary ideas, because all of the ideas, all of the projects that we have been doing have come from our female comrades.

I’m the face of the revolution. But behind me is a cadre of women revolutionaries who prod me every day, who tell me every day, be mindful of how you speak. Be mindful of what you do, because you have to represent everybody, not just men.

And we’ve just elected to the branch committee of the New African Black Panther Party a deputy minister of finance, who is a female. She is from Delaware, and she and hopefully the world will get the opportunity to see her pretty soon, but she is a wonderful revolutionary leader.

So we’re making sure that anyone who’s qualified within our organization and within our ally organizations are that if you don’t push women forward who are qualified, we don’t want to have anything to do with you. Because we’re not going to a set a new form of slavery within a socialist framework. It’s not going to work.

We’re either for the total freedom of humanity, or we’re for the continuation of the division of humanity that we have today. We are for total freedom – the New African Black Panther Party is for the complete and total liberation of all humanity. And that includes our significant, mighty force of woman revolutionaries.

Heather Warburton: And I think that’s great that you’re putting that into practice and not having ally organizations that are upholding misogyny and upholding male supremacy. If you’re going to be an organization that affiliates with you, you’ve got to put this stuff into practice. You can’t just talk about it; you’ve got to do it. So I thank you for that.

You had said something to me at – I think it was at – the Green Party convention. It was a quote about women, something about holding up half the sky. What was that called?

Chairman Zulu: Ah, Mao Tse-tung! Let me tell you Mao Tse-tung said that first. And it’s a famous quote that women hold up half the sky, now bound up with that as a whole lot of ideas of values and ethics.

But Malcolm X said it in a way where he made it more plain. He said that you can tell the political development of a people by the political development of its women. So what he meant was, an equal and virtuous society will prioritize the most disenfranchised and victimized people within that society [and help them rise] to a level where they are on an equal footing with others. And for us, since we’re talking about women, they have been the most brutalized in this society, because they have always been under the foot of a patriarchal, dominating kind of structure.

Heather Warburton: Yeah, I thought that was a great quote. So I wanted to make sure that you said that again. So what if people want to help? How can they get involved and help you? How could if somebody wanted to start organizing a revolutionary base somewhere like Philadelphia or other cities? What can they do? How can they get involved?

Chairman Zulu: Well, the easiest thing is you can visit the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Facebook page. And we have an email address: You can email And we will talk to you about what are the requirements, how you go about opening up a collective or a branch within Pennsylvania or any other state.

There is a prerequisite to that: You have to go through an orientation process. So we will explain all of that to anyone. All you have to do is send me an email at

Heather Warburton: And you accept donations as well?

Chairman Zulu: That’s right. In fact, we can’t do anything without donations. The word … they say that revolution ain’t free. Freedom isn’t free. So we collect the nickels and dimes of the masses of the people.

If anybody wants to donate, they could CashApp $Szulu. Again, they could CashApp $SZulu. And we will certainly appreciate whatever contribution you could make to us building this base area of social, cultural and political revolution here in the city of Newark.

Heather Warburton: All right, you guys, like I said, you really are doing some of the best organizing I’m seeing. So it’s just a different spirit you’re organizing with, and I think it’s starting to show that people are starting to really pay attention. You didn’t brag about it yet yourself. And I asked you to brag a little bit about some of your work you’re doing. You had 500 people show up to an event?

Chairman Zulu: Yeah, that was wonderful. Mao Tse-tung got a saying that a small spark can start a prairie fire. That sometimes revolutionaries and progressives around the world, especially in the West, which is Britain, France, United States, they get discouraged. They get discouraged when lot of people don’t show up. They get discouraged when their ideas don’t readily take off. They get discouraged when they don’t see immediate gratification.

And as a result, their work suffers. They may have a great idea. But because we have this immediate gratification mentality, we end up not staying with the idea, not sticking to the idea. When we started the prison rallies, it was only 15 of us, mostly from our organization. But each week, it increased. It gradually increased. It brought more people in.

So we can’t simply take credit for all of those people coming out. We know that the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice also participated in that rally, and their voice was able to help persuade a lot more people to come.

So we was just happy that folks stood up; they raised their voice of condemnation of the prison by putting their bodies on the line. And this is the kind of work that we want to do, we will continue to do.

I think that we’re building a beachhead, a true genuine beachhead in New Jersey, and there are gonna be folks coming from all around this country watching what we do. And I mean this in the collective sense, watching what we do. And we hope that this small, small spark, here in the state of New Jersey and the city of Newark becomes a prairie fire around the country.

Heather Warburton: And Brian and I have always joked here of calling New Jersey the great nation of New Jersey, and the thought was that we would start the communist nation of New Jersey or the People’s Republic of New Jersey. But you guys are actually doing that. You guys are starting your own area that can spread and I think it will.

I really genuinely believe in the work you’re doing and that it’s going to spread. And you’re going to build an actual revolutionary base here in New Jersey and spread out from here.

Do you have any closing words today before we wrap it up?

Chairman Zulu: No, I just want to say all power to the people and encourage our brother and sister organizations out there, the masses of the people, that change can only come through small incremental steps. That we shouldn’t automatically be enamored with the glitz and glamour of struggle, but get our hands dirty, get on our knees, and turn some screws, and knock some nails to some wood. That’s how you build an infrastructure of revolution.

And I’m excited. I’m happy. And we’re just getting started. Hopefully, like I said, we build this thing into a dual and contending power with the enemy system. And it leads to a true genuine revolutionary overturning of capitalism and imperialism.

Heather Warburton: And I ask a lot of people if they’re an optimist, and I genuinely believe you are because you see, in practice and in theory and practice, change happening. Time is short, and we need this change to happen. And I don’t see a lot of other movements that could bring about this change that we all need.

[Without it] we will die ultimately; capitalism is killing us. It will wipe out humanity. And we need revolution now. And you’re one of the only organizations I see that’s even remotely making that happen. So, so much for the work you’re doing.

Chairman Zulu: Thank you. I appreciate this interview, and any time you need us, the New Afrikan Black Panther Party will be there. We will be on the scene. And we appreciate the work that you’re doing at this radio station as well.

Heather Warburton: And same thing: Whenever you need publicity or you want to talk about anything, our air waves are your airwaves. You know that that anything you want to talk about, we’re here for.

Chairman Zulu: All power to the people!

Heather Warburton: All power to power to the people! To my listeners, thank you so much for joining us today. This interview should be inspiring to you. This interview is probably the breath of fresh air a lot of you need right now. Because things are grim. And it’s easy to get bogged down in how grim things are. And that’s why we’re here. We want to inspire you. We want to help elevate the voices of the people that are doing the actual hard work of changing society.

We appreciate you so much here as our listeners and our family at NJRR and we do unfortunately have to ask for your help occasionally. We take no corporate money; we can’t be your voice if we’re being paid off by the corporations. So we only can rely on donations from the activist community.

If you can go on to our website,, click on that Donate button, even if it’s only $2 a month. That really helps us budget and know what we’re going to have coming in so we can get more people out to cover events, so we can get more places.

You know, Brian and I are the only two of us. We need to be able to hire more people to get out and cover these events. So anything you can do, we really appreciate it. The future is yours to create; go out there and create it.

New Afrikan Black Panther Party Chairman Shaka Zulu can be reached at




Soledad Brothers

by Tom Watts, 8 May 2019

George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John Clutchette became internationally known as the “Soledad Brothers” in 1970, after they were charged with murdering a prison guard in Soledad State Prison in California, allegedly in retaliation for the killing of W.L. Nolen and two other black prisoners (Cleveland Edwards and Alvin Miller) by a guard in the exercise yard. Nolen and George Jackson had been transferred to Soledad together from San Quentin State Prison in January of 1969.

George Jackson entered San Quentin after being convicted of holding up a gas station for $70 in 1961. He was sentenced to from onlvin e year to life imprisonment. He was 18 years old. In 1966, George Jackson was befriended by W.L Nolen, a phenomenal prison boxing champion, who introduced him to Marxist and Maoist ideology. Together they co-founded the Black Guerrilla Family, a politicized prison gang, and then the Prison Chapter of the Black Panther Party, which appointed George Jackson with the rank of Field Marshall.

There was a good deal of collusion between racist white guards and white supremacist gangs like the Aryan Nation, as W.L. Nolen testified: “Prison guards are complicit in fomenting racial strife by aiding white inmate confederates in ways not actionable in court, i.e., leaving cell doors open to endanger the lives of New Afrikans; placing fecal matter or broken glass in the food served to New Afrikans etc., as these material factors would be difficult to prove.” (See W.L. Nolen, et. al. v. Cletus Fitzharris, et. al.) Not infrequently, guards would supply these white racist prisoners with store-bought knives and instructions to extra-judicially kill or maim selected prisoners. In such cases the prisoners would be forced to defend themselves.

On January 13, 1970, after many months of not being allowed access to an exercise yard, the guards at Soledad released 14 black and 2 white inmates from the maximum-security section into a recreation yard. The two whites were members of the Aryan Brotherhood. A scuffle broke out and Officer Opie Miller, an expert shot, opened fire from the guard tower killing Nolen and the other two black prisoners. George Jackson described the scene as seeing three of his brothers having been “murdered […] by a pig shooting from 30 feet above their heads with a military rifle.”

Following the incident, thirteen black prisoners began a hunger strike in the hopes of securing an investigation. On January 16, 1970, a Monterey County grand jury convened, then exonerated Miller in the deaths with a ruling of “justifiable homicide.” No black inmates were permitted to testify, including those who had been in the recreation yard during the shooting. In Soledad Prison, inmates heard the grand jury’s ruling on the prison radio. Thirty minutes later, John V. Mills was found dying in another maximum-security wing of the prison, having been beaten and thrown from a third-floor tier of Y Wing, George Jackson’s cellblock, to the television room below.

There was no evidence against any of the “Soledad Brothers,” but the prison administrators figured this was a good opportunity to get rid of “known troublemakers.” They were charged with 1st degree murder, and if convicted, it would mean the gas chamber. The Black Panther Party and other radicals took up their defense. Among them was Angela Davis, a black college professor at UCLA and member of the Communist Party. The Soledad Brothers Defense Committee was formed by Fay Stender, a radical lawyer from San Francisco, to assist in publicizing the case and raising funds to defend Jackson, Drumgo, and Clutchette. Among the several celebrities, writers, and left-wing political activists that supported the SBDC and their cause were Julian Bond, Kay Boyle, Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Noam Chomsky, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Tom Hayden, William Kunstler, Jessica Mitford, Linus Pauling, Pete Seeger, and Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Stender also arranged the publication of Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson, which was to contain various letters written by Jackson while in prison. She also persuaded the French intellectual Jean Genet to write an introduction, propelling the book to become an international best seller. The substantial proceeds from the book went to a legal defense fund that she set up. The great Trinidadian author and revolutionary C.L.R. James called Jackson’s writings in Soledad Brother “the most remarkable political documents that have appeared inside or outside the United State since the death of Lenin.”

Before the book went to press, on August 7th, 1970, George Jackson’s 17 year-old brother Jonathan walked into the Marin County Courthouse packing guns Angela Davis had bought for him when she took him on as her personal bodyguard. His intent was to free the “Soledad Brothers” by taking hostages. He freed prisoners James McClain, William A. Christmas and Ruchell Magee, and took Judge Harold Haley, Deputy District Attorney Gary Thomas, and three jurors hostage. What he didn’t figure on was that the prison guards who were there would not hesitate to kill the hostages before they would let the prisoners get away. He, the Judge, McClain, and Christmas were killed in a hail of gunfire as they attempted to drive away. Others were wounded.

George would dedicate his book to his brother, to Angela Davis and his mother:

“To the man-child, tall, evil, graceful, bright-eyed, Black man-child — Jonathan Peter Jackson — who died on August 7, 1970, courage in one hand, assault rifle in the other; my brother, comrade, friend — the true revolutionary, the Black communist guerrilla in the highest state of development, he died on the trigger, scourge of the unrighteous, soldier of the people; to this terrible man-child and his wonderful mother Georgie Bea, to Angela Y. Davis, my tender experience, I dedicate this collection of letters; to the destruction of their enemies I dedicate my life.”

Angela Davis became a hunted fugitive after the incident, and an international celebrity. She was placed on the FBI’s “10 Most Wanted” list and she was apprehended in NYC in October of that year. Support committees to “Free Angela” sprang up all over the world. Her case inspired songs from popular entertainers of the time with John Lennon and Yoko Ono recording the song “Angela” to show their solidarity in 1972; The Rolling Stones also recorded a track, “Sweet Black Angel,” in honor of Davis, and she was acquitted on all charges in that same year.

While awaiting trial, George Jackson wrote a follow-up book, Blood In My Eye, which some say surpassed the first. Once it was safely smuggled out of the prison, Jackson allegedly made an escape attempt that led to his being killed on the yard by San Quentin Prison guards on August 21st, 1971. On that day, Jackson met with attorney Stephen Bingham on a civil lawsuit Jackson had filed against the California Department of Corrections. After the meeting, Jackson was escorted by Officer Urbano Rubico back to his cell when Rubico claimed he noticed a metallic object in Jackson’s hair, later revealed to be a wig, and ordered him to remove it. Jackson then pulled a Spanish Astra 9 mm pistol from beneath the wig and said “Gentlemen, the dragon has come”—a reference to Ho Chi Minh’s famous poem “When the Prison Gates are Opened the Real Dragons Will Come Out.” It is not clear how Jackson obtained the gun. Bingham, who lived for 13 years as a fugitive before returning to the United States to face trial, was acquitted of charges that he smuggled a gun to Jackson.

Jackson, it is claimed, ordered Rubico to open all the cells and along with several other inmates he overpowered the remaining correction officers and took them, along with two inmates, hostage. Five other hostages, guards Jere Graham, Frank DeLeon and Paul Krasnes, along with two white prisoners, were killed and found in Jackson’s cell. Three other officers, Rubico, Kenneth McCray, and Charles Breckenridge, were also shot and stabbed, but survived. After finding the keys for the Adjustment Center’s exit, Jackson along with fellow inmate and close friend Johnny Spain escaped to the yard where Jackson was shot dead from a guard tower and Spain surrendered. Jackson was killed just three days prior to the start of his murder trial for the 1970 slaying of officer John Mills in which the other two “Soledad Brothers” were acquitted.

The story kept changing. “No Black person will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they tell us he did,” wrote author James Baldwin. Bob Dylan would eulogize Jackson in song, singing of his “tears in my bed” upon hearing the news. The Black Panther Party buried George will full honors and Huey P. Newton delivered the eulogy:

“When I went to prison in 1967, I met George. Not physically, I met him through his ideas, his thoughts and words that I would get from him. He was at Soledad Prison at the time; I was at California Penal Colony.

“George was a legendary figure all through the prison system, where he spent most of his life. You know a legendary figure is known to most people through the idea, or through the concept, or essentially through the spirit. So I met George through the spirit.

“I say that the legendary figure is also a hero. He set a standard for prisoners, political prisoners, for people. He showed the love, the strength, the revolutionary fervor that’s characteristic of any soldier for the people. So we know that spiritual things can only manifest themselves in some physical act, through a physical mechanism. I saw prisoners who knew about this legendary figure, act in such a way, putting his ideas to life; so therefore the spirit became a life. ….

“George Jackson, even after his death, you see, is going on living in a very real way; because after all, the greatest thing that we have is the idea and our spirit, because it can be passed on. Not in the superstitious sense, but in the sense that when we say something or we live a certain way, then when this can be passed on to another person, then life goes on. And that person somehow lives, because the standard that he set and the standard that he lived by will go on living. ….

“Even with George’s last statement – his last statement to me – at San Quentin that day, that terrible day, he left a standard for political prisoners; he left a standard for the prisoner society of racist, reactionary America; surely he left a standard for the liberation armies of the world. He showed us how to act.”

The killing of George Jackson sent shockwaves through the prison systems of America. Journalist Heather Ann Thompson describes the morning after Jackson’s murder, when more than 800 prisoners gathered in the cafeteria and sat silently, not touching breakfast at Attica State Prison in upstate New York. Each one had a black shoelace tied around his bicep. One month later, Attica would erupt in one of the most inspiring and bloody prison rebellions in history.

Walter Rodney, the author of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, wrote about Comrade George:

“The greatness of George Jackson is that he served as a dynamic spokesman for the most wretched among the oppressed, and he was in the vanguard of the most dangerous front of struggle.

“Jail is hardly an arena in which one would imagine that guerrilla warfare would take place. Yet, it is on this most disadvantaged of terrains that blacks have displayed the guts to wage a war for dignity and freedom. In Soledad Brother, George Jackson movingly reveals the nature of this struggle as it has evolved over the last few years. Some of the more recent episodes in the struggle at San Quentin prison are worth recording. On February 27th this year, black and brown (Mexican) prisoners announced the formation of a Third World Coalition. This came in the wake of such organizations as a Black Panther Branch at San Quentin and the establishment of SATE (Self-Advancement Through Education). This level of mobilisation of the nonwhite prisoners was resented and feared by white guards and some racist white prisoners. The latter formed themselves into a self-declared Nazi group, and months of violent incidents followed. Needless to say, with white authority on the side of the Nazis, Afro and Mexican brothers had a very hard time. George Jackson is not the only casualty on the side of the blacks. But their unity was maintained, and a majority of white prisoners either refused to support the Nazis or denounced them. So, even within prison walls the first principle to be observed was unity in struggle. Once the most oppressed had taken the initiative, then they could win allies.

“The struggle within the jails is having wider and wider repercussions every day. Firstly, it is creating true revolutionary cadres out of more and more lumpen. This is particularly true in the jails of California, but the movement is making its impact felt everywhere from Baltimore to Texas. Brothers inside are writing poetry, essays and letters which strip white capitalist America naked. Like the Soledad Brothers, they have come to learn that sociology books call us antisocial and brand us criminals, when actually the criminals are in the social register. The names of those who rule America are all in the social register.

“Secondly, it is solidifying the black community in a remarkable way. Petty bourgeois blacks also feel threatened by the manic police, judges and prison officers. Black intellectuals who used to be completely alienated from any form of struggle except their personal hustle now recognize the need to ally with and take their bearings from the street forces of the black unemployed, ghetto dwellers and prison inmates.

“Thirdly, the courage of black prisoners has elicited a response from white America. The small band of white revolutionaries has taken a positive stand. The Weathermen decried Jackson’s murder by placing a few bombs in given places and the Communist Party supported the demand by the black prisoners and the Black Panther Party that the murder was to be investigated. On a more general note, white liberal America has been disturbed. The white liberals never like to be told that white capitalist society is too rotten to be reformed. Even the established capitalist press has come out with exposés of prison conditions, and the fascist massacres of black prisoners at Attica prison recently brought Senator Muskie out with a cry of enough.

“Fourthly (and for our purposes most significantly) the efforts of black prisoners and blacks in America as a whole have had international repercussions. The framed charges brought against Black Panther leaders and against Angela Davis have been denounced in many parts of the world. Committees of defense and solidarity have been formed in places as far as Havana and Leipzig. OPAAL declared August 18th as the day of international solidarity with Afro-Americans; and significantly most of their propaganda for this purpose ended with a call to Free All Political Prisoners.”

Every year “Black August” commemorates the lives of George and Jonathan Jackson, and the other martyrs and comrades who have struggled and sacrificed inside the “slave pens of oppression.” It reminds us that the struggle must go on, not just to achieve more humane prisons but to end all oppression and to create a bright future for humanity.



source: Soledad Brothers (by Tom Watts, 8 May 2019)

Strange Fruit: the most shocking song of all time?


by Aida Amoako 

Billie Holiday recorded her iconic version of Strange Fruit on 20 April 1939. Eighty years on – in the first of our Songs that Made History series – Aida Amoako explores how a poem about lynching became a timeless call to action.

“Can you imagine never having heard this song before and realising what the strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees is? That’s something that unfolds in the time of listening, so that image of bulging eyes and twisted mouth jumps out at the listener.” Cultural critic Emily J Lordi is describing the particular power of a song that still shocks 80 years after it was first performed.

On 20 April 1939, the jazz singer Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan in 1915) stepped into a studio with an eight-piece band to record Strange Fruit. This jarring song about the horrors of lynching was not only Holiday’s biggest hit, but it would become one of the most influential protest songs of the 20th Century – continuing to speak to us about racial violence today.

It was named the song of the century by Time magazine in 1999, and the story of Strange Fruit’s conception has entered legend. Originally a poem called Bitter Fruit, it was written by the Jewish school teacher Abel Meeropol under the pseudonym Lewis Allen in response to lynching in US southern states. “I wrote Strange Fruit because I hate lynching, and I hate injustice, and I hate the people who perpetuate it,” Meeropol said in 1971. He never witnessed a lynching but it is suggested he wrote Strange Fruit after seeing Lawrence Beitler’s distressing photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Indiana. Lynching had begun to subside by the time the poem was published – but photographs like Beitler’s seared these graphic images into public consciousness.

Soon after publication, Meeropol set the song to music. It was performed at union meetings and even at Madison Square Garden by the jazz singer Laura Duncan. It was there that Robert Gordon, the new floor manager at the jazz club Café Society, supposedly first heard Strange Fruit in 1938. He mentioned it to Barney Josephson, the club’s founder, and Meeropol was invited to play it for Holiday.



In the spotlight

William Dufty, who co-wrote Holiday’s autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, once said: “Holiday doesn’t sing songs; she transforms them.” Holiday, her accompanist Sonny White and arranger Danny Mendelsohn, worked solidly for three weeks before debuting the revamped Strange Fruit at Café Society. In his 2001 book Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song, the writer David Margolick suggests the club, with its policy of complete integration, was “probably the only place in America where Strange Fruit could have been sung and savoured”. To ensure that it was indeed savoured, Holiday and Josephson created specific conditions for the performances. It would be the last song in the set, there would be absolute silence, no bar service and the lights would be dimmed save for a single spotlight on Holiday’s face. As Josephson said, “People had to remember Strange Fruit, get their insides burned with it.”

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From Holiday’s first performance of Strange Fruit, audiences were stunned (Credit: Alamy)

What happened on the first night Holiday performed Strange Fruit at Café Society foreshadowed the response it would get when released as a record. “The first time I sang it I thought it was a mistake … there wasn’t even a patter of applause when I finished. Then a lone person began to clap nervously. Then suddenly everyone was clapping,” said Holiday in her autobiography. To hear Holiday sing of “the sudden smell of burning flesh” minutes after her jazz ballads was disquieting. Meeropol wrote: “She gave a startling, most dramatic and effective interpretation, which could jolt an audience out of its complacency anywheres [sic].”

As the song became a feature of her sets, Holiday witnessed a range of reactions, from tears to walkouts and racist hecklers. Radio stations in the US and abroad blacklisted it and Holiday’s label, Columbia Records, refused to record it. When she toured the song, some proprietors tried discouraging her from singing it for fear of alienating or angering their patrons.

There is simmering rage in the way she clips the syllables… but there’s also a deep mournful quality to Holiday’s performance – Emily J Lordi

It wasn’t just the song’s political nature that startled and moved listeners but the way Holiday performed it, a manner often described as haunting. Lordi argues in her book Black Resonance: Iconic Women Singers and African American Literature that this was the result of deliberate choices Holiday made. She tells BBC Culture: “There’s a real minimalist aesthetic to her recording that calls attention to just how striking the lyric is… There is simmering rage in the way she clips the syllables and that ‘drop’. But there’s also a deep mournful quality to Holiday’s performance.”

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Holiday combined rage and sadness in her rendition of the song (Credit: Alamy)

What is so remarkable about Strange Fruit is how indelible a mark it made on American society so soon after its release. Samuel Grafton, a columnist for the New York Post, wrote of the song: “It will, even after the tenth hearing, make you blink and hold onto your chair. Even now, as I think of it, the short hair on the back of my neck tightens and I want to hit somebody. And I think I know who.”

It was such an in-your-face type of protest song… it did really leave both the singer and the audience no place to hide – Tad Hershorn

Strange Fruit was not the first popular song to deal with race. Fats Waller’s Black and Blue had come out 10 years earlier, and Lead Belly recorded The Bourgeois Blues in the same month Holiday recorded Strange Fruit. But Strange Fruit stands out among protest songs for its graphic content and subsequent commercial success. Tad Hershorn, an archivist at the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, tells BBC Culture: “It was such an in-your-face type of protest song [that it] really gained her fame outside of Harlem … it did really leave both the singer and the audience no place to hide.”

A call to arms

This bold confrontation helped galvanise a movement that would eventually alter the course of US history. Anti-lynching campaigners sent Strange Fruit to congressmen to encourage them to propose a viable anti-lynching bill. A review in Time Magazine referred to the song as “a prime piece of musical propaganda for the NAACP”. Ahmet Ertegun, who later co-founded Atlantic Records, called it “a declaration of war … the beginning of the civil rights movement”. Strange Fruit also brought its creators unwanted attention. In 1940 Meeropol, a socialist, was called to testify before a committee investigating communism and asked whether the US Communist Party had paid him to write Strange Fruit. Journalist Johann Hari suggests that while stories of Holiday’s drug use had already been circling, her first performance of Strange Fruit put her firmly on the radar of Harry Anslinger, the notorious head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

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Diana Ross played Holiday in the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues (Credit: Alamy)

For some, Strange Fruit and Holiday’s personal life are inextricable: the aspects of her biography that made her the embodiment of a tragic jazz heroine are the source of the haunting quality of her voice. Despite the fact that Holiday never witnessed a lynching (contrary to what the 1972 Diana Ross film Lady Sings the Blues shows), Strange Fruit still evoked the racial injustice that she felt killed her father, Clarence, who was refused medical treatment at a Texas hospital.

But as Strange Fruit has become separated from Holiday’s personal life over the decades, it has also become distanced from the specific horror of lynching. “It’s come to sort of represent racism generally,” Margolick tells BBC Culture. “Every once in a while there’s some horrific moment but lynching has become kind of a metaphor and, in that sense, the song has become more metaphorical than literal over the decades.”

Perhaps this is why in later years, according to Margolick, Meeropol suggested Strange Fruit “belonged to the Thirties”. But its influence has spanned decades. The songs associated with the civil rights movement of the 1960s are less explicit than Strange Fruit – but Margolick argues that it “conditioned the kinds of people who later sang protest music in the 1960s and taught them the impact that a strong song can have”.

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Nina Simone sang a version of the song in 1965 (Credit: Alamy)

Many musicians have covered, sampled, adapted Strange Fruit, the most famous being Nina Simone in 1965, while Kanye West sampled Simone’s cover for his 2013 track Blood on the Leaves. In 2017, British singer Rebecca Ferguson announced she would only accept the invitation to sing at then President-elect Trump’s inauguration if she could sing Strange Fruit. For Lordi, its unending power lies in the way it “distills the fact of racial violence so unmistakably. It’s shorthand for ‘What is a song I can think of that most powerfully indicts the ongoing legacy of racial violence in this country and across the world?’”

In 2002, Strange Fruit was added to the National Registry of the Library of Congress, immortalising it as a song of great significance to the musical heritage of the US. Holiday died in 1959 and Meeropol in 1986 – but their collaboration has endured, its capacity to shock never waning. It has inspired musicians since to sing about injustice with candour and the awareness that a song can be a timeless impetus for social change.

“There’s something that’s still very radioactive about the song.” says Margolick. “It’s still relevant because race is still relevant. It’s on the front pages of our newspapers every day. The impulses that [Meeropol] was talking about are still very much with us.”