Assata: An Autobiography
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On May 2, 1973, Black Panther Assata Shakur (aka JoAnne Chesimard) lay in a hospital, close to death, handcuffed to her bed, while local, state, and federal police attempted to question her about the shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike that had claimed the life of a white state trooper. Long a target of J. Edgar Hoover's campaign to defame, infiltrate, and criminalize Black nationalist organizations and their leaders, Shakur was incarcerated for four years prior to her conviction on flimsy evidence in 1977 as an accomplice to murder.
This intensely personal and political autobiography belies the fearsome image of JoAnne Chesimard long projected by the media and the state. With wit and candor, Assata Shakur recounts the experiences that led her to a life of activism and portrays the strengths, weaknesses, and eventual demise of Black and White revolutionary groups at the hand of government officials. The result is a signal contribution to the literature about growing up Black in America that has already taken its place alongside The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the works of Maya Angelou.
Two years after her conviction, Assata Shakur escaped from prison. She was given political asylum by Cuba, where she now resides.
first days i could barely ask, and when i did, they acted as if my condition were some top secret information i was not privy to. I had three bullet holes. There was a bullet in my chest (it’s still there); an injured lung with fluid in it, a broken clavicle, and a paralyzed arm with undetermined damage to the nerves. I kept asking if i would be able to use my hand again. One or two doctors said, flatly, no. The others said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” Anyway, i was gonna live. STORY You died. I
when i was about nine months old. They say that i was lazy, though, that i talked way before i learned to walk. Everybody says that i had my days mixed up with my nights and kept everybody up all night. (I’m still pretty much a night owl.) The only other tale i remember hearing about my babyhood was that i would scream at the top of my lungs whenever anybody wearing furs or feathers came near me. (I’m still not too fond of furs and feathers.) My mother and father were divorced shortly after i
engaged in against Black activists under the leadership of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Prior to meeting Assata, we had represented Angela Davis, had initiated inquiries into the 1969 police executions of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and the 1971 police attack and indictments of the leadership of the Republic of New Afrika, and had defended many other Black men and women who had been identified as targets of the FBI. The FBI’s systematic surveillance of and attacks
wasn’t home so i fell asleep on the stairway. When she came home, she thought i was some kind of drunken bum, so she walked by me and went to her apartment. I came back the next day and she talked to me, played shrink and family counselor, and sent me home. It worked for a while, but things were a mess. My mother and i couldn’t see eye to eye about anything, and i was just as stubborn and self-willed as she was. And even when i tried to do right, it just seemed like i couldn’t do anything that
Orientals, Native Americans, and Blacks. Malcolm said it meant bloodshed and land. To me, the revolutionary struggle of Black people had to be against racism, capitalism, imperialism, and sexism and for real freedom under a socialist government. But the reality of achieving it seemed a long way off. In Berkeley and San Francisco, the revolution didn’t seem too far away. A lot of white radicals, hippies, Chicanos, Blacks, and Asians were ready to get down. But i hadn’t forgotten the hardhats and