A political prisoner is someone who is imprisoned strictly for his political beliefs or values. But that doesn’t happen in America. Or does it?
In this post, I will honor 5 African-American political prisoners who figured out how to escape imprisonment through writing. For them writing was not just an art, it was their only voice.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was unable to complete his autobiography before he was killed. However, his Letter from Birmingham Jail is well known. In this letter, he is responding to eight white religious leaders from the South who criticized his nonviolent fighting strategies. King’s letter carries a smack-in-the-face tone. He is brutally honest as he addresses injustices to the black community. The letter is included in several biographies written about him.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X was the first autobiography I ever read. As a fiction lover, autobiographies are not my first choice. With every page, I felt like I was walking beside Malcolm X his younger days finding trouble in the streets of Harlem to standing behind him at the podium. X does not paint an idealized image of himself. Instead, he provides raw documentation of his life during good moments and bad. He exposes every thought, every sin, and every achievement. This book will make you challenge yourself to do the same.
“I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda… I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”
~Malcolm X, An Autobiography of Malcolm X
Davis hesitated to write Angela Davis: An Autobriography. She wanted to make sure she captured the truepurpose of the Black Liberation Movement. She wanted people to know about people, places, and events that brought her to where she was. She joined the fight for equality in high school and before she knew it, she was another political prisoner whose name was on FBI’s most wanted list. She recounts her fear and explains how if one has a goal, fear is not an excuse.
“We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.”
~ Angela Davis
Assata Shakur (No, not Tupac’s Mother)
Assata: An Autobiography is on the same level as Malcolm X’s autobiography. Shakur, a member of the Black Panther Party, was determined to right the wrongs she saw firsthand. She tells of how the police would commit murders and frame the Black Panther Party. In a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike, Shakur would experience injustice herself when she was framed fro shooting a white p
olice officer. She was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted list shortly after.
She writes of her troubled pregnancy, lack of medical attention, and being handcuffed to hospital beds as police officers tried to force her to confess. But nothing in the book compares to her telling of when her daughter visits her in jail. Her daughter was conceived during her trial and taken away from her. One day, her daughter visits her. As Shakur reaches out to embrace her child, her daughter begins screaming and beating her fists against her mother and screams, “I hate you!”
An innocent prisoner is one thing, but an innocent child who only sees her mother for minutes at a time – is unacceptable.
In A Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela fought for a multiracial government in South Africa. He spent thousands of days behind prison bars and became an elected leader of South African shortly after. After his recent death, his fight against oppression has proven impactful. Over 700 pages long, the book is written so concisely one can’t help but read every one.