Introduction by Nube Brown, a budding New Afrikan
This is Part 1 of a two-part series of my interview with Jalil Muntaqim on Prison Focus Radio (KPOO San Francisco 89.5FM or KPOO.com) April 22, 2021. I made specific excerpts and edits to align with this month’s theme, Mother Africa – a place called home but that so many of us have been conditioned to forget and abandon, our connective tissue and roots ripped out and torn asunder by racialized capitalism, imperialism and white pathology, leaving us bereft and shrunken if we don’t find our way back together in shared humanity. Ubuntu
Nube: Jalil Muntaqim is a former member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army and co-founder of the National Jericho Amnesty Movement. He is also the author of “We Are Our Own Liberators” and “Escape the Prism Fade to Black.” Jalil was released from prison in October of 2020, after being held captive nearly 50 years.
Jalil, I want to thank you for joining me here this morning.
Jalil: You’re welcome, Sis.
Nube: All right, fantastic. I want to start by clarifying, you are considered a political prisoner. Is that correct?
Jalil: I was. Yes, it was.
Nube: OK, what does it mean to be a political prisoner? As well-known as Mumia Abu-Jamal is, there are still a lot of people who don’t know who he is and what it really means to be a political prisoner in this country.
Jalil: Well, of course, the United States does not recognize the existence of political prisoners. They are under the impression that there are no dissenters in the United States in regards to the issues of white supremacy or capitalist imperialism.
And therefore, anyone who responds to those issues, particularly in regards to issues of the police murdering or state-sponsored terrorism, often they are charged with a criminal offense and therefore they’re subject to the processes of the so-called justice system. And by virtue of that alone, they are considered criminals rather than what is their basic reason for having been engaged in state, political actions.
The United States does not give credence or credibility to the existence of dissenters or individuals who essentially fight back by virtue of their own ideals of opposing the system of racism and capitalist imperialism and therefore they are denied recognition as being political prisoners.
I was a member of the Black Panther Party and a member of the Black Liberation Army and as the result of my activities I was convicted of criminal offenses, but the motivation, of course, was political and as a result of my activities, I became a target under a COINTELPRO-type of operation from the FBI called New Kill, meaning New York killings, and as a result of that I spent nearly 50 years in prison. So those incidences are not understanding I was in fact a political prisoner.
Take the word revolution and take the ‘r’ off you have the word evolution.
Nube: We have deep respect and appreciation for you, Jalil and you’re an Elder and I think it’s important that we know our history. The learning process, the educational process for us is important. I was wondering if you would be willing to share your evolution in terms of writing your book and being the founder of the National Jericho Amnesty Movement. You also say there’s an evolution to being a revolutionary – I’m probably really messing that up.
Jalil: No, no, this is just one of my own issues that I’ve raised that I continue to raise. I often ask the question, What is a revolutionary? What does it mean to be a revolutionary? I have come to the conclusion that being a revolutionary is being an evolutionary.
You take the word revolution and take the ‘r’ off you have the word evolution. And so revolutionaries are those who are engaged in the processes of evolutionary social, economic processes of evolving our struggle of our people from one level of development to a higher level of development, from a quantitative stage of development to a qualitative stage of development and that process, most often as not, is revolutionary.
Why is it revolutionary? Because we have opposition. Those people, those institutions and organizations that do not want to change, they refuse to change, they are maintaining their own privileges and institutions. And so therefore we have to engage them – and the process of engagement is revolutionary.
But then in the same regard, it is generational. When I was a young kid, I believed that we could have revolution in our lifetime. I have outgrown that thinking, that infantile thinking, that young man’s thinking that is, but in fact our struggle is of one generation to the next.
Everyone who’s engaged in the struggle, for the most part, are revolutionaries to one degree or another, because they recognize that we as a people, as a nation, need to evolve from our level of thinking.
And so, we have to be involved in our struggle with that kind of understanding – that everything that I commit myself towards today, what I participate in and engage in today will make it less likely for my children or my children’s children to have to engage in those same issues, same arguments, and same fights, same battles.
And so therefore everyone who’s engaged in the struggle, for the most part, are revolutionaries to one degree or another, because they recognize that we as a people, as a nation, need to evolve from our level of thinking, more often our infantile level of thinking, to a higher level of thinking in terms of our own humanity and recognize the universality of our humanity.
We’re not there yet. We have a long way to go for people on this planet to recognize our common humanity across the board.
But again, there are systems that inhibit that kind of development and so our struggle, as we call the revolutionary struggle, is to evolve to another level of our thinking ‘cause then your thinking precedes action. How you think is a determining factor of how you’re going to act.
So therefore, we have to change our way of thinking and attune our thinking towards more humanitarian, more equal, more equitable degrees of our understanding of our relation to one another on this planet.
Unfortunately, white supremacy is an aberration, white supremacy is an aberration to all of humanity, right? Any time that a people think they are above or superior to anybody else on this planet, then they are suffering from delusions, they are suffering from a neurosis, to my thinking, a superiority complex that they are suffering from en masse, right?!
I was raised in a household where my mom taught us that we are African, that we are of African descent. We are not Negroes, we’re not African Americans, we’re not colored people.
And unfortunately, this thing has been reinforced by the institutions that they have created to basically reinforce this kind of thinking and so this is what we are up against. We’re up against destroying that type of system, destroying that kind of thinking and evolving ourselves into our own common and universal humanity – and that is a revolutionary process.
You also asked about my coming into the struggle. Well, I was raised in a household where my mom taught us that we are African, that we are of African descent. We are not Negroes, we’re not African Americans, we’re not colored people.
We’ve been raised in our thinking and understanding as African. The reason why is because as a young woman she was trained in African dance. And so she used to teach that to my sister and I when we were young kids. Her own cultural development, cultural understanding brought us to our own understanding growing up.
During high school, I became a member of the Black Student Union organizing for a Black Studies unit in San Jose State, in San Jose, California, where I went to high school. Soon thereafter I ran into high school friends of mine, elementary school friends who had since joined the Black Panther Party at the age of 16.
I signed up to become a member of Black Panther Party, recognizing that what the Black Panthers were doing at that time was more significant in my thinking as a young person compared to what was going on in the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King and that type of passive resistance.
I thought that we needed to have a more militant approach to issues that we were confronting in the United States. Especially with the assassination of Martin Luther King, a lot of young people began to think differently as to what our struggle was about.
And so, I joined the Black Panther Party at age 16, became more engaged with the party when I was 18 and, as a result of rule No.6 in the Black Panther Party that no Black Panther Party member can join any underground organization but the Black Liberation Army, I had been recruited to the Black Liberation Army, was engaged on that level and ultimately it led to my imprisonment in 1971, Aug. 28, 1971.
Through the course of my incarceration, I continued to be active. I was active in the streets; I was active in prison. In ‘76, ‘77, I organized the first national prisoners’ newspaper called “Omni Spirit.” I organized the first march into Washington, D.C., to the United Nations demanding to be heard. We submitted the first petition to the United Nations on issues of political prisoners and the condition of prisons in the United States.
I continued to organize over the years, signing petitions, filing petitions in the court. Like I told you before, the 13th Amendment lawsuit I had filed, I filed a lawsuit trying to get prisoners the right to vote.
In October 2021, we have called the International Commission of Jurists to the United States so we can bring the charges of genocide as part of our campaign in support of the political prisoners in the United States, as well as other issues.
Then in ’98, I think, I called for the Jericho Movement to build another campaign and it resulted in the building of the National Jericho Movement, which I was co-founder of along with my beloved, dear sister, Safiya Bukhari, who’s now with the ancestors, and Baba Hannu Ferguson, who is also with the ancestors, so I’m the last founding member of Jericho Movement and we continue to build.
Jericho is the premier political prisoner support group in the United States, and it’s been in existence going on 21 years and still it’s going strong. And like I said, in October we have called the International Commission of Jurists* to the United States so we can bring the charges of genocide as part of our campaign in support of the political prisoners in the United States, as well as other issues.
We will also have representatives from the Indigenous community, Asian community, Latinx community as well as the New Afrikan community bringing these charges of genocide to bring our issues to the international community. So that’s part of my evolutionary process of being a revolutionary.
Nube: I wanted to move in regard to your book, this movement – and perhaps we’re in the fifth epoch as you say in your book – and in relation to Prison Lives Matter, if you could make that connection, please. I would love for you to talk about Prison Lives Matter.
Jalil: Yeah, Comrade Kwame Shakur, in Terre Haute, Indiana, he and I have been in correspondence for several years and when he found out about my book “We Are Our Own Liberators” he immediately sought the means in which to try to implement some of the principles encapsulated inside that book.
One of the things that he decided that we needed to do in terms of the prison movement, as had been my experience back when I was in prison, especially back in the ‘70s, was that we needed to build a united front in some form, where we can speak as forcefully as we possibly can with unity and uniformity.
And so, Comrade Shakur developed the capacity for which he communicated with many progressive prisoners throughout the country and they developed what they call a Prison Lives Matter campaign. Of course, they’re piggy backing over the trend and tendency of Black Lives Matter, which is good, it’s good. It’s a good slogan, a good image in which to develop a foundation in which we can communicate with one another and find those things that are common in regard to our overall struggle.
So, Brother Kwame Shakur is developing that as well as working with me to build a FROLINAN (Front for the Liberation of the New Afrikan Nation). We are working in tangent with one another in those particular areas, and I am glad to see that there are many progressive people incarcerated who have joined Prison Lives Matter and hailing it as the means by which they can themselves become organized as part of the overall struggle, overall movement.
Nube: Yes, beautiful. Kwame Shakur is such an inspiration and I say that because he is the one who opened up the possibility to consider going on the journey of becoming a New Afrikan, embracing New Afrikanism. I first heard of “New Afrikan” from Brotha Joka Heshima Jinsai (and, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, James Baridi Williamson, Louis Powell, Michael Dorrough, Terrence White and many other brothers I have come to know over the years who represent the historic California Hunger Strikers and/or are the creators and/or signers of the Agreement to End Hostilities), who also introduced me to the exception clause to the 13th Amendment. At that time, I saw New Afrikan as an elevated state that only the men and women of this class were entitled to, and so removed from any possibility of my own experience I was too shy to ask what a New Afrikan was, though I know I would have been schooled with love and patience had I done so. I have since learned so much from the prisoner class, I am forever indebted to you for my continued political development and personal/spiritual growth. I would love for you to talk about the New Afrikan, where the identity comes from.
Jalil: I will try to be as poignant and succinct as I possibly can. In 1968, 500 revolutionary nationalists met in Detroit for the purpose of trying to drop a means by which they could divide or separate themselves from the system of white supremacy. They met at the church of Rev. Franklin, who was the father of Aretha Franklin, Aretha Franklin’s dad.
They decided they needed to put together what they called a provisional government of the Republic of New Afrika. According to our history in the United States, I actually have to go back to 1863. Gen. Tecumseh Sherman put together Field Order No.15. Field Order No.15 indicated the coastline from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John’s River in Florida will be territory that would be granted to African people who are emancipated.
We were Mandinkas and Hausas and Fulas and Igbos and Mandingos and many other tribes and nations who were miscegenated together.
During the course of that time, they began to create their own what we called liberated territory, freedman bureaus and other means for which they were able to govern themselves, these emancipated Africans. And so those were liberated territories of African people during that period of time.
That’s a history of our own capacity to begin the process of governing ourselves that has been lost in history. And so these Africans in 1968 recognized that history and also were understanding that the majority of Black people and the majority of New Afrikans lived in the Black Belt South.
So, they decided that they were going to carve out these territories as the territory from which we can build our own nation and be self-governed in the Black Belt South – South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. In the process of doing so, they organized what they called the provisional Republic of New Afrika.
Now, let me go back on point in terms of this idea of what is the New Afrikan. It’s important for us to understand, in terms of who we are as a people in the United States, that we are a people who come primarily from the West Coast of Africa. We were brought to this country from various tribes and nations.
We were Mandinkas and Hausas and Fulas and Igbos and Mandingos and many other tribes and nations who were miscegenated together. But not only were we miscegenated together from parts of the east coast, but also with Arabs on the northwest coast of Africa, we were also miscegenated with the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, the Spanish, who were engaged in the Atlantic slave trade. Not only were we miscegenated with those people, we were also miscegenated with the Arawak, the Seminoles, the Cherokee, the Indigenous peoples of this land.
And so, when we come to understanding this miscegenation, the broader miscegenation, we have recognized it as how we identify ourselves as New Afrikans. We don’t throw away that history; we give credence to that history, we give understanding to that history and that cultural development and that we are, for the most part, the major people, or persons, who are able to speak to that history based upon what we have endured over 450 years of oppression.
First, they tried the “N” word, then they named us “coons,” then they named us Negroes, then they named us Afros, African Americans – when are we going to name ourselves?
As a result of what was imposed upon us, this acculturation and miscegenation, we’re accepting this reality in terms of our history and we are identifying ourselves as New Afrikans.
Nube: And I am so grateful for it. I’m telling you it is one of the most liberating concepts that has come my way. You know, I am mixed race. My mom is white; my dad is Black, and that’s always how it’s been. My dad always used to say, “You’re the best of both worlds, right? After a while you start going yeah, but what does that mean exactly? I have long since stopped calling myself an American. Now I have the opportunity to fully know and embrace my historic – and present – experience in this particular place and begin the journey of my own cultural development, socio-political development and spiritual and personal development as a New Afrikan. It is a gift given and received that cannot be overstated.
Jalil: My great-grandmother is a Muscogee Creek out of Alabama, right? That’s part of my own heritage, as well, and many Black people, people of color are miscegenated in this country and we do not give credence to that, all right?
And so, for us New Afrikans, we give recognition to that reality, we laud that reality and we come to terms with the fact that we need to be self-governed or govern ourselves on the basis of our understanding that white supremacy is not going away, it’s not disappearing and we will no longer have this imposed upon us, this idea of who we are or this identity.
First, they tried the “N” word, then they named us “coons,” then they named us Negroes, then they named us Afros, African Americans – when are we going to name ourselves? When are we going to identify our own history and understand that history in identifying who we are as a people?
And so, when it comes to that understanding of what these 500 revolutionary nationalists did in 1968, it’s starting to resonate again today; we begin to take hold of our own identity and in so doing we’re liberating ourselves from that mentality of being neo-colonial agents of our own oppression.
Nube: Thank you, Jalil, for your wisdom and your work. Are there any last thoughts you’d like to leave with the people?
Jalil: One thing I’d like to announce here is that the National Jericho Movement and the Northeast Political Prisoner Coalition along with various organizations like Resistance of Brooklyn and IWOC have come together in the coalition and we’re building. On Oct. 22-24, we’re having the International Commission of Jurists come to the United States.
We are building a national, international tribunal to bring the charge of genocide to the international community.
This is a program that I put together while I was in prison back in 2018. It’s now coming to fruition. This year it’s called International Tribunal 2021. You can find it online; go to SpiritofMandela.org and check it.
You will find that we are building a national, international tribunal to bring the charge of genocide to the international community. We are commemorating the 70th anniversary of We Charge Genocide, first put down in 1951 by Paul Robeson and William Patterson; and we feel that the conditions today are no different than they were back in 1951.
We still have the same charge, so we charge genocide again. I ask everyone listening here to go to SpiritofMandela.org to endorse the campaign, support the International Commission of Jurists’ effort that we put forth and bring the international community in support of our struggle inside the 3,000 by 2,000 square mile territory of the United States.
*Since 1952 the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), composed of 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all parts of the world and all legal systems who have unparalleled knowledge of the law and human rights, has performed a unique and prominent role as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) defending human rights and the rule of law worldwide. They work for access to justice for victims, survivors and human rights defenders, especially those from marginalized communities, and cooperate with governments committed to improving their human rights performance.
Join us next month for Part 2. In revolutionary love and shared humanity, Nube