by Noah Tesfaye
This article first appeared as a piece for Freedom Archives:
August 8, 2023
Dr. Mutulu Shakur, New Afrikan revolutionary, acupuncturist and political theorist, passed on July 7, 2023. After 37 years incarcerated as a political prisoner, Dr. Shakur spent just seven months free after his compassionate release in December of 2022 before he transitioned. He would have celebrated his 73rd birthday, and first outside of prison in nearly four decades, on August 8, 2023. Dr. Shakur was also popularly known as the stepfather of the artist Tupac Shakur and helped develop the Thug Code, a set of guidelines and responsibilities that people involved in gang-related activities could follow, with Tupac’s rap group, Thug Life.
Born Jeral Wayne Williams on August 8, 1950, in Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Shakur grew up mainly in Jamaica, Queens, New York City, and got involved in revolutionary organizing at a young age. Dr. Shakur got involved in the New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM) at 16 and was active in the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM). Dr. Shakur was a founding citizen of the Republic of New Afrika and recognized his nationality as New Afrikan for his whole life. A young but well-studied organizer, Dr. Shakur got involved in helping political education initiatives in New York City, being able to contribute with the Black Panther Party even while not being a formal member of the party. He also was an active leader in the Black Liberation Army (BLA).
Shakur’s life took a new direction when he became a political education instructor at the Lincoln Detox Community Program in 1970. The clinic was established by the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, and other organizers in the city to offer treatment for those battling addiction and other health challenges. There, he gained a new-found interest in treating Black people that faced addiction with acupuncture and other holistic health care methods. Learning from Chinese acupuncture methods, he then began training in Canada and California, eventually receiving his doctorate in 1976 and becoming licensed and certified to practice in California. Dr. Shakur returned to New York and created the Lincoln Clinic’s acupuncture detox program. He served as Lincoln’s program assistant director until 1978. During this period, he also co-founded and co-directed the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America (B.A.A.N.A) and the Harlem Institute of Acupuncture.
Dr. Shakur became a political prisoner on February 12, 1986, when he was arrested, and eventually charged and convicted, of eight RICO counts related to conspiracy allegations in the 1981 Brinks truck robbery conducted by the BLA and White supporters. Dr. Shakur was convicted on all charges and sentenced to 60 years with a recommendation of no parole, even though there were countless failures of due process by the prosecution. Dr. Shakur during his time incarcerated was denied many appeals and requests for his mandatory parole to be enforced, as well as other additional petitions for release. After being denied compassionate release in March of 2022, Dr. Shakur was eventually granted parole under compassionate release on December 16, 2022, due to his life-threatening case of multiple myeloma, a life-threatening blood cancer that attacks the bones and kidneys, for which he was diagnosed in 2019.
Because of his birthday, his recent passing and it being Black August, I wanted to highlight the Freedom Archives’ resources on Dr. Shakur as well as the broader New Afrikan Independence Movement. From reports he wrote while incarcerated, to newspaper articles chronicling his case, there are many collections which hold documents on Dr. Shakur to preserve his legacy in the Black Liberation Movement, as well as hope to make these accessible for organizations and organizers looking to learn from his legacy.
For those in the Bay Area interested in celebrating the life of Dr. Shakur, there will be a memorial on August 19 from 2:30 p.m. – 5 p.m. at the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco (762 Fulton Street). You can also view the film Dope is Death, which will be screened at the memorial, and learn more about Dr. Shakur’s contributions to the Lincoln acupuncture program.