Ruchell Cinque Magee has joined the ancestors

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Ruchell Cinque Magee

by Claude Marks

Ruchell Magee was 84 years old and spent most of his life behind bars. Throughout his 67 years of unjust captivity, Ruchell was one of the first and most consistent prisoners linking mass incarceration and the U.S. prison system to slavery. 

Ruchell Magee took the name Cinque from the enslaved African Sengbe Pieh who led an 1839 rebellion to commandeer the slave ship La Amistad, arguing that Africans have the right to resist “unlawful” slavery. Ruchell maintained that Black people in the US have the right to resist this new form of slavery, which is part of the colonial control of Black people in this country:

“Slavery 400 years ago, slavery today. It’s the same but with a new name.”

“My fight is to expose the entire system, judicial and prison system, a system of slavery … This will cause benefit not just to myself but to all those who at this time are being criminally oppressed or enslaved by this system.”

“You have to deal on your own tactics. You have a right to take up arms to oppose any usurped government, particularly the type of corruption that we have today.” Ruchell Magee

Ruchell’s life commitment, political stance and writings point to the need for a prison abolitionist movement to seriously address the historical legacy of slavery, and slave rebellions in order to truly be in solidarity with the millions of people incarcerated in the US.

May Ruchell Cinque Magee rest in power!

Claude Marks, director of Freedom Archives, 1615 Hopkins St., Berkeley, CA 94707,, can be reached at Ruchell Cinque Magee joined the ancestors Oct. 17, 2023, after only 81 days of freedom. A memorial on Oct. 31 in Covina Hills, California, drew a who’s who of prison abolitionists and people inspired by Ruchell. The program, rich with tributes, begins with this dedication:

Ruchell Cinque Magee

Ruchell Magee was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Thursday, March 16, 1939, to Elmer Magee and Walter Lewis as an only child.

As a young teen, Ruchell enjoyed fishing the bayou and he loved motorcycles. His favorite car was a Dodge Charger.

Ruchell’s life on the Bayou was interrupted by a society that had yet to embrace the concept of a Black Man’s freedom. In 1955, his youth was stripped away by an unjust court where as a child he was sent to one of the worst male prisons in the country. Ruchell came to have an undying commitment to freedom and liberation.

He was released from Vacaville Prison on July 28, 2023, after being caged for 67 years in the California Prison system.

Cinque, as he was called by those closest to him, fought for freedom his whole life, and he also maintained a warm heart even after a lifetime of torture and confinement.

As for his love for Chargers, at 84 years old, he still appreciated its loud and powerful sound. He also loved children and would just laugh and smile at their conversations and personalities. They gave him life.

Ruchell Cinque Magee is survived by his cousins Barbara Stewart, Tomarko Green, Jacqueline Johnson, Tomika Session, Tara Davis, Juneray Chess Jr. and their children.

Ruchell Cinque Magee will be long remembered by comrades, family, friends, and freedom fighters around the world as an unsung hero, committed to liberation and self-determination.