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Now More Than Ever –- Q&A with Mumia Abu Jamal on The Black Panther Party

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, Q&A//Audio, Interview: JR Valrey//Audio: JR Valrey and Malcolm Marshall//Photos: JR Valrey and Jocelyn Goode Posted: Nov 01, 2006

Editor’s Note: Mumia Abu Jamal – noted journalist, revolutionary and political prisoner – was 17 when he founded the Philadelphia Chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP). This October marked the 40th anniversary of the founding of the BBP in Oakland Calif. NAM contributor JR Valrey interviews Jamal, who is on Pennsylvania’s death row, about the BPP and the continuing relevance of the Party’s 10 point program. Valrey and Marshall are editor's at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

Youth volunteers aid the Black Cross Campaign at the Black Panther Party 40th Anniversary Festival in Lil' Bobby Hutton Park in Oakland CA.

JR: This October also marks the 40th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party, many veterans of the BPP have continued to do work in the community, while other have "retired" from the movement, although we're still fighting the same empire that the Panthers were against, what are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

(3m 54s, mp3, 3.1MB) Download File
CLICK ABOVE to listen to this inteview.

Mumia: Well, I have nothing but praise for those people who have continued to struggle in various communities and various other organizations, and they bring pride to the Black Liberation struggle, to their communities, and to their people, and to their history, as well. I also don't criticize those people that have retired, because people can do what they feel compelled to do based on what they can do. This is the longest war in America, with the possible exceptions of the Indian Wars. You know Black people have been fighting for freedom as long as their has been an America, before there was a United States of America, and it continues in many cities, in many fronts, in all areas of life. When I think of those 40 years, its amazing that it has been 40 years, but now more than ever... I mean when I look about Black communities either east, west, south, or north where ever, I see the need for something like the Party, at least somebody with the spirit of the Party, to at least address the needs of the poorest and the least of these...I mean when you look at the Civil Rights Movement, that really addressed middle class people, in many ways; you know the jobs, the education, and what have you. If you're poor and Black in this country much has not changed, and in some sad ways things have gotten progressively worse.

Former political prisoner Robert King Wilkerson and BPP Minister of Culture Emory Douglas were at a Prison Radio/International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia abu Jamal Party in Frisco, days before the Panthers 40th Anniversary.

JR: Observing this anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party from behind enemy lines, as a political prisoner, what kind of reflections do you have for the world?

Mumia: Just like I said, I'm reminded when I look back over the works of people like Angela Davis, who was writing in the early 70's, I think '72 or '71 perhaps, in her autobiography, she was a young woman but worthy certainly of an autobiography, "If They Come For Me in the Morning", she was profoundly critical of the prison industrial complex in the 70's. And if you look at the population of prisons in the 70's, then look at it now, we literally have millions of people, 45-52% African American, and an explosion in the imprisonment of Black women...I mean damn. This is far more pervasive than it was in the 1970's, when we were talking about the imprisonment of a people. So things have gone from one level to a worst level.

JR: How do you feel about the media's portrayal of the organization, then and now?

Mumia: Well we shouldn't be surprised that the bourgeois media will for the most part tend to denigrate the work of the Party. That's their job. I mean the Party opposed this entire system in a way that few Black organizations did, at that time, at least with that kind of energy and pervasive attack. So what do you expect the system to say, "Oh yeah, we're wrong. We've been wrong for 300-400 years, and we shouldn't treat Black folks that way." Nah, it’s going to respond through its cultural artist, through its own form of bourgeois propaganda. There are many people, on the left who have also done extraordinary work, to teach people of a later generation about the Party, like "The Black Panther Party Reconsidered", the book that was edited by Charles Jones, is an extraordinary volume of work on women in the Party, on the Black Panther newspaper, on its educational and survival programs, you name it and it is a storehouse of information. At the risk of sounding modest, my book, I think also helps open up perspectives. So people have done work, the question is, is it being exposed to the people who need to read it, which are young people, especially young people, so they can know what was possible. We forget Huey P. Newton, 40 years ago, was 24-years-old.

Tarika Lewis, the first female Panther, and Pat Brown , a San Francisco Panther, being interviewed by the Block Report Radio team that was a part of the KPFA special coverage of the 40th Anniversary.

JR: That brings me to my next question. Minister of Defense Huey P. Newton didn't live to see the 40th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party, which he co-founded, what would you want people to remember about him?

Mumia: When I think about him, I think about his extraordinary brilliance, his revolutionary audacity, his courage, his love for Black people. I think, again, for a 24 year old man to found that Party, was a remarkable, remarkable, thing. But I think that when you look at the wide swath of Black life of that period, there were people all across the country in small communities that we don't hear about, doing essentially the same thing. They didn't, say, find the Black Panther Party, but they did found other organizations, you see, because it was felt in the hearts of the people and it was necessary to build organizations to address their needs, because the so-called mainstream middle class bourgeois organizations, were not addressing their needs.

JR: The 10 Point Platform of the Black Panther Party was the foundation of what the organization believed, is it still relevant?

Mumia: Boy, every time I read them, it's almost as if it was written yesterday; 40 years goes quickly. Because look at the problems that they talk about; the prison problem, whoa...It was bad then, but look at now. Look at the unemployment problem you know, look at the problem of Black people going into the service to fight for the empire, then look now. You see, everything that they addressed is still relevant now, in my opinion, and they still speak to very real problems, not just in the African-American community, but in the poor communities of color, and among poor people generally. But certainly, yes, in the Black community, yeah, oh yeah, very, very, very relevant, in my opinion.

All smiles at the BPP 40th Anniversary Party in the park.

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