Afeni Shakur Black Panther Party Leader, Mother of Tupac, Fought To Liberate African-Americans

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Freedom fighter\activist Afeni Shakur mother of rapper Tupac Shakur
Photo: Wiki Commons

Black Panther Party Leader and freedom fighter Afeni Shakur

This month marks four years since the passing of Afeni Shakur, who was an important leader of the Black Panther Party chapter in New York—and the activist minded mother of rapper Tupac Shakur.

Afeni Shakur’s story is filled with the pain, struggle and triumph of someone who dedicated her life to the struggle for Black liberation. As a passionate advocate for the rights of African-Americans, her legacy entails far more than being just the mother of Tupac Shakur.

Afeni Shakur was born Alice Faye Williams on January 10, 1947, the daughter of Rosa Belle and Walter Williams Jr., in Lumberton, North Carolina. Shakur, and her sister, Gloria Jean, had a difficult childhood, where domestic abuse was present. In a 1997 People Magazine interview, Shakur said, "My momma left my dad because he was kickin' her ass."

In 1958, Shakur and her sister moved to New York City. She would enroll in Bronx High School of Science. Shakur’s drug use, that would become documented later, started around the time she was 15.

By 1968, Shakur had joined the Black Panther Party. She took the first name “Afeni” a Yoruba word meaning "lover of people," and joined it with the word “Shakur,” an Arabic word meaning “thankful.” She lived in Harlem, where she became a chapter leader of the Panthers.

In April 1969, Shakur was arrested, with 21 other members of the Black Panthers, on conspiracy charges allegedly to conduct bombings in New York City. The 21 were accused of plotting three separate attacks. The defendants were charged with attempting to kill police officers.

One attack was allegedly to occur at the Bronx 44th Precinct. Another at Manhattan’s 24th Precinct and a third at the Queens Board of Education office. The three attacks were all supposed to occur at 9:00 p.m. on January 17, 1969.

At this time, J Edgar Hoover’s FBI, and police departments across America, were actively trying to destroy the Black Panther Party. One primary reason was because the Black Panthers were fearless fighters against racist police violence and their murders of African-Americans. The FBI utilized its COINTELPRO program to “neutralize,” a euphemistic term which really meant assassinating, murdering and imprisoning members of the Black Panthers. In 1969, Hoover had called the Black Panthers “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”

Some of the other New York Black Panthers jailed along with Afeni Shakur were: Lumumba Shakur, Ali Bey Hassan, Michael Tabor, Dhoruba al-Mujahid bin Wahad, Jamal Joseph, Abayama Katara, Baba Odinga, Joan Bird, Robert Collier, Sundiata Acoli, Lonnie Epps, Curtis Powell, Kuwasi Balagoon, Richard Harris, Lee Berry, Lee Roper, and Kwando Kinshasa. The Panther 21 faced a total of 156 charges. Before the trial started the Panther 21 had dwindled to 16 defendants.

Judge Charles Marks set bail for all the defendants at $100,000. Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan gave Assistant District Attorney Joseph A. Phillips the task of prosecuting the defendants with help from Jeffrey Weinsten. The trial was held before State Supreme Court Justice John M. Murtagh, in the New York County Courthouse, at 100 Centre Street.

Shakur, then 22, opted to defend herself in the case which became infamously known as the Panther 21 case. There were objections to her decision to defend herself—including by some of her co-defendants. Besides not being a trained lawyer, Shakur was pregnant—with Lesane Parish Crooks, otherwise known as Tupac Shakur—at the time.

She faced a 300-year sentence.

In court, Shakur skillfully interviewed witnesses and successfully argued her case for close to six months. In May 1971, she delivered a stunning humiliating blow to the Manhattan prosecution team—and to the New York political establishment—when the jury ruled in the Panthers’ favor and freed all the defendants. A few weeks later, on June 16, 1971, her son Tupac Amaru Shakur—an Inca phrase meaning “shining serpent”—was born.

An account of this epic New York trial was written in the book “The Briar Patch,” by Murray Kempton.

Perhaps because of her historical legal victory in the Panther 21 case, Shakur would eventually end up working as a paralegal for Bronx lawyer Richard Fischbein. At this time, she married Mutulu Shakur who became Tupac’s stepfather. He also fathered their daughter Sekyiwa. By 1984, Afeni moved the family to Baltimore, Maryland where Tupac would attend the Baltimore School for the Performing Arts, studying music and dance.

During the 1980’s Shakur’s drug use started to take a toll. By 1991, she was attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and was able to overcome her addiction. In the 90’s, Afeni’s son Tupac became star. He was the hottest rapper on the planet and started to transition into films as well. In one of his classic songs, “Dear Mama,” Tupac delved into the difficulties of Afeni’s drug addiction while expressing his love for her. Before his death, Tupac bought a home for Afeni, and set aside money to be delivered to her monthly from his estate.

After Tupac was murdered in September 1996, Afeni took over Tupac’s estate, with the help of her former employer Richard Fischbein. In 1997, she founded Amaru Entertainment to control the unreleased recordings of her son. She also started the Tupac Amaru Foundation for the Arts in Stone Mountain, Georgia. The foundation mission was to offer entertainment arts classes to young African-Americans. In July 2007, she filed an injunction in federal court to stop Death Row Records from profiting off of unreleased songs from Tupac.

Besides her involvement in philanthropic ventures, Afeni was a sought-after lecturer. On February 6, 2009, she gave the keynote address during Vanderbilt University’s Black History month celebration.

Afeni Shakur was an important activist and leader in Black America during a violent turbulent time where institutional racism was far worse than today. She served the interests of African-Americans through her leadership efforts in the Black Panther Party. This brave Black woman inflicted a crushing legal defeat to the racist justice system in New York. Her successful inspiring defense in the Panther 21 case should be studied and remembered.

Sister Afeni Shakur should be memorized for who she was: a freedom fighter and ardent activist, who was also the mother of Tupac Shakur.

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