by Todd Steven Burroughs, Ph.D.

special to  Prof. Kim's News Notes


NOTE: In his new book, "We Want Freedom: A Life In The Black Panther Party" (South End Press), Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Death Row inmate, remembers his Party days.

In this excerpt of "We Want Freedom," he recalls going to Oakland, Calif. for the first time. His mission: to work in the Party’s national headquarters. One of his tasks there was to write for The Black Panther, the Party’s national newspaper.

Writes Mumia of his experiences as a Panther: "The days were long. The risks were substantial. The rewards were few. Yet the freedom was hypnotic. We could think freely, write freely, act freely. We knew that we were working for our people’s freedom, and we loved it. It was the one place in the world that seemed to be in the right place." – Todd Steven Burroughs


By Mumia Abu-Jamal

We [Philadelphia BPP members Wes Mumia Cook, Brad and Stephanie] shed our stifling winter gear at the door of the plane; the California warmth of March 1970 greeted us as we alighted from the silver-skinned bird. The heat, compared to the icy temperatures of the Bronx, was almost unbearable. Stephanie was sent to the San Francisco office, I to the national office, and Brad I know not where.

Upon arrival, I was sent to the office of Judi Douglass, editor of The Black Panther, to assist her in any form she wished. She was a sweet, gentle woman, with a soft, Southern accent, who seemed to always possess an aura of sadness about her.

But it was a rare Panther who did one job. I wrote. I read. I edited. I shoveled sand for our sandbags. I sold papers. I worked security. I did all that I was ordered to do.


ONE NIGHT, I was posted to night-watch, a job requiring one to stand armed and to watch the rear of the national office on Shattuck Avenue for any incursion from the police.

My job was to watch the side alleys, the rear concrete yard, and the rooftops; the side alleys, the rear yard and the rooftops; the side alleys, the rear yard and the rooftops; the side alleys, the rear yard and the rooftops….

And all of a sudden, I felt a dull thump, and it felt like I got hit in the head with a hammer.

I fell.

I looked, surprised, at [BPP member] Willie Dawkins and was about to ask him what happened:

"Willie! What the—?"

"Nigga! Wachu mean, ‘What the—?’ Nigga! You was ‘sleep! Don’t you know you sleepin’ ona job coulda got us killed? What if the pigs had vamped?"

"Sleep? Huh? Whachu mean?—I—uh—?"

"Nigga—I called you four times! Four times! You didn’t hear me, did you?"

"But I wasn’t ‘sleep, man—"

"Then how’d I getcha gun? Huh?"

I then saw that it wasn’t a hammer that hit me but the butt of a shotgun.

I was asleep? I was asleep. Standing up. On post. On night watch. I had dreamed that I was awake, watching the side alleys, the rear yard, and the rooftops.

Willie was right. I had endangered every Panther asleep within the walls.

My head ringing, I apologized to Willie.

"Nigga, don’t be sorry—be alert! Wake the ***k up, Mumia!"

He then called upstairs and assigned another Panther to the post. I was utterly crestfallen.

Copyright © 2004 by Mumia Abu-Jamal. Excerpted from "We Want Freedom: A Life In The Black Panther Party," published by South End Press. Reprinted with permission from South End Press.

Table of Contents

Todd Steven Burroughs, Ph.D. ( is an independent researcher/writer based in Hyattsville, Md. He is a primary author of Civil Rights Chronicle (Legacy), a history of the Civil Rights Movement, and a contributor to Putting The Movement Back Into Civil Rights Teaching (Teaching For Change/Poverty & Race Research Action Council), a K-12 teaching guide of the Civil Rights Movement. He is writing a biography of Abu-Jamal.




photo of Mumia Abu Jamal

 from Internationalist Group

photo of Todd Steven Borroughs

from Research Channel