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.

Abu-Jamal was a member of the Philadelphia branch of the Party. In his brief Panther career, he was transferred first from Philadelphia to New York City, then to Party headquarters in Oakland, Calif. In this excerpt of "We Want Freedom," he recalls an episode showing how Party members were constantly harassed. Between 1967 and 1971, 233 of the FBI’s admitted 295 counter-intelligence (COINTELPRO) actions against Black nationalist groups were against the Party. – Todd Steven Burroughs


By Mumia Abu-Jamal

After several months in the bustling city [of New York], several of us were informed we would be leaving that very night for the West Coast.

Brad, Stephanie and I were driven to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, given cash for tickets, and told to catch the next flight to San Francisco, Calif. Brad, Stephanie and I were writers for Party leaflets and other media that came through the Ministry of Information.

We were all excited about going out West—I, perhaps more than my comrades, because I had never flown before.

We had no real luggage (as Panthers, we owned little), but Stephanie had a carry-on bag, for her cosmetics, a few dresses, and other female necessaries. A chocolate-skinned, deeply dimpled, slender young woman, Stephanie was one of the few Panther women who seemed to utilize makeup.

As we were boarding the plane, a strange thing happened to us.

We were walking down the accordion-like feeder tube to the plane, when the stewardess closed the door abruptly and a troop of armed men in dark suits appeared, as if they were waiting for us. They leaped at us if we were the Al Capone gang instead of Black Panther artists and writers.

They rifled through what bags we had, searched us as if they expected to find a bazooka, and spoke nastily to us, in the way cops do to spark angry responses—"We gotcha now, nigger!"

We looked at each other, our eyes betraying exasperation and muffled laughter.

When they found no weapons, they seemed deeply disappointed and somewhat deflated. They stormed away, leaving threats instead of the expected arrests.

Almost as if on cue, the blonde stewardess reopened the door of the plane, and with a fake Barbie-doll smile, welcomed three tousled Panthers aboard her flight, the New York-to-San-Francisco overnight.

To ease the tension of my first flight, I plucked a tightly wound joint out of my jacket pocket and lit it up, drawing a deep draught of the pungent herb into my lungs. Almost before I could taste it, a stewardess appeared at my elbow to announce, "Smoking marijuana onboard American Airlines is a violation of—" and she cited a statute. "Please put it out, sir!" she perkily ordered.

I almost choked.

I was so rattled that I did exactly that and rode across the country at night, marveling at the sheer vastness of this nation, its cities flashing by beneath us like a distant swarm of lightning bugs.

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.

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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 Steven Todd Burroughs

from Research Channel