Radikal Readings: Assata: An Autobiography

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As President Obama announced a major change in U.S.-Cuba relations for the first time in 50 years, one of the first people that came to my mind was Assata Shakur. I finished her autobiography earlier this week and although I’ve already began reading something else (ironically about Cuba), it’s impact still hasn’t left me.

I don’t know why I still hadn’t read Assata: An Autobiography all these years after first reading about her. However, with the social and political protests happening all across the country, it was natural to finally pick this up, and I am so glad I did. Assata is is candid, intelligent, humorous, and the amount of strength she has is awe-inspiring.

The book opens with the infamous New Jersey turnpike shootout (which Assata was eventually given a life sentence for) and proceeds to alternate chapters between her childhood, upbringing, and struggles to her court cases and life in prison. It’s truly a journey through Assata’s life. She reveals her rebellious phase where she left home at 13, and eventually goes through how she ended up joining the Black Panther Party – the details of which are fascinating.

Her description of the horrific treatment she endured in prison (from her inhumane medical treatment after being shot to giving birth while chained to a bed) and her experience with COINTELPRO are disgusting. It is a living testament to what victims of COINTELPRO endured at the hands of their own government.

I’ve documented my love for Angela Davis, who wrote a forward for this book (another victim of COINTELPRO) and Assata has reached the same ranks in my heart and mind. She opened my mind, heart and level of consciousness even further than it already was. This book and specifically her story, not the one being shopped by the FBI who made her the first women on the FBI’s terrorist list with a $2 million reward for capture, should be read by every single person in this country and revolutionists/human rights activists around the world.

So while I support President Obama’s actions on Cuba today, I can’t help but think of Assata who gained political asylum in the country and has been living there since 1984. There are already calls for her to be extradited to the U.S. by New Jersey officials, heinously calling her a “cop-killer” when she should NOT be on the FBI list in the first place. The ending of her autobiography is beautiful beyond words, and I just hope that with the changing of diplomatic relations with Cuba, that the beautiful ending does not get altered.

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