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Assata: An Autobiography

Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur

Assata Shakur, an antiracist activist and member of the Black Liberation Army, was one of the many activists targeted by the US government’s COINTELPRO. Charged with the murder of a police officer, she was held in prison under conditions classifiable as torture, and became the FBI’s most wanted female “terrorist.”


Nonfiction, memoir, social justice


On May 2, 1973, Black Panther Assata Shakur (aka JoAnne Chesimard) lay in a hospital, close to death, handcuffed to her bed, while local, state, and federal police attempted to question her about the shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike that had claimed the life of a white state trooper. Long a target of J. Edgar Hoover's campaign to defame, infiltrate, and criminalize Black nationalist organizations and their leaders, Shakur was incarcerated for four years prior to her conviction on flimsy evidence in 1977 as an accomplice to murder.

This intensely personal and political autobiography belies the fearsome image of JoAnne Chesimard long projected by the media and the state. With wit and candor, Assata Shakur recounts the experiences that led her to a life of activism and portrays the strengths, weaknesses, and eventual demise of Black and White revolutionary groups at the hand of government officials. The result is a signal contribution to the literature about growing up Black in America that has already taken its place alongside The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the works of Maya Angelou.

Two years after her conviction, Assata Shakur escaped from prison. She was given political asylum by Cuba, where she now resides.


In this autobiography, Shakur flips between her experiences growing up and her experiences in the US justice system. She believed the anti blackness US culture ingrained in her, but as she grew up she learned about Black history and embraced her African heritage.

The COINTELPRO’s targeting of Black activists is a little talked about part of US history. Trials for members of the Black Panthers and other radical groups were nothing but a sham, with no hope of justice. Despite the 8th amendment, the US tortured and assaulted its prisoners and withheld medical care.

The civil rights movement is incredibly sugar coated, but the truth is it wasn’t just MLK and Rosa Parks doing some peaceful sit-ins until they earned rights. The movement was massive, with all kinds of different tactics, and the opposition by the US were the acts of an authoritarian government.

This is an essential book for learning about US history, and I wish it were taught in schools.

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