Assata : an autobiography

by Assata Shakur

Paper Book, 2001


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.… (more)



Call number



Chicago, Ill. : L. Hill Books, c2001.

User reviews

LibraryThing member pinkcrayon99
This book literally changed my life. It inspired me to become an activist. We often judge before hearing the whole story. This autobiography sheds light on the accused story. HANDS OFF ASSATA!!!
LibraryThing member afroglam
This is my favorite book. I really love how in the book it goes through Assata's life, in a realistic way to make you really feel like you were there. I also like how the book contains a lot of poems in it. Basically the best book ever.
LibraryThing member mostlyliterary
I saw this on Michelle's goodreads bookshelf, which reminded me I read it in the late 80s. I really liked it, and remember being moved by her story, noting her considerable ability to write. Her life story and experiences as a member of the Black Panther Party are presented compellingly. (She was
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considered by the law enforcement to be the "soul" of the Black Panther Party in the 1970s.) I have friends who have met her in Cuba, where she has lived in exile, since escaping from prison.
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LibraryThing member skane86
Assata allows the reader into her life, a life of hardship, peril, and struggle. Assata takes the reader from when she was wrongfully accused, to her time in prison, through her pregnancy, and brings the reader to when she left the country due to persecution. I was surprised to discover the story
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of Assata Shakur, as I was not aware she even existed until I began reading this book. Like so many heroes of the civil rights movement, Assata Shakur deserves to have her story told to a wider audience, and to have more people know what she did and how she struggled for freedom. I would use this work as an addition to a civil rights unit in my class, and look forward to exposing my students to Shakur's story.
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LibraryThing member Januraqua
I heard a song written about this woman and ran to get the autobiography. it didn't disappoint. it reads like a novel but it is spiritually fulfilling.

Assata's story made me feel as though I could do more in my community and that I was not helpless. Great read. I recommend this book for any and all.
LibraryThing member sanguinity
This was an engaging read: Shakur knows how to tell a story, and she calls 'em like she sees 'em. Chapters alternate between her life before going underground in 1971, and her life after being captured on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973. The before-underground chapters are a narrative of her
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increasing education and politicization, beginning with her childhood among the Talented Tenth in North Carolina, and culminating with her membership in the Black Panther Party in New York and going underground after being targeted by the FBI's COINTELPRO. There are some moments in the chapters about her early life that delighted me in their recognizability -- I love that as a newly-minted wage-slave, she confused her identity with her employer's. Also, that when employed by a bar to chat men up and have them buy her "drinks," she pretended to the men that she was a mathematics student: after all, no one knows anything about math, and they don't want to risk exposing that by talking about it. (It worked beautifully, right until she ran into a mathematics professor.) I also enjoyed her penny-drop as a teenager when she was talking with some college students and they asked her what she thought of the U.S. going to war in Vietnam. "I guess it's all right," she said. After the shocked silence, when pressed for how she came to that conclusion, she parroted all the newspaper headlines she had been reading, never realizing until that moment that she didn't know the first thing about what any of those words meant, let alone what other notions they were designed to deflect her attention away from. The moral of that story? Know your history, and never let someone else pick your enemies for you.

Eventually, though, she gathered experience and knowledge, and the increasing politicization that went with that pushed her to join the Black Panther Party. She doesn't spend much time giving background on the Panthers, instead discussing her evaluation of their effectiveness and weaknesses, especially critiquing their education program for members (lots of socialist political theory, but no history) and their lack of emphasis on self-critique. In the chapters about the Panthers she also describes being under surveillance by the FBI. (Particularly eerie to me was the detail about how when she stopped paying her phone bill because she could no longer afford a phone, the phone company never cut off her service. Instead, the phone bills just stopped arriving.) She also describes COINTELPRO's successful attempts to sow discord within the Panthers, eventually disintegrating the organization from within.

The alternating chapters, all set after the shoot-out on the New Jersey Turnpike, are a detailed portrait of how the U.S. treats -- or has allegedly treated, depending on how generous toward the U.S. government you wish to be -- its political prisoners, and the ways in which Shakur and her lawyers (most notably Evelyn Williams, her aunt, and William Kunstler, "the most hated lawyer in America") fought back. Shakur's story of the New Jersey Turnpike trial (which was the last of seven, and the only one in which she was convicted), is an unremitting account of judicial bias and government conspiracy. She tells of jurors who were family members of New Jersey state troopers; jurors reading Target Blue in the jury room; her lawyers' offices being burglarized; one of her lawyers dying under suspicious circumstances and the legal strategy documents in his possession being confiscated as evidence, and not being returned by the police.

There are two major silent periods in her autobiography: the time between her membership in the Panthers and her arrest in New Jersey (the time period that spanned the alleged crimes she was indicted for), and the time between her deciding to escape from prison and her resurfacing in Cuba, where she now has political asylum. (According to Wikipedia, since the FBI offered a $1 million bounty for her capture in 2005, she hasn't been very visible in Cuba lately.) Both periods are jumped without announcement or explanation -- not that an explanation is needed, but I did experience a bit of "Wait, what just happened?" each time. And also, much curiosity as to what she would have to say about those periods, if she had the freedom to say it.

I shall absolutely be following up on this one with more reading about the Panthers (including Elaine Brown's autobiography, if I can find it) as well as the autobiographies of Shakur's lawyers Evelyn Williams (again, if I can find it) and William Kunstler.
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LibraryThing member ametralladoras
One of the best books I've ever read. Definitely the best autobiography/memoir I've read.

Assata Shakur, a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Front, was accused of being involved in the killing of a New Jersey police. The chapter's alternate between a moment in her childhood
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and her time being in prison.

Intense book!! Definitely gets you pissed off at the U.S. government and racist bullshit they pull.

Recommended to everyone!
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LibraryThing member astrologerjenny
This book is all about racism, and often it’s shocking. But this story of the government persecution of a Black Panther woman is also a book about endurance and strength. It blows my mind that Shakur survived. The book is honest, informative, historically relevant, occasionally polemic but never
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so much that it becomes boring.
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LibraryThing member miketopper
great book if you are interested in the subject!
LibraryThing member GospelChick
Great read on her life, the black liberation movement and a voice for civil rights. I highly recommend.


Original publication date



1556520743 / 9781556520747
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